Lena Dunham: GIRLS star, podcaster, activist + endometriosis warrior

"From the first time I got my period, it didn't feel right. The stomachaches began quickly and were more severe than the mild-irritant cramps [which] seemed to be for the blonde women in pink-hued Midol commercials." (1) In the fall of 2015, Lena Dunham opened up in Lenny Letter about her life with endometriosis (or "endo" for short).

Endometriosis is a fairly common disorder in which the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows outside of the uterus instead. During the monthly menstruation cycle, estrogen is released by the follicle to help the endometrium (inner lining of the uterus) recover from shedding during menstruation, while progesterone is released by the corpus luteum to continue the endometrium buildup later in the month. When the endometrium lies outside the uterus like it does with endometriosis, it still responds to the hormones, even if its not in the right place, which is what causes the excruciating pain, especially during the week of shedding.

Now that you know more about the science behind the disorder, most common symptoms of endometriosis are pain and menstrual regularities, which makes a lot of sense considering its cause!  Painful areas usually include the lower abdomen, lower back, pelvis, rectum, or vagina. Pain can occur in everyday circumstances and increase during sex. The sufferer will experience abnormal menstruation, which can be heavy, irregular, and painful, (2) While there is no cure, doctors can help women manage their symptoms with birth control, pain medication, and surgery.

I am no longer scared of my body. In fact, I listen to it when it speaks. I have no choice but to respect what it tells me, to respect the strength of its voice and the truth of my own.
— Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham's openness about her struggle with endometriosis has the potential to help the millions of women (about 1 in 10 in America) that are battling this condition. However, only a fraction of these cases will ever be diagnosed, and many will be dismissed as menstruation pain. (1)

Dunham is increasing awareness and decreasing stigma surrounding the disorder. (3) On her Instagram, she has shared photos of her endometriosis scars to send a reassuring, body-positive message for others with scars. (4)

"Already self-conscious about imposing my vision on a group of men and asking for their help on executing it, I hid my pain as best as I could. On the set of my film Tiny Furniture, I spent my first lunch break hiding on the toilet, begging the lone female crew member to bring me Midol or heavy barbiturates," Dunham continues write in her Lenny Letter post. (1)

Her endometriosis impacted nearly every corner of her life: During her sophomore year of high school she missed 62 English classes, she had to take a leave of absence from college when she was 19 (although she did manage to graduate on time), and her pain caused her significant struggles at work.

In a closing message, Dunham writes, "I am no longer scared of my body. In fact, I listen to it when it speaks. I have no choice but to respect what it tells me, to respect the strength of its voice and the truth of my own." (1) Through her advocacy and transparency, she encourages the rest of us to do the same.

Lena, thank you for being such a tireless advocate for women (in sooo many ways).

Sources cited:

(1) Lena Dunham, The Sickest Girl, Lenny Letter (Nov 17, 2015). http://www.lennyletter.com/health/a160/the-sickest-girl/

(2) What is Endometriosis? Endometriosis Online (2010). http://www.endometriosisassn.org/endo.html

(3) Carolyn L. Todd, Lena Dunham Opens Up About 3rd ER Visit For Endometriosis, Refinery29 (Jan 20, 2017). http://www.refinery29.com/2017/01/137126/lena-dunham-endometriosis-emergency-room

(4) Catriona Harvey-Jenner, Lena Dunham Shares Pictures of Her Endometriosis Scars, Cosmopolitan (Sept 16, 2016). http://www.cosmopolitan.co.uk/body/health/news/a45953/lena-dunham-shares-pictures-endometriosis-scars-instagram/