Julianne Hough describes herself as "a tough cookie" repeatedly in our interview and there's certainly no denying that. The triple threat (singer, dancer, actor) is currently training for her Move Beyond live dance tour, still finds time to judge Dancing With The Stars, and has seemingly boundless energy. Even after spending hours talking about a single subject at a recent NYC press junket, she approached every interview with the same amount of enthusiasm. So when Julianne Hough says that women's lives are hard enough without also suffering from period pain, we should take her seriously. In fact, the DWTS judge knows firsthand how severe this pain can be, as she has endometriosis and is now speaking up as part of the Get in the Know about ME in EndoMEtriosis campaign to encourage other women not to suffer in silence.
Endometriosis encompasses much more than just painful period cramps. According to Mayo Clinic, it's when the lining of your uterus grows outside the organ, and therefore has no place to shed via a standard period. This can cause painful symptoms including heavy bleeding, pain during sex, worsening cramps, bleeding between periods, and more. Unfortunately, a lot of women deal with the pain quietly, thinking that it's normal, because talking about women's health issues like periods is still frustratingly taboo in many ways.
In an interview with People magazine in 2008, Hough admitted that even though "it felt like a knife was being stabbed in [her]," she initially tried to downplay the pain to stay on DWTS (she was still a pro at the time.) "I was like, 'It’s just a bad stomach ache,'" she recalled to the magazine. This play-through-the-pain mentality is all too familiar for many women — whether they suffer from standard (but still painful) cramps or debilitating endometriosis symptoms.
Although I don't have endometriosis, my periods were frequently so painful that I had to miss days of school, and it never occurred to me to speak up about what was causing the pain. I assumed every period was like this and that there was no solution. Then finally, one day in high school I eventually confessed to my mother that it wasn't stomach aches that were plaguing me once a month, but that the pain came with the periods. "Oh," she said. "Do you want to take an Advil?" The fact that there was such a simple way to manage my pain literally changed my life, and I only wish I had thought to say something years sooner.
Hough also wants women to speak up. "I thought I had a high tolerance for pain," she says. "I was just quiet about it, I was just dealing with it on my own. So the fact that we can actually talk about it and empower women to do the same, I think that’s the best part [of the campaign]."
The hope is that knowledge of these issues only gets better with each generation. "My mom didn't know anything when she was younger, she didn’t get informed at all about anything," Hough says. "I think when I have kids I'm going to be like 'bleughh," she says mimicking the sound for word vomit. "I want to tell them everything, because there was such an awkward uncomfortableness talking about it [when I was young] that even saying the word 'period' in front of your dad was like the scariest, weirdest thing ever." She continues, "Now it’s so different. You can talk about these things, and it's so accepted and supported, even."
Hough is trying to directly support other women through her work with ME in EndoMEtriosis, which "encourages women to find out how to identify symptoms of endometriosis and how to address them with a healthcare professional." One in 10 women suffer from the condition, and far too many suffer in silence. OB/GYN Dr. Rebecca Brightman tells Bustle that, in her practice, "Women come in and they always feel that it’s them. Their big concern is, 'I'm the only one,' and they feel isolated," she says. Talking about it can help raise awareness that it isn't just you, and women don't have to just deal with it.
"We don't have to go through the pain and the 'I'm going to stick it out and I'm fine' mentality," Hough points out. "We’re already tough enough as it is." She's absolutely right — women don't need to add anymore hardships to their lives, especially right now, when women's health is under attack from the Trump administration. "It’s very concerning to me," Brightman says. After all, one major way endometriosis is managed is via birth control, so the possibility that free birth control could be taken away is alarming to Brightman, and her patients have also voiced concerns since the election.
"What's unfortunate is many people have considered IUDs much more so than the past, and for some women it works," she says. "But it’s not the treatment for endometriosis and there are certain situations with pelvic pain where an IUD could potentially make it worse."
With everything that women are already put through, we don't need to add suffering in silence to the list. If you're concerned that you may have symptoms of endometriosis, worried that your period pain isn't normal, or just want to help raise awareness, consider joining Hough in talking about endometriosis and periods in general. You can go to the #MEinEndo website for more information, consult with your doctor, and just support your fellow women by speaking up about this issue. You never know what someone may be dealing with in private, and with so much against us, we need to be there for each other. One tough cookie is impressive, but a whole jar is a force to be reckoned with.