Harnaam Kaur [pronounced, Her-nom Core] is a cisgender woman from Slough, England, who works as a teaching assistant in a primary school. Because of a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome, she has a larger than average amount of hair growth for her gender. Being bearded as adolescent girl caused her a lot of problems, and at first, she tried everything she could to remove the hair. But at age sixteen, she made the decision to keep her hair, and focus on loving herself instead of appeasing society. Now, she proudly lives her life as a woman with a beard. She says, “It's hard being different, but it's well worth it."
Growing up, Harnaam was used to being picked on by her peers for all the reasons that children tease each other. But when she hit puberty, things took a turn for the more extreme. “I didn't start noticing facial hair, it was only when I started getting bullied that I looked in the mirror and thought, 'Oh, I do have facial hair.'” She also had issues with her menstrual cycle when puberty hit, so she went to the doctor. She found out that she has polycystic ovaries which causes her to have more male hormones (androgens) than female hormones (estrogens). “That's obviously where the facial hair began. But I didn't have this much facial hair. It was only until I started removing it, that it came back with a vengeance, and it was longer and darker. And it spread, the weirdest thing was that it spread all over my face.”
For years, she tried everything to keep her face hair free, but at sixteen, “I decided that I wanted to keep it because I was fed up with all the pain of removing it. And, back then, there was more religious reasons to why I kept my hair. As Sikhs, we don't remove our hair.” She had just recently made the personal choice to be baptized, and her religion gave her a lot of strength to accept herself as she is. “I thought to myself, 'I'm going to keep it, I'm going to be me and I'm going to be confident.'”
Now, she says that she is more spiritual than religious. “These days, I can't live by religious rules. That, if you do this you're going to go to hell, or if you do this you go to heaven. I'm more about embracing everyone, loving everyone, embracing love and spreading love…[In Sikh religion] I'm not allowed to get tattoos, or change my body in such a way; keep it natural. But for me, I always get tattoos done here and there. They are more about me, and what I've been through in life.”
Living with her decision to keep her beard hasn't been easy. Her parents would urge her to remove the hair to live a more normal life. The bullying got worse, and she lost a lot of friends. She became depressed, and suicidal. A year in, at the age of seventeen, she caved to the pressure and removed the beard. “The second I removed it, I regretted it…So I decided to regrow it again. And that's when I felt so much more confident with it, and I felt so much more power.”
When things were at their darkest, and she thought about killing herself, what helped her through were a few very close friends and a loving bond with her younger brother. But more importantly, she had a revelation, “You have to be really strong to say, 'Today I'm going to end my life.' So I thought to myself, ‘I need to use that power….I'm going to capture this bad energy, and turn it into something good, and make something out of my life. That was my changing point, and that's what I still live by.”
Later in life, Harnaam would post videos online about religion, and her life as a bearded woman. In February of 2014, a journalist contacted her to do an interview. Her story has now received global attention, and she has been on TV, radio, magazine and online stories. “It's helped me a lot. It's made me come to terms with who I am more. And it's made me realize what I want to do. I want to go out and help women, and run campaigns to help women with body confidence.”
She’s had women with similar conditions, or transgender communities, reach out to her and tell her how much her story has affected them. The exposure has even circled back to people from her adolescence. “As all the people that used to bully me matured, and they read my article, they approached my brother and said, 'We are sorry for putting your sister through hell.' But I don't know how to react to them because...they put me through so much rubbish to the point where I wanted to kill myself. That's how much they put me through. So, I can show love to them, but I don't know if I can forgive them. I don't know if I can forget because it's something that's embedded into my life.”
While the attention has given her confidence, and comes with perks, there are still things that she must endure. “I have to deal with society on a daily basis, being laughed at or being pointed at. Especially being bullied online, where I have to read comments. Like, really nasty. Even reading that some people want me to die in death threats here and there...but luckily I don't get death threats to my face, it's just people typing things.”
But in the end, “The transformation I've had has been so life-changing. My life right now is amazing. I get so much support. Yeah, I do have my downsides where I just want to stay at home, and I want to shut myself out, and I don't want to see anybody. But then there are times when I feel that I am here to confuse the shit out of society. So I'm going to go outside in my floweriest dress, and I'm going to confuse everyone. So, I do feel empowered, and I do feel confident, and I'm here to help other women feel that way too. Just by spreading my story to the world.”
And she likes to have fun with societal friction. “I've had a few women come up to me and say, 'Excuse me, this is the women's toilets.' And I put on a deep voice and say, 'No, this is for the men's'…we all just end up laughing.”
If there is one thing that Harnaam would like to communicate to the world, it is that, “you need to love yourself, and once you do, anyone who says anything to you is not going to matter. Once you embrace your whole body, you embrace your personality, your aura, your soul and you fall in love with yourself, nothing can destroy you. At the end of the day, if you're not going to be who you are, and you're not going to be true to yourself, then what's the point? You're not going to be happy in life…Everyone is beautiful. There's no such thing as being normal. We're all so different in such a perfect way, and it's beautiful to see a variety of people in our society. And it takes a special person so see that.
“Love yourself. It's so easy. Just love yourself.”