A 23-year-old woman with a condition causing excessive hair development has revealed that growing a beard makes her feel more feminine.
Harnaam Kaur, of Slough, Berkshire, suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome – and a beard first started to appear on her face aged just 11.
The hair quickly spread to her chest and arms, and the condition made her the victim of taunts at school and on the street. She even received death threats from strangers over the internet.
But Miss Kaur has now decided to stop cutting her hair after being baptised as a Sikh – a religion in which cutting body hair is forbidden.
She said: ‘I would never ever go back now and remove my facial hair because it’s the way God made me and I’m happy with the way I am.
‘I feel more feminine, more sexy and I think I look it too. I’ve learned to love myself for who I am nothing can shake me now.’
During her early teens, Miss Kaur was so ashamed of her beard that she waxed twice a week, and also tried bleaching and shaving.
But the hair became thicker and spread – with Miss Kaur feeling so self-conscious that she refused to leave her house. She even began self-harming and she considered suicide.
She said: ‘I got bullied badly – at school I was called a “beardo” and things like “shemale” and “sheman”. I can laugh about it now, but back then it affected me so badly that I began to self-harm because it felt better than all the abuse I was getting.
‘I’d talk to people with a hand over my face and I wore baggy, tomboy clothes to cover up the hair on my chest and arms.
‘I didn’t want to go outside my house because I couldn’t take the stares from strangers so I’d lock myself in my room. It got so bad that I just didn’t want to live anymore.’
The decision proved controversial – especially with her family. Miss Kaur said: ‘My mum and dad didn’t want me to do it – they didn’t think I’d be able to have a normal life if I had a beard.
‘They worried I wouldn’t be able to get married and that I’d never get a job. But I wanted to make my own decisions and live for myself – not anyone else. I’d had enough of hiding.
‘I’d had enough of the bullying and the self-harming and the suicidal thoughts. I wanted to change my whole outlook on life and I thought I thought it was time to stop locking myself away – I had to do something about it.’
Her parents have come to terms with her decision – and her brother Gurdeep Singh, 18, is her biggest supporter.
She said: ‘It was incredibly daunting going outside because people would stare more than ever. At first I was angry but I realised that they didn’t understand and were probably too afraid to ask me so I just decided to smile back.’
But Miss Kaur has struggled to get a job and even shaved off her beard at the age of 17 after pressure from members of her extended family.
She said: ‘I removed my beard once during a really low moment but when I’d done it all I could do was cry because I didn’t feel like myself without my beard.
‘My brother was actually the one person who was completely shocked by what I had done – he hugged me and said I had looked so beautiful with my beard, he didn’t understand why I had done it.’
She added: ‘It was from that point that I thought I’m never going to remove it ever again.’
Since then Miss Kaur has been employed at a local Sikh primary school as a teaching assistant and her confidence has soared.
She said: ‘I still get shop assistants calling me “sir” and strange looks from people – they see my beard first and realise I’ve actually got breasts too. It must be confusing for a lot of people.
‘The funniest reactions I get are from the children at my school. Some ask me what my beard is and I joke it’s a Halloween costume. Some even ask me where I buy it and I just say “Asda”.
‘I can laugh about it now – sometimes I say I’m a man and I put on a deep voice to scare other people because it’s quite funny to see their reaction.
Despite often being mistaken for a man, Miss Kaur says she feels more feminine than ever – choosing girly tops over baggy, high-necked jumpers.
She said: ‘I’m able to go out and shop in the women’s section without feeling I shouldn’t be there. I wear skirts, dresses and jewellery and I like to get my nails done like every other girl.’
Today Miss Kaur hopes her story will help other women find self-confidence. She has decided to share her story on YouTube – and continues to upload videos despite receiving death threats.
She said: ‘I’ve had people telling me they’re going to burn me and throw a brick at me – all sorts of things like that.
‘But I’ve also had a lot of positive messages from women in the same situation as me. I’ve also had loads of nice comments from men all over the world. One even asked me to marry him.
‘I haven’t found a potential husband yet. I still get some grief from the men in my community and it does still seem to be a barrier to marriage. But I’m young and there’s still plenty of time for that.
‘All that matters to me at the moment is that I love myself. I love my beard and all my other little quirks – my tattoos, my scars, stretch marks and blemishes.
‘I want other women to find the strength that I have. If I had any message it would be to live the way you want – it’s your journey and it’s your life.’