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Padma Lakshmi on Living with Endometriosis: 'I Was So Embarrassed by It'

“I felt it was this really icky thing that I couldn’t share,” said Padma Lakshmi about her endometriosis, which she has had since early adolescence.

The Top Chef host, 48, opened up to PEOPLE about how she’s managing the condition today, as well as her newly appointed position: Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme.

“I was so embarrassed about it,” Lakshmi said of the endometriosis diagnosis. “I would lie to my agent and say, ‘Oh I have a migraine’ and then the next month I’d say ‘I have the stomach flu.’ “

Lakshmi is now outspoken about the condition and her symptoms have improved. “I’m getting older, and so my hormones are calming down, so I don’t suffer as much as I used to,” she said. “So, my endometriosis doesn’t affect me nearly as much as it did before when I was in my 30’s or in my 20’s.”

While her battle with endometriosis hasn’t been an easy one, Lakshmi feels that she and other celebrities, including Lena Dunham, Whoopi Goldberg and Julianne Hough, have been helpful in bringing awareness to the condition. “A lot of people are speaking about it and that’s good.”

The mom to daughter Krishna, 9, also spoke about her decision to work with the United Nations to fight gender inequality. “As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s remember that women and girls face some of the worst discrimination and hardships in the world,” Lakshmi said at a press conference held at UNDP headquarters in New York.

“My main mission as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador will be to shine a spotlight on the fact that inequality can affect people in rich and poor countries alike.”

Although Lakshmi feels that the fight for gender equality may not always be an “upward trajectory,” she sees the progress being made in women’s employment.

“I think there are more women in higher positions,” she said. “We are still waiting on the most important one, but we do have more female vice presidents at corporations, in whatever sector, whether it is public service or healthcare or the entertainment industry, progress is being made.”

As a mother, Lakshmi feels that the lessons told to little boys and little girls needs to be changed, saying, “Women are told to be nice, we are told to get along, to be adjusting, go with the flow, work really hard, be perfect, be polite, be pretty, be alluring but not too alluring because then it is your fault. Whereas, boys are raised to be strong and brave and go after what they want and take life by the horns.”

“We are telling little girls something different than what we are telling little boys,” she continued. “We are sending them out to the same ocean to swim together. I used to think intelligence is the greatest quality to have, but now I honestly believe it is empathy. I think that is really important to be teaching our little boys and girls. Empathy.”

Lakshmi concluded her appointment to the United Nations Development Programme with a reflection on her past, and her plans for the future.

“On a personal note, my mother and I came here as immigrants with almost nothing. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine, that I’d be involved in something so much bigger than I am. The mere fact that I’m here today, accepting this appointment, shows that anything is possible.”

“I look forward to seeing a world beyond borders and celebrating the humanity in all of us,” she said. “We all have the ability to tear each other down, or, lift each other up. Today and every day, we choose the latter.”

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