Posted on: September 18, 2020 at 3:54 pm
Last updated: October 19, 2020 at 7:19 pm

Throughout history, body and facial hair has been largely regarded as a male trait. Female beauty standards, however, have been decidedly different. Society instead has dictated that the ideal female body be smooth and hairless, but there are some that want this changed, some of whom are women with beards.

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Women with visible facial hair have often been treated like sideshow attractions. Some were even put on display at nineteenth-century carnivals. 

Female body hair, however, is much more common than society and the media leads us to believe. In fact, approximately forty percent of all women grow facial hair [1]. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding female facial hair is damaging. 

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According to a survey of one thousand women, thirty percent of women with unwanted facial hair suffer from clinical depression. 25 percent of them believe it has held them back from a promotion, and more than forty percent of them say it has affected their ability to form relationships [1].

A growing number of women are now pushing back against the stigma surrounding female facial hair. They are rejecting traditional female beauty standards and embracing the hair that grows naturally on their bodies.

Harnaam Kaur: The Bearded Lady

Harnaam Kaur is a model, Instagram celebrity, and life coach. The 27-year-old suffers from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which affects millions of women around the world. One of her symptoms is known as hirsutism, which is characterized by excessive facial hair growth.

Other kids bullied Harnaam in school because of her appearance. Today, however, she is a successful young woman. She became the first bearded woman to walk in London Fashion Week in March 2016, and was also featured in the Guinness Book of Records for being the youngest woman to have a full-grown beard.

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Harnaame is very open and proud about her life as a “bearded lady”. She is now a spokesperson and representative for the “Eff Your Beauty Standards” campaign, launched by plus-sized model Tess Holliday. The campaign advocates and pushes for greater acceptance of diverse body types.

“My diverse body has shaped me as a person. Most importantly, with or without my beard, I am still powerful,” Harnaam said in an interview. “I love my body and the way that she has formed, now I am here to help show others that they can love and cherish their bodies too.” [2]

Read: The ‘My Body, My Choice’ Philosophy Includes Ear Piercing

Women With Beards

All women have facial and body hair, but it is usually very fine and light in colour. Hair growth caused by hirsutism, by contrast, is coarse and dark. This hair also grows in a male-like pattern, typically on the face, chest, and back [3].

In some cases, hirsutism is caused by a process called virilization. Women with this condition have characteristics that we commonly associate with male hormones. Other signs of virilization might include:

  • Deepening voice
  • Balding
  • Acne
  • Decreased breast size
  • Increased muscle mass
  • Enlargement of the clitoris [3]

Hirsutism affects between five and ten percent of women. According to a paper published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, the main cause of hirsutism is hyperandrogenism, which is when a woman has excessive levels of the male sex hormone, testosterone [4].

Disease of the ovaries, the adrenal gland, or the pituitary gland, can cause hyperandrogenism. Obesity and metabolic syndrome may also cause the condition, as well as certain medications [5].

Hirsutism also tends to run in families. If a woman’s mother, sister, or other female relative has the condition, she has a greater likelihood of having it as well. Women from Meditteranean regions ,South Asia, and the Middle East are also more likely to develop hirsutism [4].

PCOS and Hirsutism

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) accounts for three out of every four cases of hirsutism [6].

PCOS is a common hormonal disorder among women of reproductive age. It may cause women to have prolonged menstrual periods or excess levels of male hormones. The ovaries may also develop a number of small follicles that fail to regularly release eggs.

Health experts still do not know exactly what causes PCOS. Early diagnosis and treatment, however, can reduce the risk of long-term complications like type 2 diabetes and heart disease [7].

Other Causes of Hirsutism

While PCOS is the most common cause of hirsutism, there are other reasons it could develop. They include:

Cushing Syndrome: when medications (for example, prednisone) cause your adrenal glands to make too much of the hormone cortisol. 

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia: when your adrenal glands produce abnormal amounts of steroid hormones including cortisol and androgen. This is an inherited condition.

Tumors: on very rare occasions, an androgen-secreting tumor in the ovaries or adrenal glands can cause hirsutism.

Medications: medications such as minoxidil, danazol, testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) can cause the condition. If your partner uses topical products that contain androgens, you can be affected as well through skin-on-skin contact [3].

Read: Scotland becomes the first country in the world to add LGBTQI history to school curriculum

The Rise of the Bearded Ladies

Harnaam is not the only woman who is speaking out and challenging female body hair expectations. 

Sophia Hadjipanteli and Scarlett Costello are both advocates for the #unibrowmovement. Other women like Nova Galaxia, Shelly Riner, Little Bear Schwarz, J.D. Samson, and Femina Flower are also sporting their facial and body hair proudly for all to see.

“Women shouldn’t have to shave if they choose not to, but what about those of us who have way more hair than what is considered socially acceptable?” Nova Galaxia wrote in a blog post. “What about us women with dark, thick tummy and chest hair? What about us women who are fully capable of growing a big, bushy beard?” [8]

There is no one ‘normal’

Harnaam feels that the media industry, advertising, and porn influences the stigma around female facial hair. She argues that what we continuously see is what we will see as being correct. The more we see an image that does not look like us, the more we want to change ourselves to be more like it.

Over the last few years she has seen a shift in the way women are choosing to live. 

“I believe that more and more women are beginning to realise and understand their worth,” she says. “There has been such a great development within the body confidence movement which is allowing woman to become more and more confident and comfortable within their own body; and so they should.” [2]

As much as she advocates for women embracing their natural bodies, Harnaam is adamant she will not shame one body against another. She believes that everyone should feel included and at home in society.

“I am pro choice. The issue comes when one body shape and size is being put on a pedestal and is being portrayed as the norm.” [2]

Harnaam believes it takes a mentally strong person to stand up and be their authentic self. She understands that living with facial hair can be extremely difficult for some because of the beauty standards set for women.

“I would personally never force anyone to keep or remove anything in their body. I live by one rule ‘my body my rules’ and I hope everyone does too.” [2]

Keep Reading: An alarming number of women are mistreated while giving birth, says study

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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