24 6 / 2012

Hello, I am the bearded lady…

I might not look quite like the lady below, but, If I was born 40-50 years ago, for all I know I would have ended up in a circus, occupying the role of the bearded lady.

Anna Gonlt, bearded lady, at Barnum Circus, 1880 (Image: Roger-Viollet/Rex Features) via NewScientist

Despite my age (I am now in my early 30s), I still don’t feel comfortable with who and what I am. In my mind, I am the manly, ugly hairy monkey; and this is an image I cannot escape from.

I am one of those unlucky women to have been born with hirsutism. You may be thinking that I am overreacting but this is how I feel. It might not be a life threatening illness but it has marked me forever. I found no easy fix, no support and no understanding in the friends that I decided to share this with; they can’t relate, they don’t understand. I am now thirty, and it still haunts me.

For me, this started when I was about fourteen; see I developed early - lucky me…

At first, I ignored it. It was only some fluff. Then, it started becoming more visible. And it was more than just my face; my chest, my stomach, my bum - and of course the legs, but I could live with that. When all the other girls my age were concerned with looking pretty and maybe having the hair from their upper lip and legs removed, I was hiding myself under over sized clothes (in case anyone saw my hairy bum or belly) and struggled to fit in. I barely have any pictures of myself at that age. As I couldn’t even bare looking at myself, having pictures taken was a big no no. I looked like a man and didn’t want the memorabilia to remind me that.

A year or two later, I did visit a doctor. After doing some tests (blood glucose and ultrasounds to check for policystic ovary syndrome) I was diagnosed. I recall spending a day in the hospital and some hormone injections. Oh, and I was also given some reading material; it mentioned hirsutism and what it was; excessive hair grow. That was it. You need to remember, that was not the era of the internet. That was about all the education I got on the topic. Thanks a bunch.

I am not writing this to blame anyone but to try and make people understand. I was 16, if that, at the time. My mum was always very understanding and did try to help me, but I don’t think she was educated properly on the impact that this could have. So even though I was prescribed androcur, I didn’t follow up and was eventually switched to contraceptives. The solution to all first world problems according to most doctors I visited throughout the years.

I remember going to the beautician every second day and having electrolysis done. Have you ever tried that? That’s when somebody sticks a needle into each hairy pore and zaps you with electricity. Not fun… The numbing cream did nothing for me. But the beautician kept saying ‘No pain, no gain’ - so If I wanted to be beautiful I had to suffer. I can’t say I regretted doing that, at least it helped me get rid of the big hair. The black, thick long hair sticking out my neck. But that was not the end of it.

In the following years I tried IPL and Laser hair removal. IPL left me badly burned on the face and I still have the mark to prove it. After all these years, it still gets infected every now and then; my battle scar. Laser, on the other hand seemed to work. If you can afford it of course. I don’t even know how much money my family gave for my face/neck/chest/nipples/

stomach and bum laser treatments.

In the next couple of years due to my lack of confidence and the need to fit in, I also went through a very rough patch. Extreme bad behaviour, an abusive boyfriend and no friends. I’ve always found it hard to keep in touch with people. They know.. They remember how I look when I’ve not had laser done  for more than a month.

I also went to study abroad, in a country where women are blonde and the concept of epilation that beauticians had didn’t match my expectations. I thought they were disgusted; I still think that. And laser, well, came at a premium price. I had £500 a month to live with. Half of that was my rent, and a treatment costed £200. That meant that I only got to have laser when I went back home, Christmas holidays and maybe Easter. That was a long time to wait.

Needless to say that my University experience was not how most people’s is. I spend most of my time at home, attended the least amount of lectures that would enable me to get through and really really enjoyed cartoon network. No exploring, no intellectual conversations, no hanging out; for the five years that I spend there I barely even know the place.

Another *problem* that this has left me with is not being able to look up. You see I also got bullied when in school. I was the ugly hairy monkey. Fairly intelligent but no one seemed to want to hang out with me. I didn’t look the part and I was also more aggressive than your average girl. I had to mark my territory to survive or so I thought.

I now live in the UK. I have also given up laser.  The nice nurse at the beauty  clinic I used to go to, after a couple of sessions, explained to me that there is no point. Laser will never make this go away completely. It’s just a waste of my money. And to be honest, I could barely afford it at the time as well; with a graduate salary, £150 pounds per month, just to have laser done on my neck and face is a lot of money for having 1/5 of my body hair removed.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing this. More likely because I’m angry. I’m always angry. I struggle to control myself and not to go in a rage. I’m angry that people look down at me because I don’t dress up, because I don’t put my face on. I have now resorted to using a hair removal machine on my face and neck; which combined with my excessive skin greasiness means  even though I am 30, I can be as spotty as a teenager.

I am also married and lucky to be with someone that sort of understands my excessive hair grow and is not appaled by it; but I still don’t think he fully gets it. He thinks I should let go. But I can’t let go. It’s in my mind, if not all the time, most of it. I don’t even bother looking in the mirror with my glasses on or up close most of the time. I don’t want to care or think about it. I want it to be gone, to disappear. But it never will, it’s too late now.

I wish someone had explained hirsutism better to me 16 years ago. I wish I felt comfortable around people without having to fight for it. I wish people weren’t so superficial…