Heavy periods, weight gain, mood changes, pain, and acne. Sounds like normal symptoms of that dreaded time of the month, right? Maybe. But it actually could be more than that. It could also be symptoms of a hormonal disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a condition that affects a woman's ovaries. Women who have PCOS often experience irregular periods (infrequent or prolonged) due to PCOS' effect on the reproductive hormones. Doctors aren't exactly sure what causes PCOS and in fact many women don't even know they have it and often chalk the symptoms they are experiencing up to menstrual cycle symptoms.
PCOS affects women of all races and ethnicities who are of reproductive age. In fact, one study's findings "suggests that there are no racial or ethnic influences on the prevalence of PCOS." So, while black women are not necessarily more prone to PCOS, they are often misdiagnosed or misunderstood. "Most of my PCOS warriors are white or Hispanic. I've found that black women have had trouble with their diagnosis. They have no idea that they have it. In the black community, a lot of us aren't even aware of what PCOS is or how to support each other. But as an overall community, we are being recognized more, and more women are doing their research and finding fellow PCOS sisters. We're finding out how to change this stigma of people brushing it off like it's not real," said Alicia W. shared with xoNecole.
September is PCOS Awareness Month and women like Alicia, Mieko, and Tanny are doing their part to educate and bring awareness of the disorder, all while educating women on PCOS. Check out their stories below.
I remember having severe cramps, like I was on my cycle. Not too long after, I began to think something was wrong. I was trying to Google what was wrong with me until the pain got out of control. It got so bad my boyfriend took me to the emergency room. After arriving at the hospital, I was told that a cyst had ruptured and I was given the diagnosis of PCOS. Before then, I knew something felt a little weird and a little off.
"I was experiencing period symptoms, but they were happening without a period and they were coming more frequently than my period was coming. I brushed off all of those symptoms. I never thought to look into PCOS because I was going to my OB/GYN every year and it never came up."
In terms of treatment, I have been on just about everything you can possibly imagine. So, initially when they diagnosed me, they told me that all I needed to do was lose weight. No medicine, no nothing. I ended up dealing with the same symptoms for two years. I came home and started going to my current OB/GYN. I tried Metformin and it was horrible. It was not for me. It made me sick every time. I even tried to take it off and on along with birth control. But with birth control, my hair growth, also known as hirsutism, was getting worse. I was getting cystic acne and having more pain.
What I'm doing now is Ovasitol. I just started this year and it has been what works best for me by far. It's amazing. Ovasitol is a powder supplement. You mix it in your water or whatever drink you choose. It helps to level out hormones, control cravings, and regulate your cycle. I still have symptoms, but they are more manageable. The only thing you can't really reverse is the hair growth. That's the only thing that has not been managed. Literally after a month of Ovasitol (even without taking it regularly), my period came back after six months of not having one. I also take Goli gummies as well, just as an additional vitamin to help give me some energy in the morning.
"I hope that more black women feel empowered to talk to their doctors about PCOS. As black women, we are completely overlooked because we are traditionally heavier or have more curves. We are immediately told to lose weight which is not the answer for everyone. When we tell them about our symptoms, they attribute it to needing to lose weight. They rarely look into anything else."
One day, I put a little quiz on my Instagram story for women to take to see if they have PCOS symptoms. I received about 35 DMs from black women saying, "Oh my God, I think I have PCOS!" I was thinking what in the world is happening when these women are going to see their doctors? My advice to other women would be to ask questions and be sure they are listening to their bodies. I would also encourage other women to raise awareness because there are so many women out there going through the same thing.
To continue following Alicia's journey, be sure to follow her @lelestyleme.
After about two years of my partner and I trying to conceive, I finally made an appointment with my OB/GYN and expressed to him my concern of not conceiving. My periods were usually normal. Every now and then, they would be three to five days late but I didn't think too much of it and I also would get painful cramps and heavier cycles with larger than usual blood clots. I also noticed the last few years I've been getting more unwanted body hair which was pretty embarrassing. I even found myself hiding it from my partner.
"It did take a few appointments, bloodwork, HSG, and then finally my laparoscopic and hysteroscopy procedure for my doctor to finally say that it was PCOS. It seemed like my doctor did not want to diagnose me before getting all of those tests done but after doing research myself and matching up some symptoms, that's when I pretty much self-diagnosed myself."
Since I was only diagnosed a month ago, so far I've mainly been focusing on regulating my diet, being that I want to tackle this the most natural way possible. I've cut down on my sugars and white flour. I've increased my omega-3 intake and other supplements. I've also increased the amount of light exercises I do and added more stretching to my regimen.
After being diagnosed with PCOS, the effects have been more emotional than physical. Although I do have physical symptoms more around ovulation and my period, it doesn't affect me as much as the mental side. The emotions of knowing that I have been diagnosed with this and that it will take me more effort to finally conceive, it has become a bit discouraging and I tend to blame myself.
"Every month, for pretty much the past two years, I cry every time my period comes and this was even before officially being diagnosed because I just knew something was wrong. I do feel that I am more prone to have mood swings and I have a major shift in my emotions and little things make me cry easily now."
My words of advice to other black women living with PCOS is to stay strong! When you're dealing with something so personal, you tend to question why this is happening to you. Never blame yourself or beat yourself up over this diagnosis, try your best to come up with a regimen that will specifically help you and your symptoms and stick to it. Most importantly, remember that you are not alone.
To continue following Mieko's journey, follow her @Scxbanx.
I experienced a wrath of vaginal and hormonal issues that had an impact on my health. I was extremely anxious, moody, had a low libido, dry scalp, skin problems, my periods were irregular or would appear for more than 14 days, and one of the biggest detectors for me was consistent vaginitis due to my hormone imbalances.
"I went from WAP to DAP, had a painful vagina, and recurrent bacterial vaginosis no matter what I did to cure it. I tried at-home remedies, over-the-counter drugs, I even meditated on my vagina but nothing worked."
I visited several physicians until I found one with the patience to investigate my health problems. I was diagnosed with PCOS in 2017, after an extensive hormone and blood test which showed disproportionate hormones and excess in androgen. To this day, it is rare to find a physician to diagnose and provide real PCOS advice. I didn't receive any advice or helpful info after my diagnosis.
After I received my diagnosis, I wasted no time to do my own research on how I could improve my symptoms. At the moment, I take several vitamins and supplements to improve my well-being and fight PCOS symptoms. Myo & D-Chiro Inositol, Vitamin D, Omega-7, a probiotic, a multivitamin, and maca root powder, to name a few. I've realized it's so important to stay active and maintain a PCOS-friendly diet.
I cope with my PCOS roller coaster by venting through my blog vtalksgyn.com. It's the best way to connect with other women and to let other black women know that they are not alone in the fight. I also struggle with low libido which has a direct affect on both my mental and sexual health. For a long time, I had no sexual confidence because I felt like my vagina just didn't work. Throughout the years of experimenting with various supplements, products, foods, and birth control, my symptoms are kept at bay by staying true to my daily regimen. I have a strong support system of friends who work to understand my journey which makes my day-to-day hardships just a little easier.
"When I received the news that I had PCOS, I cried for an entire week and had absolutely no guidance. In my mind, it meant I would never have children and that my vagina was broken. One day, I decided that I would not be defeated by my disorder."
I want to scream, "PCOS is not the final destination!" Take control of your symptoms and become stronger than your excuses! Take one day at a time, listen to your body, and do what makes you feel best. We have to support one another and continue to have these types of conversations so none of us feel alone.
To continue to follow Tanny's journey, be sure to follow her @Vtalksgyn.
Featured image by Shutterstock
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Erica Green is a Clinical Research Associate, blogger, and a sneakerhead. She has a love for all things women and she's pretty sure that women are God's greatest creation. Connect with her on Instagram @ erica_britt_ or www.lovethegspot.com
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Janelle Monáe's Reveals The Real Reason Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Tuxedos
Singer and actress Janelle Monáe exemplifies how change can be a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation.
Monáe, who rose to fame in 2010 following the release of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, captivated fans' hearts with her powerful vocals, catchy tunes, and style. Around that time period, when various female artists were known to wear provocative ensembles on stage, the "Tightrope" songstress set herself apart by wearing her signature black and white suits and continued to do so for almost a decade.
In the later years of her career, after the release of her studio albums The Electric Lady in 2013 and 2018's Dirty Computer, many began to notice the shift in Monáe's artistry and fashion, which some widely praised.
Although the now 37-year-old rarely addressed the reason behind the transformation over the years, that would all change when Monáe sat down with radio personality Angie Martinez on her IRL podcast earlier this month.
During the interview, Monáe --who was promoting her latest album, "The Age of Pleasure"-- opened up about her mental health struggles, how she would cope, and why she chose to live in freedom.
Janelle On Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Suits All the Time
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
In the May discussion, the "I Like That" vocalist revealed she suffers from anxiety, which she claimed would occur around "winter to spring."
Monáe added that when she has her bouts with anxiety, she tends to turn to food as a coping mechanism. Further in the interview, the "Lipstick Lover" singer disclosed that her emotional eating habits caused a weight fluctuation and that she could no longer fit into the suits she once wore earlier in her career.
Monáe explained that even though she tried to diet and exercise to return to her smaller figure, she ultimately stopped and made peace with herself with the help of therapy because she acknowledged that she isn't the same person she was nearly a decade ago and shouldn't try to be even if it was a highly "celebrated" version.
"I'm petite, but it can get thick... When I couldn't fit them suits anymore, and I was like, 'Oh my God, what is going on?' I would be dieting, running, or exercising, trying to fit into [it]. I'm just like, 'No. No, we're here. This is where we are.' We [are] not about to be utilizing life trying to be an old version of ourselves. No matter how celebrated that version of me was. I'm here. I'm here," she said.
Janelle On Freedom
As the topic shifted to freedom and what that meant to Monáe, the "Primetime" vocalist shared that in this new era of her life, she enjoys it because she can boldly express herself however she wants and honor who she is as a person right now.
Monáe also revealed that she had found ways to become a better artist and the best version of herself because of her freedom.
"What is the new version of freedom? What does that feel like? That's usually when I feel the most free is when artistically, I can honor exactly who I am right now," she stated. "I feel most free as a human when I can honor exactly who I am right now."
Monáe's fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure, is set to be released on June 9.
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