December 20, 2008

And they lived attractively ever after.

Warning: this post will contain some movie and book spoilers.

I just saw the movie Penelope again. I always find that movie charming on a lot of levels, but I remember being very anxious to see how it would treat the subject of love surpassing a person's appearance. And I was impressed.

As soon as she stops trying to beat the curse and starts experiencing life, she finds a lot of what was missing, and realizes that even if she never breaks the curse, she can be happy. When she finally reveals herself to the public, they are more curious than appalled, and in a weird fanish way, they accept her. And when she refuses to compromise that happiness to possibly break the curse and realizes she likes herself the way she is, the curse is broken. Also of note was that her love interest, John, kisses her before he knows she has broken the curse, showing us that her looks don't matter to him and assuring us that he really is worthy of her.

Good movie. But my question is, why does the curse have to be broken? Why "reward" the ability to see past an imperfect exterior by saying, "Congratulations, now you won't have to?" What does that really teach us? That unconditional love is all well and good but you can only be truly happy if you look like you deserve that kind of fairytale?

The thing is, it's satisfying. We all feel a little bit better when the beast becomes a human again. Now they can live happily ever after. I'm sure if any of us bearded women found a way to remove the unwanted hair from our lives forever, we'd live a little happier too. But what if the beast's situation were permanent, more like life? How would that story play out?

There's one book I can think of. Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley, which is her second retelling of the Beauty and the Beast tale. In the first one, the beast became a man again. In the second, she chose for the Beast to remain a beast. It was a fascinating choice to me, and I have yet to find any articles that explain why McKinley told it that way. The sophistication puts it above and beyond the simplistic moral point (vanity is bad) of Grimm. Maybe that's why it's just not that popular.

Has anybody else ever tried to relate to a Beauty and the Beast story?

December 17, 2008

Would you believe...

...that with all the hair on my body, my eyebrows require very little maintenance, and I have been told are very nicely shaped?


Real update soon, I promise. It's just been a tremendously busy week.

December 10, 2008

Persistent Awareness

It was a tough day at work and I feel like I'm coming down with something, so I'm not going to talk about what I'd been planning to talk about (which was something more in-depth).

You know you’re hirsute when someone passes you a really strong drink or a really spicy food with the perfectly innocent phrase, “That’ll put hair on your chest,” and you wonder how hard you should laugh to overcompensate for the fact that you really don't find it funny, or whether you want to discourage the use of the joke.

In my case, I always wonder if it would be comical to say: “Well, actually...”

It's supposed to be humorous. To have hair on your chest means you're robust, healthy, virile, and mature. But said in the company of the secretly hirsute woman, it becomes secretly a little offensive. Irrational, maybe, but it pricks me a little each time I hear it, reminding me that I react differently to it because I'm different. It's not about the joke. It's how I feel about the joke.

I've been thinking about that little innocent phrase recently. “That’ll put hair on your chest” is often spoken in the circles I wander. I have some very cliche acquaintances, I guess.

Last week I was standing in line at a fast food place with some members of my family, and one of them chuckled and pointed at my brown lace sweetheart neckline.

I immediately thought, Oh crap, did I miss one?

“You’ve got a thread,” he said. “Looks like a chest hair. Right in your cleavage.” More chuckling.

It was a thread from the seam of the lace, poking right up in the middle of my chest. Relieved, I tucked it down, laughing myself. “Thought I’d got all those.”

It’s an almost constant awareness, and when you manage to forget, someone or something helps remind you--often in ways much more subtle than what I've just mentioned. I’d love to be able to describe it to relatively un-furry gals out there so that maybe they can understand, and feel fortunate. But it’s so easy for the few people who know me this well to forget my limitations, as well. I still get criticized for being unable to get up and go right from the bed to clothes to door.

Picking chest hair as an example, imagine having to plan your wardrobe around whether or not you can wear any of your open-collared shirts that day. I can only shave there once every few days or I risk irritation that takes weeks to go away. If there’s a special occasion and the special outfit I want to wear has anything lower than a crewneck, I have to make sure my skin has had enough of a break to ensure the most flattering results. On holidays I need to pack for the hope that I’ll be able to wear cheery open tank tops and fun pendants--but also pack for the assumption that the entire time will really be a battle against a rash of in-grown hair further aggravated by sunburn.

It sucks to live this way. Hiding. But we do it. It’s a kind of maintenance a lot of women can’t imagine having to worry about, and you know what? It takes strength. It could be said I'm one of the lazier ones, and it still takes a lot out of me. It takes strength to carry that with you every day. You should be proud of your ingenuity and tenacity.

As well as your robustness and virility, too.

December 3, 2008


I wonder if anyone finds my posts too long? I really like to type.

One of the things that made me really want to start a blog like this was hunting for resources on the internet to explain, support, give me hope for the issues I'm facing, and seeing the hurtfulness of ignorance playing out before my eyes.

Say, for instance, a beauty site posts a little article on excess body hair and plugs some methods of hair removal. Often you'll see a barrage of thankful posts from girls and women who live with the condition, just to have their troubles acknowledged. To have an opportunity to lay out on the table: "I have that, too." To simply have the existence of women with beards accepted, published, put out there for all to see. It was an amazing relief for me just to know I wasn't alone.

But then you see a response from somebody saying, "Ewww, are there really people like that?"

Ah, the Internet. Home for everyone's opinions. Isn't it wonderful?

I remember when I was conducting a search for similar blogs like the one I was considering starting, to see if there was really any niche that needed to be filled, I would follow lots of links that mentioned bearded ladies or some version thereof and be disappointed. But none so much as someone's blog entry about discovering a stash of shaving cream in an older family member's bathroom and upon finding out that it was for her face, joking that it might be time to put her in a home.

I just hope my fellow hirsute ladies have some resiliency and forgiveness, and the strength to believe these reactions come out of people as easily as flatulence (and look just as complimentary to the person to dealt it).

There's no crime in being ignorant, insofar as not being aware of something. The issue becomes when someone acts on that ignorance and the results are harmful. Not knowing is no excuse for being unkind. That kind of automatic closed mindedness, the immediate revulsion of the very idea that a lady has a beard, has got to be one of the biggest fears for a lot of us.

I don't think I could propose the world to "stop." Judgment and categorization based on physical appearance is so innately ingrained in us. I admit, I'd love it if this blog warmed someone up to the idea of us slightly more furry folk being just as human as the rest of the world. But I know how strong the instinct is to judge.

So what if we all started with something smaller? Like thinking before we speak or hit "post?"

November 26, 2008

Looking Forward

I hope the laser hair removal entries helped some readers. I know from experience the amount of curiosity surrounding the procedure. If anyone has any questions that weren't answered in those two posts, don't be shy. I will do my best to answer them. But just because I suffered through it doesn't make me the expert. I'm in the same boat with you all. ;-)

I apologize for not updating last week. I've started to become fashionably morose on my birthday. You know how it is on sit coms, when a woman moons over all the things she hasn't attained yet--wedding, babies, etc. Should a girl be doing that at 23? Please!

I had such a rough time last year, turning 22 and hating the way I looked. I was experimenting with astringent skin products at the time, thinking that if zits became one less thing I had to worry about, I'd be so much happier. The products were drying me out and making my sensitive complexion even worse. I actually broke down in a restaurant after a day out shopping because I felt so miserable about my appearance. I thought, "Is this what the rest of my life is going to be like?" The situation has been better since I've figured out a few things that my skin likes (see this entry for products I currently won't do without), but still, the age of 23 rolls around and I'm as bearded as I ever was.

Of course it makes me think I can't get a date, let alone a wedding, even though I know that's not entirely true. For the most part, I'm far too particular, and far too stand-offish in first impressions. Those are things that have nothing to do with hirsutism, but added all together, I get to thinking with cloying self pity how much of a romantic pariah I am. And don't even get me started on children. What if my hirsutism is hereditary? Could I risk imparting that to my children and have them go through these fluctuating times of hope and shame?

It even influences travel, which is something else I really enjoy. I have a hard time camping in its truest sense. ("What do you mean there are no showers?!") I feel limited about any place where I might need to wear shorts or swim suits. And the change in lighting in a hotel bathroom, or the fact that the sink and mirror may be out in the open where whoever I'm rooming with can witness my required ablutions, are also factors.

So I need to seriously pep talk myself into a better state of mind. This physical detail does not bodily prevent me from these things I feel like I'm missing. It's the way I feel about it that prevents me. I need to either be okay with that, or find a way to control that.

So I haven't had a proper date in five years? A lot of that is because I'm picky about personalities, or have been too busy with post secondary education, or because I've never been the kind of person to risk embarrassment my sharing my feelings first. If the dry flaky skin or outbreaks from shaving repel a guy, I should be thankful. He's not someone I would have found lasting happiness with anyway.

I also try to think about all the things I've done, to remind me that there's even more to be done out there. I've galloped on a beach and swam with dolphins. I've made it through modeling and dance auditions (I know, I was surprised, too!) I've written first drafts of novels and earned a bachelor's degree. I've rode some of the biggest roller coasters in Texas and been to famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Chichen Itza. I can't help but smile to think about the things that have thrilled me over the relatively short time I've been alive. The beard is a large part of me, but it's not everything about me. I should be grateful, not disappointed. I should be optimistic, not defeated.

And there it is, a nutshell version of what I've been telling myself this past week. Because as soon as my inner dialogue circles around the thought, "Is this what the rest of my life is going to be like?"--fearing showing my skin, battling every day to get the closest shave I can and then get foundation to lay smoothly over it, feeling terrified when talking to a handsome man, making vacation plans around the plumbing arrangements--I need to smack myself.

Is this what the rest of my life is going to be like? For goodness sakes, I'm lucky!

November 12, 2008

'Fire the "laser!"'

This is a continuation of the post: 'Begin "laser" ignition sequence!'

I went to the laser clinic once every 4-6 weeks, in order catch some hair in its growth cycle. Those are the follicles we aim to damage when we get laser hair removal--the active ones. I went the first time without any local anesthetic for two reasons: one, I didn’t know what it would feel like, and two, I didn’t want to walk into the office with saran wrap stretched over white cream on my chin, as I had seen some women do. I preferred the average person to have little or no clue why I was there until I went into that particular door.

I lay on a beige chair rather like a dentist’s chair, which the technician (who had also been my consultant) reclined most of the way back. She took off my glasses (and commented every time how she would like to steal them), disinfected my jaw line, and squirted cold gel onto my skin. It came from a plastic bottle resembling a diner ketchup bottle, and because I couldn’t see what she was doing, the slurping sound and sudden chill of the gel always startled me. The laughing afterward helped to break the ice.

Then she started up the laser with a gentle humming sound, and distributed eye protection to everyone in the room. My mother often sat in with me, possibly out of curiosity as well as moral support. She and the technician got to wear orange lab goggles. The protection I had to wear as a laser-ee was the much less stylish tanning booth kind that basically blocked the world right out.

The laser was about one or two centimeters in diameter, and she held a plastic gun-like apparatus to my face before she zapped. Sitting in the dark, I could always prepare myself that way. An elastic snap is a good way to measure the pain--it certainly wasn’t any more intense than that. But for myself, it felt less like a snap against the area and more like a one or two centimeter square of needles poking my skin for a fraction of a second. I could feel the heat flow down each hair shaft into the follicle. Some areas were less painful than others. I found the point of the chin, where the hairs were coarsest, caused a more vivid sensation. Some hairs under the jaw made a close second. As soon as I would jump in surprise at the feeling, it was gone. She would always ask if I was all right before continuing. I always was.

Though it did hurt, I was very gung-ho. I liked feeling each of the offending little follicles burning. Sometimes, you could smell it.

When it was done, she took away the goggles and wiped the rest of the gel off my face. She spritzed it with something light and cool that smelled like lavender, and my skin which was beginning to feel like I’d been out in the sun, was relieved. The last thing she spread on was a light SPF 45 cream, and handed me my glasses and an ice pack.

I thanked her, said the procedure wasn’t bad, but that I would like to use the anesthetic cream from now on. She gave me a small tube and explained how to use it, we made our next appointment, and I was on my way. Though a little singed, I felt excited about this path I had embarked upon. That very day the family--the family who doesn’t know about my facial hair--was going up to a resort for the weekend. No sooner did I come home than we were in the van and on our way. There was still growth worth shaving on my face the next day, but that was normal. The follicles, the technician explained, were shedding, and then a new cycle of hair would begin in dormant follicles. I slathered some SPF 45 on after my shave, and some foundation over that, and I went on as normal. The skin was red and irritated, but not much worse than a shave could do.

The next time I went back to the clinic, I was prepared. I unfortunately have forgotten the name of the topical anesthetic I was given first. It was the kind that has to be applied with plastic over top and left to sit for half an hour. I was advised that I could wash it off before I set out for my appointment, so that is what I did. After I had used up that tube, though (in about two appointments I might add) I was given something new called Maxilene 5, which contains lidocaine and is used for things like burns, insect bites, and hemorrhoid relief. It was much less of an inconvenience to apply, because although it had to sit for just as long, I didn’t have to keep plastic over it which made a huge difference. I found myself thoroughly entertained by the effects of the anesthetic. I could still feel pressure, like fingers on the skin, but I could not feel temperatures or textures. It was fascinating--but as a word of caution, don’t get it near your mouth. Lips lose their feeling very easily, and it can be very unnerving.

Did it work? Well, it certainly improved the situation. I would wash it off before getting in the car so the feeling in my skin was returning by the time I got into the chair. I was still gritting my teeth by the end of each session, but it was a big help.

I began to look forward to my appointments. The technician was lovely, and I was glad to be doing something about my hirsutism. I wasn’t seeing any difference overall, but then, these were always new hair cycles starting that hadn’t been affected by the laser yet. Every now and then, a treated follicle would give up and release the entire hair and it would come out on my washcloth. That was a thrilling event in my day.

When I came to my sixth session, however, she was going over my skin before applying the cooling gel and said, “Huh. You’re not noticing a difference at all?”

I told her no, and she went very quiet for a moment. “By now, you should be. Did your GP get you to take a blood test before referring you here? You know, to check for hormonal abnormalities and such?”

“No,” I said darkly. (I must segue to add that this was the third time my GP had jumped to a conclusion without making any more investigation than a few pokes and a flurry of questions. That’s why I am currently and voluntarily without a GP.)

My wonderful but now slightly flummoxed technician said she would be sending the order for a blood test to my local lab, and in the mean time, this final session was on the house. She said I could call back in about three weeks for the results, and we would go from there.

After the session, I stared out the car window on the way home, realizing for the first time that it was very likely this had all been for nothing. That was the time my mother asked me, “Would you rather have this--or would you rather be fat?” Anything but this, I thought. Anything but a bearded freak--especially one who doesn’t know why she’s bearded.

I took the blood test as soon as I could, and called back in three weeks. My technician wasn’t there, but the woman who answered the phone was very confused about my request for my results, and said I should probably calling the dermatologist who referred me. I thought that was odd, because I had very little to do with that dermatologist since starting treatment. But I called his office, and the lady who answered that phone was just as baffled. She said the doctor was on vacation and she had no record of it here, but I should probably call whoever had ordered the test in the first place. Disheartened and more than a little annoyed, I can’t recall if I ever contacted anyone after that.

But then, after about four weeks, something curious happened. I took my washcloth away from my face and noticed several full hairs lying there, root and all. I scrubbed again. More came away. I peered into the mirror. Could it be there were less hairs than usual? I almost cried.

Gradually, the damaged follicles released their hairs and no new ones grew in. I still had the odd dark vellous strand, but the terminal ones had disappeared completely. That summer, I didn’t shave once, and rarely plucked. I went on a houseboat trip with my family and could wake up in the morning and climb right onto the top deck without having to worry about my face. I had three wonderful, carefree months, as far as my face was concerned.

Then fall came, and I began to have to pluck more. It was identical to my first onset of hirsutism. When I was spending far too long each morning plucking, I moved on to bleaching. And when bleaching became too much of a chore, and was turning the terminal hairs golden instead of blond, I went back to shaving. And here I am, nearly four years later, in the same boat I was when I started.

See, the thing is, I don’t know why this happened to me. I haven’t had the heart to break down doors to find out what happened to this rogue blood test. I can’t say that it’s not worth it either, because I had three months of freedom from all tweezers and blades, so something there was working for a while. The results have been even better for some, I’ve read. It is absolutely worth a try.

Would I do it again? Yes. If I had the money to spare and knew it might only give me a quarter of a year of hairlessness, you bet I would. In a twisted way, it was enjoyable to be doing something about the way I felt about myself.

November 5, 2008

'Begin "laser" ignition sequence!'

New layout! I like redecorating.

Perusing support forums I often see women--particularly young women--asking about laser hair removal. "Should I do it?" "How much is it?" "Does it work?" There have got to be a lot of girls out there wondering what it’s like and if it’s worth the money. Now before you read this post, allow me to insist one more time that each lady is different and may get different results. It seems to depend on the root cause of your hypertrichosis. Mine is yet unknown. But hopefully my experience will help you to make a decision you can feel good about.

Now, in 2004/2005 when I finally decided to try the procedure, there weren’t any of those commercials you now see on TV. Not for hair removal. It was all scar and cellulite reduction. I originally went to my family doctor a couple of years before that and said, “Look, I’ve got this hair in places I shouldn’t. What’s up with that?” He referred me to a dermatologist, who in turn referred me to a laser clinic in the same building. A laser? For hair removal? How was that going to work?

Created by Aesthetic VideoSourceIt was a nice-looking place, almost spa-like, and the consultant was sweet and sensitive. She gave me some publications and tried to describe the process to me, and what I would be expected to do, and how it was supposed to feel. "Like an elastic snapping against your skin, at most," she said. She even offered to zap my inner elbow once so I could see what it felt like. Now, I’m terrified of needles, and her putting a mysterious machine in the same spot you get pricked for a blood test intimidated me far too much, and I gave a nervous laugh and declined. But she zapped herself in the arm like it was nothing, which heartened me. Still, I said I’d think about it.

But I was getting sick of shaving, and I was getting older. I left high school; met a guy. Well, I met a few, but one of them was particularly special. In my second year of college, I started thinking about living life as a couple--even though the relationship didn’t work out, it awakened in me the awareness of that eventuality. Was I going to have to sacrifice half an hour of each day for the rest of my life to this? Besides, how much easier would it be to tell a boyfriend about my hirsutism if I could refer to it in the past tense? I knew there were no guarantees on the permanency of laser hair removal, but I was finally willing to try.

I got another referral. I met with the same consultant. She commended me for the effectiveness of whatever hair removal method I was currently using (shaving and slathering on the make-up)--said I was very good at hiding it compared to some of the women she’d met. It was a welcome tonic, but my eyes welled at the possibility of waking up one day and not having to spend half an hour in front of a mirror shaving/bleaching/plucking before doing anything else. We went over the procedures together once more, and I booked my first appointment.

I won’t go into how laser hair removal works here, because plenty of places already do that. Like here, for instance.

There were a few stipulations before treatment. I had to avoid the sun for 4-6 weeks before and after treatment, and use a sun block of SPF 30 or higher even for short trips out of the house. I started treatments in September, so that was not a big deal, but I’m extremely fair skinned, so I wore SPF 45 all the time. Darker skinned women might have to begin a bleaching regimen 4-6 weeks before treatment can begin, which may be more of an imposition. And if I’d had cold sores, I would have also had to take a course of anti-viral pills starting the day before treatment and for one week afterward.

Also, there was to be no bleaching, plucking or waxing for six weeks prior. I was at a shaving stage of my life then, so it made no difference to me. This may freak a lot of girls out, but it’s for the best. If you remove the hair from the root or lessen its pigmentation, the laser can’t get at it to damage the hair follicle. The area to be treated had to be shaved 24 hours before treatment, and no later.

I was also told that after treatment, I could continue with my day right away. There could be some redness and swelling, but makeup could be used immediately. She recommended not using hair removal products like depilatories that could aggravate the area afterward, but I was allowed to continue my shaving regimen as normal.

I bet you’re curious how much five courses of this was supposed to cost. Keep in mind, these quotes were rough estimates, in Canadian dollars, and given to me four years ago:

Sideburns and chin: $500
Stomach: $600
Lower back: $1200

Unfortunately, those are the only quotes I have. I don’t have quotes for chest, arms, or legs written down anywhere, but assume the larger the area, the more expensive treatment becomes. Now for a girl who went right into college after high school, completely funded by scholarships and student loans, how was I intending to pay for it all? Well, having the cushion of the student loan made me feel more confident in parting with so much money all at once. I went for the sideburns and chin only, which would eat up all the money I had ever earned in my life--from baby-sitting in high school. When you’re young, $500 seems like a lot of money to pay for any one thing. That, I think, was the most difficult part of the decision.

To keep this from getting too long, next week I’ll talk about what it was like, and how well it worked.

October 29, 2008

Boys, and Secrets

A girl at work jokes that I now have a fan club. And not one for being a bearded lady. Just one for being a lady.

Since my last update, I've been made aware of two young men who've made expressions more serious than humorous ruminations about my buttocks. Two admirers in as many weeks--I can't make that stuff up. One was in some of my college classes, and rarely spoke to me at all in the three years we spent in the same major. The other came into work to visit a friend and noticed me nearby.

The sad thing is that after the initial flush of pleasure at being noticed, my second or third thought invariably is, "I wonder if they know?"

We are our own worst critic. When we look in the mirror, we easily see our flaws. And no matter how little we study the people around us, we still expect them to see our imperfections before anything else. That's just the way it is. And so I figure that anyone who looks close enough can see through the make-up to even the faintest stubble, and will link what they see to being a beard on a woman. I know the likelihood of that is rather small, but there have got to be some incredibly observant people out there.

Would knowing influence their initial attraction? If they still tried to initiate the relationship, would it be because they really could overlook the idea of a bearded lady, or would it be because they like the idea of being the more attractive half of a couple?

These are separate ponderings from once a relationship has begun and how the revelation would influence his feelings then--but not totally unrelated. Just unrelated enough to go in a different post.

In the staff room today some of the ladies were talking about how their own personal emphasis on appearance affects their lives. One of them is an obsessive compulsive, and won't go out if she doesn't feel that she looks her best. She looked across the room at me and said, "Don't you be like that."

I smiled, sipped my soup and thought how much my appearance affects my life. It's more than just loathing going out in public. It's wondering if every human relationship has or will be influenced by the way I look. You don't have to have hirsutism to know how that feels.

But I wonder if it's actually better or worse when it's factor that is often well hidden, not readily noticable like other things society deems as blemishes? For the first while to seem normal, and then to reveal later that their impression of you is not entirely true?

Best to just think of the compliment of being noticed, even from a distance.

October 15, 2008

Care to Trade?

If we play six degrees of separation, I'm connected to a teenage girl who purposely tries to give others the impression that she has a beard. Apparently, she's the sort of lesbian who prefers to take on the masculine role. I really don't know her at all, but I was inwardly surprised and fascinated to hear about a young lady who tries to affix colored pencil shavings to her chin.

My own opinions about teen angst versus real gender dysphoria aside, I wonder how she'd feel if she were saddled with my--well, whatever it is that's causing my particular affliction? Would she be thrilled to wake up in the morning and have no control over what grows through her skin except to scrape it off and cover it with makeup if by chance, that day, she doesn't want people to perceive her as masculine? Basically, would she envy what I have, even on the simplest level?

It's bizarre to think someone would envy that. Obviously she's trying to look like a man and not a woman with a beard, but hirsutism could be like a permanent costume. While we ladies admire each other's figures or hair color or style, noses, lips, and eyes, even fingers and toes, some woman out there might wish they had my beard.

I can't say whether or not that makes me feel better, but it sure makes me chuckle.

October 8, 2008


I received an astonishing, rather back-handed comment at work last week. It revealed to me that someone in the office has been observing my rear end, and not hating what they see. At first it stunned me, then my reaction swung from flattered to mortified for a full hour afterward.

It's fall, which means the weather turns immediately and inexplicably grey, and though the falling leaves are beautiful, the sky and air are filled with unfriendly frost. This is the time I resume zombie mode; sleeping in as much as possible, letting my hair dry the way it falls, wearing the comfiest clothing. I cease to make the same effort to look good, though I always, always cover up the beard. And not making that same effort diminishes the way I feel about myself until I cease to even think about it and just focus on getting the job done every day. So to receive a compliment, even one veiled in jokery, lights a fire under my apparently shapely behind.

I buffed and shaped and put a french manicure on my toenails. I started wearing contacts and earrings again. Shaving my legs (up to mid-thigh at least--I'm inspired but not miraculously so) to wear skirts. The rush of looking good had been exhilerating--I wanted to perpetuate the feeling.

It can be a rare thing in this life to get a compliment, with people encouraged to be more private and withdrawn lest they get stepped all over. It made me think not only of how important it is to receive them, but how important it is to give them to other people.

Another girl I work with is very self conscious about her skin. When she jokes about it, you can tell it's bothering her. And of course, I think she's crazy. Even if her complexion gets uneven, her skin works so well with make-up that you'd never notice until she pointed it out. And I can't say, "At least you don't have a beard." So I focus on other positives when she gets frustrated. It's hard to tell whether or not it helps, but we all like compliments, even if we only laugh and wave them away the moment we get them.

So as tempting as it is to dwell inside ourselves, languishing in the belief that there's something inherently wrong with us, sometimes it's good to realize that whether bearded or not, others are feeling the same way. And they could really use a kind word or a hug.

October 1, 2008


Last week, Isis went home on America's Next Top Model. So disappointing, whether you're part of the transgender community or just like rooting for the underdog.

The judges said they thought she was withdrawing more and more as the competition went on, afraid of standing out. Can't blame her, with some of the recent challenges requiring her to show more than she might be comfortable with, and certain people in the house feeling that she didn't belong there. When Isis reflected on how she felt she had a stronger backbone, I found myself thinking, what if I was in her shoes? As in, living in a house full of people who knew my secret, and were not required to accept me on the basis of being family or close friends. How could I cope with living each day knowing nine or ten other people might be constantly judging me? The fact that Isis volunteered to do it is pretty brave.

As I've said before, I can't relate fully to the challenges of people like Isis. What I can identify with is having a physical secret that, if known, would not just call into question my attractiveness, but my gender--my "correctness" as a human being. It's not "right" for a woman to have a beard, not normal.

Of course, people might not think those thoughts exactly. They might just think "Ew" and move to the other side of the street. They might phase me out. They might tell their friends and have a good laugh. And how bad would that be, really? To let the close-minded people think their close-minded thoughts? It would weed out the undesirably acquaintances pretty efficiently.

In theory.

In practice, who wants people to think negatively about them? Everybody--everybody--wants to be accepted.

So Isis left the competition because she was reverting into a shell, shying away from the brazen attitude that could have brought her closer to success. There could be a lesson there for all of us who are ashamed of ourselves for our so-called imperfections. If Isis had continued on and reached her goal, becoming a top model, what would people have thought of her then? There would still be some who would wrinkle their nose at what she used to be, but in the eyes of society as a whole her perceived imperfections might be eclipsed by her fame. Famous people can get away with anything and still be liked and accepted by some.

But what about the rest of us? What if the greatest success we could wish for would be a home, a car, a job you don't hate, a loving husband, maybe children, dogs, a hobby you're good at? That's hardly the bringer of imperfection-eclipsing fame.

So, guard the secret and cope in silence? Or be open and deal with others' censure? Probably depends on if you're happier as a private person, or a public one. And on a great deal of courage, too.

Either way, though, you do not want your challenges to stop you from doing what you love to do.

September 24, 2008

Skin Care Share

I've noticed in some blogs, girls (even some with difficulties far different than hirsutism) are sharing what products they're currently using.

I've tried various regimens over the years, but it used to be that simple warm water would work for me. In the fifth or sixth grade I was diagnosed with perioral dermatitis, which had people calling me "crocodile face." I laughed along with them, because hey, it really wasn't pretty. Nor was the medication, though it did help. I haven't had it since, but was advised to stay off all facial soaps except for Cetaphil. Back then, Cetaphil was far too expensive for a single mother to add to her grocery list regularly--still is, I think. And so, it's only been in the last few years while battling adult acne that I've been brave enough to try other products.

A really aggressive regimen (oil and acne fighting facial soap, astringent toner, face cream with salicylic acid in it) helped for a few months, then ended up only making me look like I had chicken pox. I remember going out on my twenty-second birthday and feeling so terrible about how I looked that I started weeping uncontrollably in a restaurant. The words "I feel ugly and I want to go home and hide" never escaped my lips, though. I hate to admit how much it bothers me.

So I switched, gathering up all the things I remember using when I had tolerable skin in the past. I'm still willing to experiment, but for now, my skin is the best its been in ages thanks to the following:

I start the day with a store-brand sensitive skin cleanser with exactly the same ingedients in exactly the same order as Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, for about half the price. I was using Cetaphil for a while, but recently their price went up as their logo changed, and I got a spurt of courage prodded by a thinning wallet to try the no-name version. Works just as well, and my bank account is a little happier.

A couple of times a week, I give my blemish control regimen a bit of a boost by replacing the gentle cleanser with St. Ives Blemish Control Apricot Scrub, because it has a bit of salycilic acid in it, and the exfoliation cuts down a bit on ingrown hairs. This is also great for my chest and back. It doesn't restore my skin to perfection, but it's been the one thing my skin does seem to miss if I don't pick it up regularly at the drug store.

When it comes to shaving, I haven't found a shaving cream that works for me. I can't get out of the head space that "shaving cream for the face is for men", whereas look at the little pink
 canister of leg shaving cream! It must be gentle, because it looks so girly! I did a semester's worth of color theory in college; I know how
 irrational this thinking is. I'd be very curious to see if a man's shaving cream would make a difference--besides smelling very manly. For now, though, it's women's shaving cream, and disposable razors which are--let's face it--much more affordable than refills for a permanent blade. Right now, Schick's Xtreme3 Comfort Plus for women (it has aloe and vitamin E! Really, do those little strips actually make a difference? Really?) is my favorite. I find that as about two weeks rolls around, it's far too dull to work cleanly and closely to my face, but will do just fine for my legs. So I don't go through them too fast. Can't afford to.

Moisturizing is a part of the process I haven't pinned down yet. I have skin that is usually shiny by midday, but constant shaving has dried out my jaw and chin. Lotions for oily or combination skin don't seem to have the power to rescue the flaky areas the razor has ravaged, but oily lotions make the shine on my skin even worse. To make matters more pressing, if I don't keep the flakiness down along my jawline, it becomes impossible to cover with makeup, and camouflage any blemishes, ingrown hairs, nicks, and the omnipresent ghostly shadow of stubble below the skin. Right now, I'm using Lubriderm for sensitive skin, and fragrance free. It works all right. I also recall the more intensive lotion with sea kelp was nice--calming 
scent, a little heavier cream, but didn't contribute too much to shine for some reason. But I'm still on the hunt for that perfect moisturizer.

At night I use my gentle skin cleanser again, and follow with Clean & Clear Persa Gel 5. It has 5% benzoyl peroxide in it, which I've found works better for me than any spot treatments containing salicylic acid. An employee in a drug store recommended it a while ago when a hunt for such a salicylic acid treatment prove
d fruitless, and though I've gone back out of curiosity, nothing has worked so well yet. It does have a drying effect, so I try to keep it away from my jawline and just use it on spots. Over the years it has performed a few miraculous reversals on those zits you can feel coming for days before you can even see them, but most of the time it's just a preventative measure, not a cure-all.

Other spot treatments I use are Polysporin or some similar antibiotic on any small open sores or nicks to prevent little persisting infections. And straight-up vitamin E oil is great for hurrying healing and reducing scarring once they've healed over. I've found it to be pretty expensive in Canada, but we raided a CVS when we were down in the States, and I still have a bottle of that I'm using two years later. A little bit goes a long way with that stuff, and because both these ointments are oily, they can add to breakouts, so I use them carefully.

The last thing I do, which amuses my family to no end, is smear honey on my face twice a week. While in a particularly frantic skin phase, I was trolling the internet for something that might calm and relax as well as help. I came upon recipes for home made facial masks. Let me tell you, this is something that may not only help, but also makes you feel incredibly self-indulgent and feminine--or in the case of my household, sticky and laughable. The honey mask, it seemed, was perfect for me to try. Not only is honey a natural disinfectant, but we'd been given a big jar of unprocessed honey as a gift and no one was eating it--favoring the easy
 squeeze bottles, you know the kind. Anyway, I warm up about a tablespoon of honey in the microwave, and after washing my face with warm water and making sure all my pores and nice and open, I smear on the honey and let it sit for about 15 to 20 minutes. In summer, it's so warm that I find it will drip--into mouths, teacups, onto laptops... The skin feels softer afterward, and I do notice blemishes get more populous if I fall out of the routine. My cycle could be partly to blame for that, but the mask certainly isn't hurting at all. And if you believe something you're doing works, it just makes you feel a whole lot better to do it. Stressing about blemishes is one thing nobody needs.

Some honey mask recipes:
Homemade Facial Masks on - Honey is the fourth heading down
Honey Face Mask on - Adding different ingedients to the honey
Reviews of the Honey Mask on - Find out how it has worked
 for others

As far as make-up goes, I'm reluctant to experiment beyond what already works for me. I have very pale skin and it's difficult to find things that match, and that will work with the bizarre dry-oily balance of my oh-so-special skin. I find a lot of concealers are just too thick, so a water-based liquid foundation works best because of the dryness where I shave. But it's often iridescent, and won't totally hide the five o'clock shadow. So I also really, really like the very fine compressed powder in Cover Girl's Fresh Complexion Pocket Powder Foundation. It not only mattifies and controls shine, but its "extra-fine powder" doesn't catch in dry, flaky skin nearly as much as other powders will. I do have trouble finding drug stores that will carry it, but WalMart usually has it in stock.

Now, please remember that these are recommendations based on my own experiences. Every woman is different and may get different results. You know that aggressive regimen I referred to in the beginning of this post? That was recommended to me by a teenage relative to has gorgeous, flawless, porcelain skin. I ended up breaking down in tears in public, and it took ages for my skin to recover. I even went on one of those skin-friendly diets to try to regulate it, which only made me hungry and desperate for caffeine. (College students can't cut caffeine out of their diet, it's completely counterproductive.)

But the important thing is to keep trying to find the products that will work for you. Let yourself get excited by a new discovery, revel in a pleasant smell or pretty package, but if it doesn't work, just set your jaw in determination and move on to the next.

Never give up.

September 17, 2008

Bound by blood or law

Everyone needs a rest sometimes. To just lie around and do nothing, and recoup. The same goes for the biggest organ we all have--our skin. Especially my skin, which has to endure the ravages of a razor's edge every day. That takes off more than hair; it takes off skin cells. Some days, it needs a break.

That day is today. I've got the day off work, so I'm doing nothing but moisturizing (and working from home at my second job). It's quite amazing what one day without shaving can do to restore my poor skin. As a bonus, when next I shave, it gives me that extra-clean sensation. Like showering after days of lying in bed with a fever. And until then, I just endure feeling... dirty. And try not to rest my chin on my fist. (Ouch!) On top of which, I have to time my movements around the house so they don't coincide with others, at least until dark. Only one other person in my household knows about this particular thorn in my side: my mother.

I live at home while I repay my student loans, but a few years ago, my mother remarried. Thing is, when you're used to living alone, or nearly alone, suddenly being around people again does not automatically make them all "family." Even if you get along--which I definitely cannot say we always do--trust is hard to build. Maybe some of us feel immediately comfortable enough in new situations to walk around with our shirts off, flaunting whatever flaws we may have, but I'm of a more reserved sort. Maybe one or two of them have guessed, but I have never spoken of it. And considering one of them was the one who had that response to the Tweezie commercial in the previous post, and others suggest family holidays without running water like it's no issue, I doubt they've put the puzzle together.

I went through my laser treatment while living with them, so there's a big puzzle piece right there. I'm sure they'd seen me applying the topical anesthetic cream to my face half an hour before going to the clinic. And one summer, we ended up in a hotel room that had the sink and mirror outside the bathroom proper, and I had to sit around in plain sight in the morning with bleach working its magic all along my jaw. I remember saying it was cream, in case they were wondering. And technically, it was. But if they'd ever gone into my drawers in the bathroom at home and read the box, they would have known what the "cream" was really for.

So why don't I just lay it on the table? After all, they're family, right? And boy do they like to make digs at how long I spend in the bathroom! The answer is simple. Some of these new relatives are related to extremely nasty, unhappy people. The sort of people who look for ways to be malicious. This is where trust comes into play--our new family may know their other relations are the sort of people you'd be rooting to get shot in a blockbuster film, but it doesn't stop them from communicating intimately and thoroughly with these people, even if by accident. So even if your family is charged by the laws of the universe to unconditionally love you, those laws do not extend to others outside that mystical circle.

I have a hard enough time making my mother understand the trial it is to live with this, sometimes. My embarrassment fluctuates from resolutely coping to totally humiliated, but that doesn't mean she should feel free to share my "issues" with her workmates. And she has trouble remembering that it'll take me more than fifteen minutes to get from bed to out-the-door if she needs me to go out.

So who does know about this aspect of my life? Who do I talk to? Who have I told? I'll save that for another day.

September 10, 2008

Get a little.

I wasn't sure what I was going to talk about first, but it turns out, I feel like talking about perspective.

As in realizing, "It could be worse."

Of course, some days I wake up, catch a brand new razor blade on ingrown hairs along my chin--faces bleed like ankles if you know what I mean, ladies--and while trying to staunch the flow so I can put on makeup, my liquid foundation clogs in the ravaged, dried out skin along my jawline. And the time ticks by and I have to go to work, and I think, "How can it be worse?"

My mother was driving me home from my laser hair removal session, the afternoon my technician finally conceded it wasn't making a difference. I stared out the window, contemplating all the money I'd spent and all the wasted effort trying not to hope for too much all these months. And my mother, who has always been slightly overweight and always unhappy about it, asked me: "Would you rather be fat, or would you rather have this?"

Without hesitation, I said, "I'd rather be fat."

Now, overweight people have just as much social stigma to deal with, and their qualifying characteristics are far more widespread, and yet still not accepted. How many reality TV shows are there now about people losing weight? And still, as a group they're probably one of the most mocked. But "overweight" does not have to equal unpretty in society, and certainly not unfeminine. No doubt someone who has to live day in and day out with extra body fat will argue, but my point is not that "being fat is better than being hairy." My point is that everyone can think of something slightly less crappy they'd rather be dealing with. Staying strictly in a cosmetic vein, what about being born with a facial deformity? Having to lose one or both breasts in a battle against cancer?

Besides, I've yet to meet an overweight person who would take on enough body hair to make a teenage boy turn green in exchange for an "ideal" body mass. One very overweight person I know said of a hirsute woman he saw, "I felt guilty for looking without buying a ticket!" Another one, as a commercial for Tweezie came on the TV, cried out, "Eww! That's so gross!" (It might be worth noting here that these are two people who are not--so far as I know--aware of my condition.)

I mean, sure, from afar you have shapely legs and a slim waist, but what happens when you attract someone to come within an arm's length of you? That's another entry for another time.

What I'm trying to say is, self pity is normal. Expected. Maybe even required. But when I need to pull myself out of it and you know, get on with life, it helps to realize that I'm really very fortunate. There are other cosmetic and medical conditions that I personally would have an even harder time living with.

September 4, 2008

It's the condition I'm in.

I remember the first time I realized the onset of hirsutism was a "problem." I was in my grade nine math class, probably getting my homework checked off at the beginning of class. I turned around to leave the teacher's desk and the boy behind me nearly collided with me. He flinched back and said, "What are you, growing a beard?"

Back then, I only had a soft vellus halo around my chin, and yeah, I knew it was there. But it hadn't bothered me until that boy said something. I started trimming it with a pair of curved scissors used for cutting nails. By grade eleven, I was plucking darker, terminal hairs from my chin and sideburns every day. Now, I love to travel and I love camping and all the things that go with it. I remember sitting in the jeep that summer while everyone else had breakfast, trying desperately to pluck in the side-view mirror before they finished. I remember driving all night to a friend's graduation in another province and agonizing over my reflection in a truck stop's Ukrainian restaurant bathroom. And I hated going to the beach because the thickness of the hair on my thighs was getting hard to handle. Imagine a good-looking guy trying to hoist you onto his shoulders to play "chicken" and you can think of nothing but: "Oh-crap-cactus-legs-cactus-legs-cactus-legs!"

In twelfth grade, I began bleaching my face from ear to ear. I had to do it every day because the hair growth was so rapid that you could see the dark roots emerging each morning. When I got my hair done for graduation, I had to ask my hair dresser to leave ample tendrils hanging down the sides of my face, just so I'd feel comfortable. I began to see this development might affect some of the most exciting years of my life A consultation with my family doctor got me referred to a dermatologist, who in turn referred me to a laser hair removal clinic. I was too afraid to even let her do a test zap on my inner arm. I could live with it. Yeah. I could. Maybe it would go away after puberty had run it's course.

That summer, staying in a trailer in a mountain valley with my best friend and her family, I found I could not sit in the closet of a bathroom every morning for half an hour while the bleach on my face and then my stomach below my navel did its job. They were making digs at the amount of time I lurked in there. And so, one morning, in a fit of rage, I mushed shaving gel into a froth on my face and dragged my leg razor over my chin and jaw. I couldn't remember the last time my face felt so smooth. It was faster, felt nicer afterward. I was hooked.

By age eighteen and a freshman in college, I was shaving my face and neck every morning. I couldn't wear shorter shirts for fear that if I reached for something high, the world would get a glimpse of my "treasure trail." A bra, at least, would hide what was sprouting on my breasts. But now my chest was getting in on the fun. I couldn't wear anything that showed more than my collar bones. And even the shaving was starting to get lame. Teenage acne was bad enough, but soon I discovered I was going to become victim to--dun dun dun!--adult acne. Couple that with razor burn and careless nicks and you've got total pizza face for most of the month.

Just before my second year I went back to the dermatologist and got a new referral to the laser clinic. I figured I'd start on my face, and if that worked out, I'd employ the method everywhere else. All the money I'd accumulated from babysitting went towards it, leaving only student loans to pay for college supplies. I'll leave the details of laser treatment for another post, but for now, let me just say that my beard gleefully cycled back each month, until my very lovely but puzzled laser technician ordered a blood test. ("Your doctor never got you to have one? Really?" Yeah. Really.) With pity, she gave me an extra freebie session, and then I spent months waiting for--and calling about--the results of the test. The laser treatment place told me I was calling the wrong place. The dermatologist's office told me my dermatologist was on vacation and I was calling the wrong place. And for unrelated reasons, I was no longer consulting my family doctor.

Meanwhile, the terminal hair cycled out, and nothing grew back. I went house boating and didn't shave my face once--which was good, because even shaving your legs can be a disaster in a tiny loo on a rocking boat. But, by the next year of college, I was having to pluck again. It was like my condition had been "reset" and was starting all over again. Resigned, I was back to bleaching within the year, and have been shaving ever since.

So, four years after that blood test, I still don't know what or if they found anything. Heck, I don't even have a family doctor right now. My biological parents are both of European ancestry with no history of hirsutism that we're aware of. I'm a healthy weight, fair skinned and haired everywhere but aforementioned places, and my cycles are like clockwork. I now hold a degree in the arts and two of the coolest-sounding jobs out there. I'm also single, 50% because I've been absorbed in work and school, and 50% because my standoffish nature is intimidating to others. (I will be discussing romance and relationships at some point.) And I live with my step-family, who I've never told about my unique situation. To this day, I wonder if they ever raised an eyebrow about those months when I'd disappear off to "the doctor" and come home holding an ice pack to my jaw.

So, don't I want to do anything about it? Yes, yes I do. There are days when I cannot make myself get out of bed just to shuffle to the bathroom to shave. And there are other days when I can do it, slap on some make-up, and forget about it for the rest of the day and feel really good about myself. Most days, though, I'm in between. I hit the snooze a few times, make faces at myself in the mirror, go to work, and worry about five o'clock shadow. It would be so amazing to roll out of bed and be able to get up and go. I don't even remember what that used to feel like.

One of these days, I'll audition some new GPs and see if they can't dig around in my records for this phantom blood test. But for now, I work two jobs and am easily distracted by hobbies. I can't decide if its because I'm beginning to accept this as something I'll have to live with, or just some kind of contentedly twisted denial. But that's partly what this is for.

September 3, 2008

Take a bow.

I'm 22 years old, and I've been living with undiagnosed hirsutism for about eight years.

I've had an online presence for all that time, but decided I needed a separate place to talk about the challenges of being a woman with a beard. And not so much because I needed to talk about it, as much as I'm sure it will help in the long run. But in all my wanderings, nothing has helped so much as hearing from other women struggling with the same things.

I'm also hoping that, now and then, someone who stumbles across this blog and automatically thinks, "Ew, gross," might pause and come to see that we're still perfectly normal human beings. (Okay, I have to pause and chuckle about using the word "normal." I've just never met a "normal" person in my life.)

For years I've contemplated opening a blog detailing my struggles, both to educate, and to show other women with hirsutism that, dudettes, you are not alone. In fact, I even thought about writing an essay/short story/article/book. But a blog just publishes thoughts faster. And besides, I've only been alive for two decades. That's not going to fill up a book.

What finally spurred me to begin was watching the season premiere of America's Next Top Model, Cycle 11. For those of you who don't follow the show, there's a contestant this year who was an extra in a photo shoot from last season. I think it's safe to say Isis is the underdog of the season, because she was born male. During her first photo shoot, some of the other girls whispered derogatory things at her, such as "You need a shave!" Now my dears, I am 100% female so I can't say I fathom that kind of inner conflict, but I do know what it's like to feel so painfully unfeminine without having other people hissing in your ear. That kind of cruelty is uncalled for and unacceptable. Even if some will be repulsed by this blog, I'm beginning to believe the honesty may help those who truly need it.

So, I encourage others to post comments, ask questions, share their own stories. Just please be aware that I will be monitoring all comments, and will not permit anything of a malicious nature. I may be able to handle it, but others reading this blog may not.

I'm hoping to update this blog once a week, but perhaps that's just a pipe dream. Once I finish talking about my life story as a bearded lady, treatments I've personally tried, and the particular hardships of trying to conceal the truth on my skin every day, I may run out of things to talk about until, and if, I finally find my solution. My affliction, for now, remains pretty consistent. The biggest challenge in living with hirsutism is living with hirsutism. Every day, one day at a time.

But we'll give this a try. In the next few days I'll be looking for other web logs by women who have the strength and courage to talk about similar issues. I know there are one or two out there. Maybe, with time, there'll be a few more.

It's just time to be up front.

I probably won't be discussing trans gender issues here much. I'm hardly qualified. But for a little extra information about Isis Tsunami on the show, try this link: [link]