Harnaam Kaur, age 26, cheerfully introduces herself as “a little different from other women.” While she could easily be making reference to her reputation as an outspoken body confidence advocate, her nascent modeling career, or even her bold sense of personal style, she’s well aware of what people first notice about her. Because of a medical condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), Kaur’s face is adorned by a dark, full beard and mustache – features that have not prevented Kaur from embracing her own brand of femininity.
Kaur’s hirsutism first manifested around age 11, when her facial hair began to grow in earnest. Although PCOS is not uncommon, affecting around 1 in 10 women, the excessive hair growth that Kaur experiences is more unusual. For years, Kaur attempted to combat the visible symptoms of her hormonal imbalance by grooming aggressively, trying to shave, wax, and pluck her hair into submission. At such a young age, Kaur found her “lady beard” was yet another burden to bear along with taunts from fellow British schoolchildren about her weight and ethnicity. Bullying was a constant in her life, and no amount of detentions and suspensions for her tormentors could fully prevent the damage being wrought on her self-esteem.
The constant onslaught of judgment from her peers about her appearance eventually had such an impact that Kaur began to skip school and self-harm. She reached a turning point at age 15, when she found herself with a handful of pills; rather than swallowing, she realized the injustice of such a solution: “If the bullies are allowed to live, why shouldn’t I?” Although her persecution didn’t end that day, her methods of dealing with it changed radically. No longer committed to torturing herself with painful hair removal methods simply to assuage her harassers, Kaur began to let her beard grow, and has maintained its natural state ever since.
No matter how impenetrable it may seem now, Kaur’s unapologetic self-confidence is hard-won. In addition to the harsh judgments of her cohorts at school, Kaur has also had to deal with widespread prejudice and discrimination from the Southeast Asian community in particular, and society in general. She has struggled to find work looking as she does, and both acquaintances and strangers freely offer their unsolicited opinions about her “manly” appearance and her poor prospects for marriage. Despite these criticisms, however, Kaur has recently garner a more positive form of attention: a Guinness World Record as the youngest female with a full beard (with portions measuring up to six inches long) – and proud of it.
Not only does Kaur now hold her very own Guinness World Record, but it’s an honor in addition to the one she earned earlier this year as the first bearded woman to walk in a professional runway fashion show. Clad in a navy dress, matching turban, and a cascading gold necklace, Kaur debuted in jewelry designer Marianna Harutunian’s Royal Fashion Day show and fulfilled of being “like the pretty models” she had admired for so long. Rather than hindering her, Kaur’s arresting appearance has propelled her to a certain level of fame, particularly online; she boasts nearly 70,000 Instagram followers, who are treated to a stream of selfies interspersed with encouraging captions about empowerment and self-love, as well as frequent posts to raise awareness of PCOS and its symptoms. The “Bearded Dame” has also done bridal fashion shoots that fly in the face of her haters, dressed in traditional Indian wedding attire and with flowers adorning her beard. In 2014, she was even included in a photographic showcase of “the world’s best beards.”
Kaur’s enthusiastic embrace of her appearance is more than self-love, as she told Guinness World Records. She sees it as a calling. “I was born to help people become confident and comfortable within themselves,” Kaur claims, and it’s clear that she’s doing just that.