By Pia Guerrero, Co-Founder/Editor
As most of you know, after being pounded in them media over speculation that her puffy face was a sign of bad plastic surgery that made her
ugly not more attractive, Ashley Judd slammed the media for upholding patriarchy and for perpetuating sexism, misogyny and objectification. When I read her poignant piece on the Daily Beast, I cried.
I cried because after all these years, someone gets what my appearance has been through and the scrutiny that come with being on steroids. I cried because Judd said all the things I wish I could articulate throughout the years to my peers, family and the whole damn beauty and media industrial complex. I also cried because finally someone, not just a celebrity, knew what it’s like to be judged, told you are fat, and dehumanized simply because you have to take a health saving medication.
Like Judd, I have tolerated the effects of high-dose steroid therapy. Having Lupus and two kidney transplants have meant that unlike Judd, I have had not one, but up to five episodes that have required the kinds of doses that leave noticeable side effects on one’s appearance. I’ve grown a “fat” or puffy moon shaped face. I’ve also experienced a redistribution of fat to my abdomen and the back of my neck, which is thoughtfully called by doctors, a Buffalo Hump. When left on these doses for periods of 6 months or more muscle wasting begins and you develop very thin arms and legs. On top of it, this dose of steroids cause an insatiable appetite leading to noticeable weight gain, also caused by immense water retention. The drug also drastically thins your skin leaving some with unsightly stretch marks in unfortunate placed likes calves, shins, arms and a back. Were talking stretch marks that are 1/2 an inch thick and three inches wide. Pretty cool right? And if that isn’t enough another lovely effect is that the drug causes terrible osteoporosis. By the time I was 17, I had the osteoporosis of a 71 year.
In the face of all that comes along with trying to survive a potentially deadly disease and two kidney transplants, the last thing I have wanted is to get comments about my appearance.
Junior High was the worst. I was a memorable girl in 7th grade, especially with my thin frame, red hair, blue eyes and precocious wit and sarcastic sense of humor. By the summer before 8th grade I was on such high doses of steroids that I began suffering a number of the physical side-effects listed above. My face ballooned and I grew a huge double chin and buffalo hump. I entered 8th grade completely shut down. I knew if I wasn’t bullied at my new school, I surely wouldn’t be accepted by the popular crowd who builds clique membership on one’s potential to become as hot cheerleader. Luckily I went to a wonderful school that celebrated individuality and where talent reigned supreme. But by then my self-esteem had plummeted to an all time low, I shut down my exuberant personality and I exiled myself from my peers, hoping that by being silent and invisible I wouldn’t be noticed for my new ‘ugliness’. I ate lunch alone, kept to myself and usually sat in the back of class. It was then I began to really hate myself for how I looked.
It was also a time when my eating began to change. I started an obsessive regime inspired by the Scarsdale diet. To give you an idea, breakfast was toast with no butter or jelly, black coffee, and 1/2 a grapefruit. I began taking diuretics and fiber pills along with diet shakes for lunch. And anytime I got hungry though out the day, I just drink loads of water to make me feel full and to flush out all the fluid I’d been retaining. Dinner was a bowl of Top Ramen. Despite my highly disciplined efforts, I still looked chubby. If I saw pictures of myself, rage, hate, shame, and disgust would overcome me to the point where I hated people that loved me. I’d hit myself, weigh myself 5 times a day, and in pure frustration I even bit into my arm a couple of times. My body was out of control and so was I.
To prepare for my first kidney transplant at 16, doctors took me off the high-dose of steroids. The apparent puffiness, ended up not being fat at all. It was just that the little fat I had left went to my face and the bloating in my body was caused by water retention. I shed pounds and pounds of water in just a few days once I was taken off the drugs. All my disordered eating efforts worked, and with the moon face and water retention bloat gone the day before my transplant I weighed 85 pounds, was malnourished and looked like a skeleton.
With a new kidney and off of steroids, my body hatred lifted. I resumed eating well and gained a healthy amount of weight. Within 5 months I began to blossom into a vibrant, young women. It was then that boys started flirting with me and popular girls began inviting me to parties. I embraced the fact that my peers valued me more as pretty person than an apparent “ugly” sick one. Later on in life, I stayed with men who, while not that great for me as partners, always accepted my occasional changes in appearance. Our romantic life suffered for no matter how much support I got in the form of, “I love your puffy face”. I felt like a troll, which is the farthest thing from feeling sexy.
Unlike many of my colleagues who work in the field body image, I didn’t start Adios Barbie because I have a long history of eating disorders or life long body image issues. I started Adios Barbie because of my mixed race and puffy face. Up until Judd’s piece came out I couldn’t quite relate to the experience of those who feel rejected and reject themselves simply because they don’t feel like they fit in to the singular ideal of beauty. My puffy faced past has been a solitary one, so once Judd linked the treatment of her puffy face to oppression and patriarchy I finally felt understood.
Like Ashley Judd, my face was labeled ugly. I knew this because of the admiration I received when I was off the drugs. Like the boys that suddenly started flirting with me when I looked ‘normal’ and like the women in my family and girls at school would deliver back handed compliments like, “Wow, you’ve lost so much weight. You’re so pretty now.” There is probably another round or two of large doses of steroids in my future. So at that time, when I begin to feel bad about myself and feel the disapproval of my puffy face from others, I’ll read Judd’s piece and feel validated and empowered.