Rebel Belle rants: endometriosis is hell

Edited: 09/16

I never wanted this blog to become some adult substitute for DeadJournal stream-of-consciousness rants. But man, do I fucking need to rant. And it's going to be sweary.

Hillary Johnson, my new uterus, via Flickr

Hillary Johnson, my new uterus, via Flickr

I am one of the one in 10 women with endometriosis. I have been for half of my life, but these days it's a much bigger pain in the arse. It's genetic. My grandmother had it, and (we suspect) she missed the early signs of ovarian cancer because she was so accustomed to the pain. The pain blows. The pain... Fuck the pain. 

Endometriosis is a female disease, and by its nature, it all too often makes me resent being a woman. It makes me loathe the genetic necessity to sit down to pee, since sometimes that means getting stranded for half an hour with indescribable twinges of pain taunting my bladder. It makes me angry that the only non-surgical treatment (birth control) promises a burst of estrogen withdrawal, which presents very much like major depression, every fourth week; my own thoughts become terrifying, and knowing why it's happening is scant comfort. 

Most of the time, I try like hell just to cope with it. My mom's an employment lawyer, so I grew up eavesdropping on horror stories of hypochondriac types milking stubbed toes and sniffles for paid leave. People who learned to cope with their challenges, to overcome - they were celebrated. People who blew their challenges up to proportions large enough to hide behind, who made excuses and evaded responsibility - they were life's losers. And those people would never be happy, I was told, because they didn't want to be.  

So I went to school when I was sick, even with mono (though the school put its foot down on that one). I only missed home room the day a sedative was injected into my abdomen, to stop the uncontrollable shaking caused by an antidepressant they've since learned not to prescribe to 13-year-olds. (At least I've been clear of those for over a decade.) When the endometriosis started getting worse, the pain became an excuse to stay longer at work. Sure, I might be seeing spots and fighting back nausea. But another hour or two behind a desk at least delayed the agony of standing up. 

Tom Simpson, Uterus and Testicle, via Flickr

Tom Simpson, Uterus and Testicle, via Flickr

I hate endometriosis because it seems unmentionable. It's not polite to bring up your reproductive organs, or y'know, the tissue normally found in them that can start growing elsewhere. The source of the problem is my fucking uterus. And when you think uterus, you think lady parts. When you think lady parts, you think vagina. So when I'm holding in a grimace of pain and a colleague or a dude friend or a concerned flight attendant asks what's wrong, what honest answer can I give without conjuring up my bikini area? 

So I try to ignore the pain. I dismiss it. I lie. I initiate evasive manoeuvres. And that's fucking ridiculous, because ONE IN 10 WOMEN is dealing with this. At the very bloody least. Who knows how many more tell themselves to suck it up when their period cramps make them black out or vomit, or blame last night's takeout for the sensation of fan blades churning through their lower abdomens. Can you blame them? None of us want to be life's losers. 

It pisses me off that my gender-specific organs can deliver new and unexpected symptoms that make me squeamish, nauseous, disgusted by my own body. It's an unfair liability of being female. There is so much I love about being a girl, about being a girly fucking girl. I love buying high heels I can't walk in. I spend a disturbing proportion of my income on skincare. And while we're dancing around taboos, why don't we just admit it: the sex thing can be pretty great for us, ladies. I mean, I've never done it as a guy, but I'm pretty sure the word "climax" gets used because they don't have the luxury of a five or 10 minute denouement every once in a while. Hello, does that not make us winners of the genetic lottery or something? I guess all good things come with a price.

So here it is. I'm putting it all out in the open. I am a woman suffering from endometriosis. It's not life-threatening. It doesn't make me special. But acknowledging it doesn't make me one of life's losers. By hiding my endo, by feeling ashamed of my pain, I've been perpetuating some seriously messed up ideas about femininity - and doing a disservice to all my fellow ladies living with this bullshit condition. I am a woman suffering from endometriosis, but I can still kick ass. One woman out of every 10 is living in debilitating pain, and no one has even bloody noticed. This is not an embarrassing chick disease. It's proof that we are already so much stronger than we give ourselves credit for. 

 

Rebel Belle rants: who ate my reviews?

Nearly two months into a job hunt, I've developed a really bad habit.

I discovered the review function on Sephora. 

On the surface, you probably wouldn't take me for a cosmetic junkie. But the habit runs deep. And in the absence of anything real to write about - except myself, in the form of cover letters (*cough* worst *cough*) - I've become obsessed with reviewing past purchases and answering questions, then checking over and over to see if anyone's given me a "helpful" vote. 

I'm so cool. 

Here's my problem: three of my most helpful reviews were actually removed by Sephora. This is where it gets dodgy. Sephora doesn't just take whatever you have to say at face value: they check it, then if your review (or answer) passes their community standards, it gets posted online within about 72 hours. All three of these reviews went through that process, only to be removed a day or two later. In case you hadn't guessed it, all three of these reviews were negative. 

On further research, it turns out that's really not unheard of. Sephora hasn't gone to the trouble of deleting some of the community comments about negative reviews being deleted.

Note that each of those commenters is identified as a "VIB Rouge" - Sephora's reward class for those who spend $1000+ per year. Sorry, but I'm pretty sure those are the customers you want to keep on your side. 

The deletion issue also comes up on MakeupAlley, a popular community just for user reviews. There's a pretty old thread about it on Specktra, a cosmetics discussion forum. And in Reddit's MakeupAddiction, there's speculation about why reviews might be deleted, plus some opinions about the quality of reviews on Sephora in general. 

Here's the thing: this is not what a company wants to be known for. "Don't delete user-generated content" is pretty much the first rule of social media for any business, and the same applies to reviews. Never mind if bad reviews might hurt sales. You know what hurts sales even more? When a customer leaves your website to check a more reliable source. At that point, you've lost them. They might get pointed towards a cheaper retailer, or decide that they really need to visit a bricks-and-mortar store, or drop their phone into oncoming traffic. And then it's no sale for you. 

Skincare and cosmetics companies already have a terrifying degree of control over their user-generated content because of their relationships with beauty bloggers and YouTubers. If you watch these girls - especially the ones signed with representation - you'll notice that a lot of them are trying the same things at the same time. (Sometimes completely inappropriate things, given how young most of them are.) And, here's the kicker: the girls rarely have a negative word to say about anything. Even if their skin's in bits, they blame themselves - not the products they're probably reacting to. When a brand throws a blogger a sample, there's now often an expectation that they'll receive a positive review in exchange. Some of these brands even have some degree of creative control or approval. Why the hell has no one taught these girls that you don't have to put out just because someone bought you dinner? With so many young teens emptying their wallets on the say-so of their favourite YouTubers, something's gotta give.

I reached out to Sephora after my reviews were deleted and asked if they would explain why. After all, it's possible I violated some community rule and they just didn't catch it till later. (Never mind that they'd have to slash and burn through their site to get rid of every positive review with a violation - for example, mentioning another product.) I got an autoreply that thanked me for getting in touch, then two days later, this response:

Super clear, informative and balanced, right? (By the way, the whole thing is a hyperlink to the Sephora website. It looks dodgy. Is it any surprise this got caught in my spam filter?)

I'm interested to see what happens next. I've read some beauty and skincare blog posts complaining about shipping, the VIB program and other common Sephora woes. In most cases, it seems like their PR interns on issues management duty are a hell of a lot more "on it" than their client services team. Of course, if they're really on it, they'll check the stats on this blog and clock that it's not enough of a concern to bother with. 

The moral of this story? Don't mess with a chick who's worked in marketing. 

Also, if anyone wants to give me a job so I can stop trying to measure engagement on my Sephora reviews, that'd be great. 

Rebel Belle loves: encounters with London's ramen scene

I think I'm becoming a ramen slut. 

I was in a monogamous relationship with Bone Daddies for longer than I care to admit. Every visit, I ordered the same ramen (Tantanmen, half spicy) and the same beer (Asahi Black), and I chose the same songs on Secret DJ (Zeppelin, Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult). I've checked in so often, the app named me Leading Lady of the restaurant. This is how you know I'm cool. 

Tantanmen and Asahi Black at Bone Daddies. The usual.

Tantanmen and Asahi Black at Bone Daddies. The usual.

Unlike most grads of my generation, I never lived on ramen. By the time I first set foot in a noodle bar, they were trendy as fuck. But despite the hipster factor of their product, Bone Daddies never compromised on their rock'n'roll rep. Show me anywhere else in London dishing up so much flavour with a side of Motorhead. Do it, I dare you.

No matter how often I turned up in Soho on a Sunday afternoon, armed with good intentions to change up my routine, I couldn't bring myself to stray. Something about the high stools and bar-style layout of the joint make it particularly appealing for dining solo and falling into a book.

Once they even gave me these delicious ribs some other customer didn't want.

Once they even gave me these delicious ribs some other customer didn't want.

Then last autumn, everything changed. I was in town pretty much daily, studying for the GRE and working on my PhD research proposal at the Kaplan Student Centre by Trafalgar Square. I had a few lunch dates with Bone Daddies, but something was off. Our routine had changed: I was always in a hurry and I didn't order a beer or get lost in my Kindle. One day there was a queue and I couldn't be bothered waiting. I went to Pret and ended up with an unsatisfying combination of kale chips and miso soup. I was angry at Bone Daddies and angrier at myself.

The next time I had a ramen craving, I went to Tonkotsu. Everything was different: the bar and stools were set much lower, clustered closer together, so I could hear everything the girls next to me were saying. I wondered if I should leave then, before I'd actually ordered and found myself in too deep. 

And then they started playing The Clash

I ordered the eponymous ramen, their most popular dish, and for the first time I could remember, I lapped up every silky, flavoursome drop of broth. Unlike at Bone Daddies, where I'd often give up on trying to get someone's attention and stare into space for half an hour, the servers at Tonkotsu made sure they knew I'd finished and got me out the door . 

Bone Daddies also has a tonkotsu ramen. I once ordered it by accident. No regrets.

Bone Daddies also has a tonkotsu ramen. I once ordered it by accident. No regrets.

Most recently, I stopped by Shoryu's Carnaby Street branch. I went gluten-free for endo in January and the promise of GF ramen was almost too much to handle after going so long without noodles... Except, turns out, Shoryu has an ironically-named tonkotsu ramen (how very hipster), the Dracula. It's basically a garlic explosion in your mouth. If you are a lover of garlic, you'll understand it's worth the friggin' pain.

Dude, there's garlic EVERYWHERE in this dish. Like, everywhere. If you order the Dracula, you will accidentally consume a slice of raw garlic. It's inevitable. So if you're actually a vampire, maybe just don't.

BELA LUGOSI'S DEAD. 

BELA LUGOSI'S DEAD. 

The strong, spicy flavour develops as you go on (the raw garlic clearly doing some sort of "infusing" process, how's that for gastronomy), so try to resist gobbling down all three thick slices of barbecued pork too soon. One of the things that sold me on this dish was the promise of fried garlic, but I was bummed by the lack of crunchy nutty goodness. (Bone Daddies does this really friggin' well on their tonkotsu.) 

So here's the thing. I want to keep exploring what else is out there. Kanada-Ya sounds like my home country and it's on my favourite stretch of Soho periphery. But I keep comparing every new place to Bone Daddies. It always feels like something is missing, and I wonder if I should've just stuck with what I know. Maybe I'm not cut out to play the ramen field. I've moved on, but my heart - and tantanmen cravings - just can't.