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What It's Really Like Being a Woman With a Beard

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You will probably never catch me sticking my chin out for selfie. In fact, you will never catch me taking a selfie. Cute filters aren’t enough to hide the truth: I have a beard that requires serious Photoshopping.

Compared to the pain of a cyst that bursts, the agony of infertility, or that random stabbing feeling that happens when a cyst is touched during sex, facial hair may seem like a pretty harmless symptom. But in a world that continues to value women for their looks and to judge their competence by their appearance, it is anything but harmless.

When my husband and I were newlyweds, I would sneak into the bathroom in the morning to perform my “removal and camouflage” routine, as if letting him see me do this would somehow violate the marriage contract. The absurdity of this can only be underscored by the fact that two weeks into our marriage I was already using the toilet in front of him while he showered. My body hadn’t fully recovered from the toxic state that led to my celiac diagnosis, and the 30 seconds it took for him to leave the shower were still 29 too many.

Now if we are going out, I just ask him to give me two minutes so I can shave. I still have to go through the trouble of doing it, but that part is easy compared to the trouble of hiding it. The problem isn’t just that you have to conceal the beard; it’s that you have to conceal what you do to get rid of it. Hiding is exhausting, and in the case of beards, expensive.

Maybe you’re thinking Get thee to a laser clinic and be done with it, but it’s not that simple. Lasers don’t remove hormonal imbalances. While they may successfully (subject to the color of your hair and skin) remove the current growth, new growth will continue to appear as a result of your hormones.

The most effective way I’ve seen to control a polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) beard is with a combination of medication and laser removal, but that assumes several advantages, like the funds to afford laser treatments, pale skin and dark hair, and a tolerance for the side effects of the drugs. My own odds are particularly bleak on the last one. Some of the choices for meds are Diane 35 (birth control), Metformin (typically used for type II diabetes), and Spironolactone (for high blood pressure). Obviously, birth control is not for those trying to get pregnant, but this pill is not a good option for me since I have bipolar disorder. Metformin? The most common side effect is gastrointestinal distress. I’m pretty sure I can’t handle any more of that, at least until I’m done my small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) treatment. Blood pressure medication is out of the question because a reading of 83/59 is standard for me. And beyond your ability to tolerate drugs is the cost. Not everyone has health insurance.

So let’s say you stick to the cheapest form of  removal and shave the beard. You know what that leaves you with? The dreaded shadow. How do you hide it? Makeup! Lots and lots of makeup. The key is to lay it on thick and reapply often. Can you hear the cash register ringing? That’s your never-ending beard-bill, my friends. I could take a pretty excellent trip on what my facial hair has cost me, and I could manage a couple weeks vacation time if I could just get back all the time I’ve spent trying to cover it up.

I’d like to say I’ve given up hiding my beard altogether and that I’m growing it out for the Stanley Cup playoffs, but I have yet to crest that pinnacle of awesomeness. More and more I go out without makeup, and while the act itself feels liberating, it’s a bittersweet victory. When I see my reflection in the mirror I avert my eyes from the disheveled woman looking back at me.

Hiding is exhausting, but what if some of the energy I put into masking the beard was a boost to my self-esteem? Taking pride in your appearance is about self-respect, not vanity. Right? Perhaps. All I know is how I feel, and that is frustrated. I’m not loving the idea of my self-esteem being bound to a tube of concealer any more than I’m loving the bearded reflection.

I may not have the courage to grow out my beard (although it has occurred to me that gathering a sisterhood and doing this on Instagram would be the ultimate campaign for PCOS awareness), but I’ve given up pretending it doesn’t exist. I may never conquer this facial hair, but I am going to crush the taboo around discussing it.

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Thinkstock photo by DmitryBairachnyi

Originally published: May 11, 2017
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