More and more women are embracing their facial hair

More and more women are embracing their facial hair

How often do you shave your legs? How about your arms? What about your chin? When chart-topper Adele admitted to developing facial hair - which she nicknamed Larry - during her pregnancy, she was lauded by the press and other women for admitting publicly what we all already know to be true: that women aren’t quite the smooth, hairless goddesses that we like to claim and society more or less expects us to be.  

Although still taboo, female facial hair is far more common than you perceive; according to We Can Face It, a health awareness campaign to break the stigma around the topic, around 40 per cent of women have some some degree of unwanted facial hair. Caused by a variety of health conditions and even simply genetics, many more women experience an increase in hair on their face and chest during pregnancy as their hormones go haywire. But now more women than ever, pregnant or not, are embracing their own facial hair - and the response they're getting is way more epic than you would ever expect.

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Model, Instagram sensation, life coach and body confidence activist Harnaam Kaur is one of those leading this movement. Kaur, aged 27, began noticing hair growing on her face, arms and chest when she was 11, and was later diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, which can cause women to develop excess levels of male hormones, lead to irregular periods and even result in infertility. After being badly bullied at school, she began waxing, shaving and even tried bleaching to hide her hair, eventually becoming isolated and turning to self-harm.

However, at 16 she became a Sikh - a religion which forbids cutting body hair - and so was required to let her hair grow out; this act was to prove surprisingly revolutionary. Although no longer a practising in the religion, Kaur has maintained her facial hair and believes that more acceptance is needed of women's bodies: “I find it negatively amazing how a woman’s body has politics attached to it. From our hair which is discriminated when naturally adorned, to our face and the make-up we wear,” she said, speaking on her Instagram: “Right now, we need rights just to be a woman.”

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In 2016, Kaur was awarded a Guinness World Record for being the Youngest female with a full beard, an accolade she hopes will inspire other women: “I hope those who read or see my record can take away positivity, inspiration and realise that no matter who you are or what you look like, you are officially amazing!” In the same year, she also became the first woman with a beard to walk the runway at London Fashion Week, challenging the conventional beauty standard of stick-thin, hairless women. 

As well as appearing on major TV networks to promote her body positive messages, Kaur now visits schools and businesses to encourage self-confidence, often sharing inspiration insights from her own life about loving yourself, mental health and overcoming body shaming.  Earlier this year was invited to speak at parliament's annual Youth Select Committee's inquiry into how body image affects young people, choosing to highlight the lack of visibility of "real" bodies on Instagram: "The way that women's bodies and men's bodies that are being portrayed are not actually their natural form."

Joining Harnaam on the quest for body confidence is Rose Geil, from Oregon, who says that the decision to grow her own beard has made her feel sexier and more feminine than ever: “I definitely feel feminine since I've grown my beard and it has very little to do with physical appearance it's all about my attitude giving myself the freedom to be exactly who I am, because of that I definitely feel womanly, I feel sexy.”

After over 20 years of shaving, plucking and investing in expensive laser procedures to hide her stubble, she took the brave step of giving up the razor, something she had long been considering: “I was emotionally drained from trying to hide it every day and feeling like I was failing miserably.” It was through social media that Rose met other bearded women, who she credits with giving her the confidence and encouragement to accept her facial hair once and for all. 

The reaction from family, friends and the wider public was inspirational and unexpected: “Suddenly after 28 years of being told I didn't have anything to offer and in fact what I had was a detriment, to be told that it's actually an asset and the one thing that they just live for it was very exciting.” Although she admits people do accidentally call her Sir occasionally, she also notes that people walk up to her in the street, praise her confidence and want to shake her hand. 

In a world where enough of us get freaked out and ashamed of a couple of days of leg hair growth, these women are undeniably inspiring. Fortunately, busting the myth of hairless women, and the rebellion against secretive female grooming, seems to be working. Although we might have a long way to go until all women feel comfortable going au natural in public, it is more common than ever to see women having their upper lip waxed or their chins threaded in shopping centre pop-up parlours, outside of the safe space of salon backrooms. So next time you're in the gym, thinking about doing a few chin-ups and realise you've forgotten to shave your armpits that morning, take a leaf out of the book of these ladies and just roll with it. Because you're awesome, hair or no hair.