There’s a pretty major part of myself that I kept secret for the better part of fourteen years. I beat it down, day after day, hoping that my efforts would be enough to hide my shame. I’d see articles and blog posts about how it’s ridiculous that women are supposed to shave their legs and armpits, and while I agreed, I just felt worse about my own problem. 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? 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?

I have a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome, otherwise known as PCOS. This condition can affect people with ovaries differently, though some of the more common symptoms are infertility, abnormal or painful periods, and hormone imbalance. PCOS affects between 1 in 10 to 1 in 5 people with ovaries worldwide. There is no cure for PCOS, but it is typically treated with birth control.

You may be wondering, is the body and facial hair part really that common? I certainly thought it was uncommon until I got fed up and put down the razor for good. After fourteen years of shaving every single day, avoiding sleepovers as a teen, panicking if I forgot my razor when I went out of town, dreading if I ever ended up in the hospital where I’d be unable to shave, and not allowing my partner to touch my face, I put the razor down.

Jump forward two and a half months, and here I am, fully-bearded, at least two inches of growth. Hair all over my chest, breasts, and stomach. I went from living a daily nightmare to being incredibly in love with my hair in just that short amount of time. I no longer recoil in fear when my partner reaches out to touch my cheek. My confidence has spiked, and with it came some much needed self love. There is still a major problem, though.

I went public from the first day. I posted daily photos of the growth, made videos, shared my story everywhere. I gained attention rather quickly, and had hundreds of women pouring into my private messages within the first week, saying they have the same exact issue. They also have “excess” body hair, they feel shame and horror and need to hide it. Women of all ages, from girls as young as fifteen to women in their sixties, coming to me asking for advice or comfort. Women telling me of how they, too, are afraid of their partner’s touch. I suddenly became the personal therapist and motivator for quite literally hundreds of women out of the blue, and it’s been emotionally exhausting. It’s made me furious. Why is this such a common issue that is kept secret to the point of damaging so many women’s lives?

Five million women are diagnosed every year in the United States alone with what is referred to as “hirsutism”, or male-pattern hair growth. I personally hate the term. If there’s five million women a year who seek medical diagnosis for body hair in one single country per year, it’s obviously not male-pattern hair growth, is it? It seems that humans, regardless of sex or gender, are capable of growing body hair anywhere and everywhere, in varying length and thickness and color.

In this short amount of time, I’ve learned a bit about what it means to be a bearded woman in our society. I’ve learned that despite my fears of leaving the house, most people couldn’t care less. I’ve learned that the majority of the people who do care are extremely positive, supportive, loving people who will make you overjoyed that you decided to let go of your fears. I’ve learned that the hateful people are usually bitter men who hate women anyways, or trans-exclusionary radical feminists who hate trans women so much that they refuse to believe a cis woman can grow a beard. None of the hateful people have come even close to outweighing the positive, loving people.

As a society, we need to have more open discussion on human bodies. Humans are incredibly diverse as a species, and there is no correct way to be a “man” or a “woman”. Nature contradicts the idea that women are hairless, dainty creatures and men are hairy, burly creatures, and we need to start contradicting those ideas more fiercely than ever. If you’re reading this and you are living with the same condition, or any similar issues that cause you to feel unhappy in your body and invalid in your gender identity, speak loudly about it. You’re not alone, not even close, and it’s so important that others know they’re not alone, either. Go forth and start unlearning all that self hate. It’s alright to love your body, no matter what that means.

Flickr/Nigel Hardy (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)