I'm A Bearded Lady, And It Controls My Life
Last September, the story of Balpreet Kaur and her amazing response to Redditors who mocked her for growing out her facial hair took over the Internet for a few days. s.e. wrote a really fantastic piece a couple of months later about Kaur and defending the right of women to rock their facial hair. Part of me wanted to raise my fist in solidarity. Another, much larger part of me wanted to stick my head in the sand until all the talk about women's facial hair had passed.
I wear black liquid eyeliner, lots of blackest black mascara, and the brightest red lipstick I can find. I identify as an ultra-feminine women. Since I was 16, I've also grown dark, thick hair along my jawline and chin. I've never been misgendered, but I did have a very inquisitive preschooler ask me why I had hair on my face in front of a group of people when I was in my late teens. It was one of the most embarrassing experiences I’ve ever had.
I do not have polycystic ovary syndrome, nor have I been diagnosed with any other condition that would cause this abnormal growth of hair. No other part of my body is overly hairy besides the top of my head, where my very normal-looking hair grows at a crazy-fast rate. (My fingernails and toenails also grow ridiculously quickly.) What can I say? I won the genetic lottery and am weirdly beardly.
I had laser hair removal and I was blissfully hair-free for almost four years. My hormones made a sharp right turn in my early twenties and dark terminal hairs started growing in all along my jawline and down my chin onto my upper neck. I didn't see the point in paying for laser hair removal again if my unpredictable hormones were going to negate every dollar spent.
I've tried depilatory creams, waxing, Vaniqa, and I even went into credit card debt to buy a Silk’n machine. None of it helps.
I currently shave my face at least once a day, first thing in the morning. If I have something important to do in the late afternoon or evening, I bring my kit with me to shave and reapply my makeup at work.
First, I wet my face and apply Bath and Body Works Shave the Day to the areas of unwanted hair. For a long time I shaved using a light moisturizer, but I find that the shea butter in Shave the Day leaves my face soft without clogging up my pores. The hair on my face grows in different directions, so it takes at least 15 minutes just to get the hair removed. The Bic Soleil is the only razor I've ever found that gives me a close enough shave without cutting up my face. Still, my chin never feels totally smooth. If I try to go gangbusters on it, the skin gets red, chapped, and sore, kind of like a burn.
Hair removal is only the first battle. I’m left with dark spots from the hair follicles, which are very visible on either side of my chin. First I moisturize my entire face and use a makeup primer. I apply a thick coat of Cover Girl concealer stick over the dark areas and cover my entire face in a liquid foundation slightly lighter than my skin tone. I apply a second coat of concealer, put on more foundation over the darkest parts of my face, and then use loose powder to keep everything in place.
At this point you can only see the dark patches if you're really looking for them. Unfortunately, after about four hours, the hair has grown long enough to be visible through the makeup. (5 o'clock shadow my ass. I have a 1 o'clock shadow.) It’s subtle, but still annoying, and it makes me paranoid that someone will notice. I either shave again mid-day and completely reapply my makeup, or if I know that I'm going to be able to stay in dimly lit spaces, I just power through and tell myself that people will just think I have really uneven skin.
It’s exhausting, humiliating, and something I'm constantly aware of. While it’s difficult to make friends as an adult no matter what you look like, the hair makes me extra-self-conscious. I'm naturally shy anyway, so talking to strangers feels like an epic undertaking.
I try to avoid being outside in the middle of the day, especially in the spring and summer, because the hair is very visible in direct sunlight no matter how many layers of makeup I wear. I very rarely go swimming or boating, even though I love both, because I know that between the sun and the water washing off my makeup, I'll look like a circus freak.
I would really like to start camping with my family, but not knowing if I'll have the privacy or facilities to shave has led me to vetoing it (for totally made-up reasons, of course) every time the topic comes up. Oh, and you know those seriously annoying women who wear a full face of makeup to the gym? Yeah, that's me.
I've been married for almost five years and have never let my husband touch my face below my cheekbones. We've never talked about it. It's one of those things I assume he has noticed, but deep in my heart of hearts, I hope he hasn't. I always get ready in the mornings behind a closed door.
Once he nearly walked in on me while shaving and I threw a dramatic shit fit about privacy in the bathroom that probably made me sound more like a teenage girl than a woman in her thirties with multiple master's degrees.
Thankfully, there are a few women out there willing to be open about their facial hair, and let us bearded ladies know we aren’t alone. Carly Gershone blogs at the Pink Razor Project and I highly recommend viewing her photo project “If Found, Please Shave.” I find All Kinds of Fur and The Hirsutism Hub to be particularly valuable because the authors talk about not only how they treat or hide their facial hair, but also how it affects them emotionally and interpersonally.
It’s such a relief to read these women’s stories. One of the worst parts about having such an embarrassing condition is that even though you know you can’t be the only one who goes through it, it’s easy to feel alone because no one wants to talk about it.
What I'm beginning to realize is that I don't have to be so hard on myself. I spend so much time and energy worrying about people judging me, and really I'm just judging myself and finding myself to be lacking. It's a waste, and it’s teaching my son the wrong lessons about beauty and self-respect.
Do I hope that one day someone will invent a miracle cream that will totally stop hair growth wherever you apply it, and that this cream will be covered by my health insurance? You bet your sweet bippy I do. But I look at these women who blog, and at Balpreet Kaur, and at other women who live full, wonderful, unapologetic lives despite (and sometimes because of) something that society deems too masculine and unattractive, and I realize that I'm not alone. I'm not inherently disgusting. I am the way my genetics and the Higher Power made me. It's up to me to take it from there.