Happy PCOS Awareness Month Cysters! My name is Khaili Sopian and my passport country is Malaysia. A Jane of a few trades, I own a degree in Journalism, I participate in women’s rights movements and I am currently venturing into business. My journey with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome began on the 6th of January, 2016, when I visited a general practitioner to talk about an acne flair that covered my jawline and went down to the sides of my neck. Along with my rapid weight gain, and the one-year absence of my menstrual cycle.
You know how the saying goes “You are your worst enemy.” Since my diagnosis, this has probably been one of the bigger lessons I’ve learned on my PCOS journey. I remember when the doctor first told me about my condition, she said that I had to lose weight to survive with this hormonal disorder. I immediately felt like I had to make up for her pessimism by being my own cheerleader. I recall saying “I can do it.” and “That’s possible!” in response to her advice and looking at me like my body had just failed life’s exam. I felt bitter after the diagnosis, but I was determined. Google was my new best friend.
Although research and medicine are limited in understanding and treating PCOS, I set big goals to change my lifestyle and best-case scenario, reverse my symptoms. It felt like I was finding jagged puzzle pieces, bringing them together, and hoping that they could fit my frame. I threw myself into the deep end, to say the least. I restricted processed sugar, dairy, stopped eating potatoes (or anything white), and increased my protein intake within my diet. I got myself a gym membership, a personal trainer, and I was working out at least three times a week. Results were slow but after a few weeks I started losing weight and my period became regular again.
With my newfound excitement of a shapelier body and new habits, I began applying for model castings that were open to plus-sizes. I spent a few months of having weekly weigh-ins with my trainer and scouting for casting opportunities to model. It was surreal to me that I was actually living a lifestyle I once could only imagine. The gym was my embassy and I felt proud when I didn’t eat a non-friendly PCOS meal. Everything sounds like it is going great, doesn’t it? (I’m smirking.)
Truthfully, despite the positive changes I was making, I was still ignoring some major issues. As far as PCOS symptoms, my troubles with fatigue and difficulties in night sleep were not solved. As far as self-love goes, my reflection on that did not go past the one social media photo I shared which was partly captioned “this body will receive all the L O V E it deserves.” The pounds were coming off and I was just relieved to see it possible.
Thinking back, I wish I knew how much self-love and acceptance I lacked, I would have focused on that sooner. During that sub-chapter of my life, it was almost as if I was building a version of myself with no concrete. Something tall with walls, but no pillars or foundation. I think I wanted to be someone that had tamed the PCOS beast, someone who had it all under control. But I just wasn’t there, I still suffering.
As my body continued to change, I developed social anxieties and internalized expectations from seeing how proud close family and friends were of me. I remember a cousin thrilled to tell me that she was able to see more of my neck. The significance of my lifestyle change boiled down to a number as I was weighed every week or two. I also felt pressure to meet the standards of being an acceptable plus-size model in Malaysia.
I wanted to achieve perfection, without realizing how unrealistic that was. Soon I began to feel like I was crumbling under the new expectations I and others had placed on my body. That was how I arrived at the lesson that, perfection is inauthentic. Perfection is not a friend I can trust.
In the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, I began eating foods outside of my PCOS diet. I was encouraged to keep to the diet, but I did not want to. It felt natural that my body did not want to conform to the “rules” anymore. I started eating fried foods again – and it was fucking AMAZING. I learned the word “unsustainable” to describe the diet I was so obediently following and it felt liberating to know it.
Malaysia was called into a period of Movement Control Order (MCO) to adapt to the spread of Covid-19 and I fell back into old habits. Without the gym I was exercising less, temptations in the kitchen were accessible and emotionally fulfilling. During this time, paired with a recent foot injury that prevented me from walking for a while, my weight returned to its original state. I’ve seen disappointment in some faces and pity in others. I didn’t care and still don’t.
I’m unsure where I found this slice of peace, but what matters right now is how delicious it has been (slurp). When I look back and remember how far I pushed myself to receive the approval of others at the expense of my own happiness, I know it’s completely not worth it.
These days, I’m as fat as I ever been. I’ m learning to embrace my belly, double chin, and bigger arms. I can honestly say that I feel less shame and have never been happier. One of my recent favorite food memories was the time I was eating a donut while watching Netflix. I remember taking an unconscious, shame-and-guilt-free, passionate bite out of it. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a moment like that in my life! I plan on returning to the gym and jumping in front of the camera again because weight lifting and striking a pose are things that I enjoy and challenge me. This time I will return with strong boundaries that honor me and what my body needs.