Harnaam Kaur has polycystic ovary syndrome, which meant she started growing a beard from aged 11. Battling to remove her hair every day, and bullied at school, she started to self-harm and considered suicide. Harnaam is now a body-confidence and anti-bullying activist. She fully embraces her unique look and hopes to encourage others to do the same.
I absolutely love weddings. I grew up attending Sikh, Hindu and western weddings and although each event was very different from the next, each time I would look at the bride in awe, transfixed by her beauty and elegance. Each and every one of them looked like a goddess, and I remember feeling excited about dressing up and being a bride myself one day.
Wearing the most gorgeous dress, carrying the prettiest floral bridal bouquet and marrying the man or woman of your dreams – there is so much to look forward to at a wedding! However I would imagine that for most of you, making preparations for your big day can be quite stressful, not only because you’re concerned about how it will turn out, but because of anxieties about your body or appearance.
Although there are pressures for woman to look a certain way whatever their race, in talking to my friends I have found that Asian women are put under a very particular kind of pressure to look perfect when they walk down the aisle. One of my friends who got married recently spent so much time in the morning worrying about if her make up was perfect (and if her skin looked light enough), whether she looked bloated from breakfast, and if all her body hair was removed properly that she was almost two hours late. I had another friend who told me that her future husband said he would only marry her if she had laser treatment all over her body to remove her excess hair. I’m pleased to say that she didn’t marry him in the end!
Now, I understand that most brides want to look perfect on their wedding day, but it’s a fine line between wanting to feel happy and confident, and making yourself look a certain way because friends, family or society tells you that you should! Why do so many women feel the need to conform and fit into what other people say is beautiful?
Another added pressure I’ve noticed in Asian culture is the desire for brides to not only please her future husband, but his family as well. Too many times to mention I have overheard Indian mothers saying certain girls were too short/ too fat/ too tall/ too hairy to marry their sons. Every time I am absolutely horrified. I have always been shocked by how much women are judged for the way that they look, and although it happens to men too, it certainly doesn’t to the same extent.
I started growing thick hair on my body and face when I hit puberty. At 11 years old I was diagnosed PCOS which is a condition where there is an imbalance in hormones within the female body. This led me to have more male hormones then female ones which meant my hair grew like a man’s and I developed beard. I used to shave and wax my face but at the age of 16, after years of being bullied, self-harming and feeling suicidal, I thought enough was enough and I let it grow out. Since then, I have never felt more content, happy, and in love with my body.
Since becoming a very active and public activist for body confidence and acceptance, I have received many messages from women from different cultures (but particularly Indian women) who are suffering from the taunts of their families and strangers due to the way they look – some due to bodily or facial hair, others because they are overweight or simply don’t fit into societies perception of ‘beauty’. It breaks my heart when they speak to me with such sorrow and distress after being body shamed. I always tell them the same thing:
We need to realise that every one of us is different. We are all imperfectly perfect. Beauty isn’t just about looking a certain way. We are all so unique and we should celebrate our individuality. I used to keep my beard for religious reasons, but now I keep my hair to show the world a different, confident, diverse and strong image of a woman. I love my beard, it has become a part of my body and I do not want to remove it. Love yourself, YOU are the only YOU that YOU have.
I know that I may never get married. I realise that I may never find a life partner due to the way that I look. However if there is someone out there for me, I know that they will look past my physical appearance and delve into the beauty that I hold within myself. S/he will accept me for my personality, my aura and my beautiful soul. Your partner does the same for you and you are so incredibly lucky.
I have come to accept myself fully as a bearded lady and I love who I am. Even if certain members of society don’t like the way I look, I don’t care! I am not living to be accepted by anyone else. I am perfect for me and I adore myself. I will never remove my beard and I don’t ever want to change myself because society tells me I should be different.
Once we unconditionally fall in love with ourselves and our bodies, the taunts of others won’t effect on us anymore. Self-love and empowerment starts from within. It is a journey that each and every one of us should aim to travel on, it is extremely liberating and beautiful.
This article originally appeared in issue 6 of Rock n Roll Bride magazine. Issue 8 is now available to order via our online shop. Alternatively you can subscribe or pick one up in WhSmiths, Sainsburys and independent newsagents up and down the UK!