‘I’m a woman who let my facial hair grow – meeting the love of my life is tough’

When I was 14, I typed a suicide note on a computer in the school library and printed it out. Some girls picked it up before me and read it – and do you know what they did? They laughed.

I didn’t think I was going to live past 16, yet now I’m a 31-year-old woman oiling my beard. Sometimes I wonder, “How did I get here?”

I was born in London and grew up there with my mum, dad and younger brother. Outside of school, my upbringing was great.

My parents took me to funfairs and theme parks, which I loved. We had picnics in the park, fun family nights and birthday parties, and we spent time with our cousins, having sleepovers.

But when I wasn’t at home, it was hell on earth. The bullying started when I was in nursery school because I was a quiet, brown Sikh girl with long plaits, who was an easy target.

And the more my body changed, the worse it got. When puberty hit, I gained a lot of weight. Then, when I was 11, I started growing hair around my throat.

Harnaam chats to Stacey Dooley in an episode of her Sleeps Over series


Guy Levy)

My mum took me to the doctor for tests and at 12 I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, a condition that affects women’s hormone levels. Symptoms include irregular periods, growing facial hair and difficulty getting pregnant.

Without hesitation, my mum took me to a salon to have my face waxed.

Those appointments continued twice a week for almost four years. I spent so many hours clenching my teeth in pain while the beautician tried to be sympathetic. My mum thought, as did I, that removing the hair was the best thing we could do because it would stop people bullying me. But it didn’t.

I remember walking into school after having a wax and one guy making a joke about it looking like someone had taken a razor to my face.

I was going through all of this pain – because my skin was so soft and sensitive, particularly at that age – and trying so hard to conform, but all for nothing.

The hair was also growing back thicker and darker after every wax. So one day, shortly after my GCSEs, I made a decision.

It took a lot of strength but I thought, “I can either keep trying to fit in or I can be me.”

Self-harming at school

I missed a waxing appointment and when my mum asked me why I simply said, “I think I’m just going to keep it.” She was worried but she knew it was my decision.

I spent the whole six-week summer holiday preparing myself and by the time I went back to start sixth form, I had a full beard.

But nothing could have prepared me for the hell that awaited me. Things got massively worse and I began to self-harm.

A few years ago I met a guy I used to go to school with and he said he remembers seeing marks on my hands. Clearly, no one knew what to say.

The teachers occasionally suspended a bully but when they returned they were even worse because I’d got them into trouble, not just with the school but their parents. When I was 15 I tried to end my life because I felt I couldn’t go on. Because I was going through hell at school, I was really difficult and snappy at home. My attitude used to stink and the hormone imbalance caused by PCOS gave me mad mood swings.

I was taunted continuously and suffered awful dreams about being brutally attacked by my school bullies.

When I finally left school, I struggled to find work. I did some agency roles, worked for the postal service and did some nannying but none of it felt right.

Then, at 21, I got engaged. I’d never even met him but someone from the local Sikh temple arranged for me to meet a man in India. Because I really wanted a relationship, and at that time I wanted to have children young, I went for it. That might sound mad to some people but in our culture it’s not unusual.

The day I met him it was very formal and nine days later we were engaged. He didn’t comment on my facial hair but suddenly there were all these cans and can’ts.

I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up or have tattoos and piercings. Then, he told me if he found out I wasn’t a virgin, he would never touch me.

I broke up with him two months before we were supposed to get married and I’ve never looked back.

She gave a TED talk in 2018

Since then, I’ve slowly stepped away from religion and become more spiritual. And as I began to fully accept myself for who I am, I started posting bits and bobs on social media. In 2014, a journalist got in touch with me to do an interview and when it was published, my Instagram blew up.

In 2016, I was asked to appear on the catwalk during London Fashion Week for jeweler Marianna Harutunian. Since then, I’ve been in vogue japan, Teen Vogue and indian cosmos. I’ve given a TED Talk, I have 163,000 Instagram followers and I’ve started my own make-up range.

I’m also casually dating. I’m pansexual, which means “hearts not parts” – it doesn’t matter what your sexuality is or what your gender is, I love you for who you are. But I need someone open-minded who wants to stick around and I’m having trouble finding that.

I actually had my palm read the other day and the lady told me I’m not going to meet the love of my life in the UK, because a lot of people are still really narrow-minded here. So perhaps they’re abroad!

Some people treat me like a fantasy or a fetish, like they want to “try” me. They’ve got kinks that they want to delve into and that’s all I am to them. It can be difficult navigating who’s genuinely interested in me.

She was tormented by bullies for years

I hold my head up high

When I think about what it means to be a woman on International Women’s Day, the first word that comes to mind is powerful. Once we understand who we really are and harness that energy, we can literally change the world.

But it’s also important to acknowledge that I’m very privileged. I live in the West and even though I’m half-Indian and half-Tanzanian, I still have very fair skin.

I think on International Women’s Day we should be thinking about those who aren’t as privileged – who live in countries where they can’t be openly lesbian because they’re at risk of being attacked and sometimes killed, or who are suffering because of female genital mutilation. I think more about them and the difficulties they’re going through.

Looking back, despite everything, choosing not to wax my beard is probably one of the greatest decisions I’ve made, because I’m no longer hiding my true self.

People still stare at me and make comments –but I hold my head up high. I surround myself with people who are non-judgmental and 100% on the same wavelength as me.

As hard as the journey has been, I’m grateful.

If you are feeling suicidal or affected by issues talked about by Kirk then contact Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org or call 0800 068 41 41 or contact Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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