“Bloatedness, mood swings and acne are telltale signs that it’s that time of the month,” says Cat Gray, “but when my PMS arrives, menstruation and ovulation do not follow.” Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is the leading cause of female infertility, and with 10% of women estimated to have the disorder, it’s the most common hormonal condition to affect women of a child-bearing age.
Gray was diagnosed with PCOS when she was 19 and, now 31, she says it makes her feel “less of a woman” due to the lack of a monthly cycle and the impending barriers to starting a family. “My mother was the most upset, worrying that she wouldn’t get grandchildren. For me, it’s the visible side effects that hurt the most.” Along with higher chances of infertility, heart disease and diabetes, the common symptoms include obesity, acne and hirsutism. High levels of testosterone can cause all kinds of hair, skin and weight issues, and Gray says her teens and 20s were marred with “being fat, spotty and, worst of all, hairy”.
Amy De Luca hasn’t been swimming or sunbathing since she was 12: “Puberty and PCOS triggered hair growth all over my chest and back and, 10 years on, I don’t look or feel any better.” For the hirsute woman, dealing with body hair can feel like fighting a losing battle, regardless of the amount of razors and lasers in her arsenal. Hirsutism isn’t simply a case of excessive female body hair – it can manifest itself as male-like hair growth with coarse, wiry hair on the chest, tummy, chin and upper lip. The hair can regrow rapidly enough to require a daily or twice daily shave, a practice that can be as distressing as it is time consuming. De Luca makes the bittersweet observation that it’s the fear of judgement, rather than the condition itself, that drives the routine: “I would love to no longer feel the need for constant de-fuzzing, but I am terrified of what others will think of me so I shave anyway.”
This summer, hundreds if not thousands of women will be breaking the cycle for the first time, by foregoing the razor in order to raise funds and awareness for PCOS. Armpits4August is a collective of hirsute, polycystic and body-hair-positive women who are tired of the pressure to pluck and preen to perfection, and are setting the challenge to simply stop one practice on one area, for one month. Like a ladies’ version ofMovember, but with a decidedly feminist twist, the charitable event presents an obvious but underestimated alternative to hair removal. In the words of a 70s Clapton classic: let it grow.