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‘Tis the season for facial hair, courtesy of Movember, although Rachel Rubin rightly pointed out that there are some serious problems with how the event is currently framed and handled. Much like breast cancer awareness, Movember has become a juggernaut of misdirected funds and general grossness, rather than a legitimate effort to address serious men’s health issues.
And for the women who want to participate, it’s quite a minefield. Rachel collected an assortment of nasty Tweets about women with facial hair in her piece on Movember, illustrating broader social attitudes about ladies sporting mustaches, beards, sideburns or, really, anything even vaguely resembling hair on their faces. Bearded ladies are supposed to be freakshows, something to be pointed and laughed at, rather than women who happen to have facial hair, for whatever reason.
Unlike men, women aren’t socially allowed to choose facial hair as an aesthetic choice and as part of their personal expression. They’re supposed to shave it, wax it, laser it or otherwise remove it. Just get it off, because women aren’t supposed to have hairy faces.
Those kinds of attitudes really suck for women who genuinely do want to sport facial hair for whatever reason, and they’re also hard on women who have facial hair and really wish they didn’t. Despite what many men seem to think, facial hair to some degree actually isn’t all that uncommon on women, and there are a variety of medical conditions that can be associated with increased facial hair growth, particularly polycystic ovary syndrome.
Some women have facial hair. Deal with it.
That’s the case with Siobhain Fletcher, who decided that rather that shaving her face every other day to keep growth down, she’d let her facial hair grow out for the month of November. Not just to raise awareness for men’s health issues and to raise money for charity, but also to make a statement about self-esteem and to highlight a simple fact. Some women have facial hair. Deal with it.
In her profile at The Daily Mail, the facts of life as a teen and young woman with facial hair emerge, and they’re extremely depressing. Fletcher talks about desperately trying to get rid of it, being mocked and teased, and isolating herself to avoid interacting with the public. She had extremely low self-esteem, preferring the company of her horses to that of judgmental humans.
Perhaps saddest of all, she didn’t get a diagnosis of PCOS until she sought assistance while she was trying to get pregnant and was struggling with infertility. In other words, despite the fact that she was experiencing excessive facial hair growth, neither she (nor her parents, when she was a teen), thought of taking the issue to a doctor, and none of the doctors she saw for routine care thought of evaluating her to determine if something was medically wrong.
She could have been diagnosed much, much earlier, and she could have been provided with information about treatment options. In a society where there’s so much shame about facial hair on women, it’s telling that women with facial hair they find excessive assume there’s nothing to be done about it, and don’t seek medical evaluation to determine if they need medical treatment.
Ultimately, it sounds like Fletcher has found the experience of growing out and embracing her facial hair really empowering; in part, that’s probably because she’s been living with it for a long time. But she’s also finding a greater acceptance within herself for her fantastic beard and mustache, and she’s speaking out about self-image and self-esteem; she’s even talking to students about self-esteem issues. A far cry from hiding in her home because she doesn’t want to deal with the outside world.
BEARDED LADY PRIDE
I can’t help but contrast Fletcher with Balpreet Kaur, the Sikh woman who captivated the news cycle a few months ago because a picture of her sporting facial hair showed up on Reddit, people mocked her and she entered the comment thread to talk about her faith and her facial hair. I love Kaur’s words about her facial hair and how not cutting her hair is part of her expression of religious faith, and think she’s another great model for women who might be struggling with self-esteem because their bodies don’t look like they’re “supposed” to.
Like Fletcher, Kaur is often misgendered, both accidentally and deliberately in acts of misogyny, and she’s forced to routinely deal with nasty comments and assumptions because of how she looks. Both women are making a pretty profound statement by going out in public with their facial hair in full flower. That statement includes not just a confrontation of sexist attitudes on the part of men convinced that facial hair is their exclusive property, but also a signal to people of all genders who experience a troubled relationship with their body image.
Women in particular experience such social pressure to force their bodies to conform; they are expected to have gender presentations that fit within a very narrow outline of acceptable parameters. Women who step outside those boundaries are told they aren’t sexy, aren’t really women, are gross to look at, don’t belong.
For girls and young women who are just starting to explore their relationships with their bodies, such messaging is incredibly damaging. And it makes me wish we had more Balpreet Kaurs and Siobhan Fletchers in the world, reminding people that “woman” comes in a lot of different flavors, and all of them are pretty great.
Facial hair on women doesn’t have to be the end of the world; in fact, it can actually be pretty hot.