By Leah Jorgensen
This post is part of HealthyWomen's Real Women, Real Stories series.
The hair started growing early …
When I was around 14 years old, I started to notice changes with my body hair that were very different from what I had been told to expect during puberty. Very fine, long facial hair started to grow on my chin and neck, but since the hair was blonde, I thought—or hoped—no one would notice. But someone did. I'll never forget the moment: I was in 8th grade art class cleaning out a bowl in the sink. A classmate was next to me, and the light must have hit my face in a certain way that highlighted my little blonde beard. Immediately, I could “feel" that she noticed. I watched as she went over to her table of classmates who started looking and laughing at me. I felt like I wanted to die.
I didn't see any other girls in school who had a beard like I did. Nor did I see women in society who had this kind of hair. I felt so alone and deeply ashamed. At school, I tried to fly under the radar and even stopped participating in that art class.
Over the next couple of years, my body hair started to darken and spread everywhere. I started growing more facial hair, and stomach hair, booty hair, shoulder hair, back hair … it was popping up everywhere! I was so embarrassed and ashamed of my own body that I couldn't even tell my mom.
But when my periods stopped when I was 15 years old, my mom took me to the doctor. After some bloodwork and ultrasounds, I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). One of the symptoms of PCOS is hirsutism or “excessive body hair."
Unfortunately, I had a rather traumatic experience with a doctor who was not very kind to me about my body hair, which gave me severe anxiety around doctors and health care professionals—and made me feel like a freak. At the time of my diagnosis, they found a cyst the size of a baseball on my right ovary and surgically removed it. I was never given much guidance about PCOS. I remember they put me on birth control and told me to lose weight. That was it.
My body shame deepened as I got older. By the time I was 16 years old, I started shaving my face daily. Any time I was going to wear even slightly revealing clothing, I would shave whatever part of my body was going to show. Otherwise, I wore long sleeves year-round, even in the summer. And I developed a rather severe case of anxiety that made it difficult to interact with people. I even avoided going to the dentist and getting my haircut because it involved people getting too close to my face.
My life became a daily challenge: Get through the day without anyone noticing my hair. I felt successful when no one noticed. And my world would crumble when anyone did.
When I was 31 years old, my anxiety about my body reached its peak and I started to have severe anxiety attacks in basic social situations. I started to see a therapist who was the first person I honestly talked to about my hairy body. I started to grow out all my hair except for my facial hair.
Then, a couple months into therapy, I began to take photos of my body. Doing this helped me see myself outside of my body, and I started to appreciate the beauty of my body.
While I was starting to love my body, and letting my hair grow out, a minivan struck me while I was crossing the street. I was still struggling with anxiety around doctors and people touching me, but I couldn't avoid that now. After I was hit, the paramedics cut off my clothes in the ambulance and pretty soon, nurses, doctors, surgeons, physical therapists, and you name it, they were all touching me and my body hair.
But you know what happened? Nothing. No one cared. No one bulged their eyes out at me. No one made me feel like a freak. They all treated me with compassion, respect, and understanding. I ended up developing a really wonderful bond with my physical therapist over the next six months. He helped me realize … my body is strong and beautiful. Getting hit by a car was awful, but it was also a tremendous blessing.
During my long recovery from my knee injury, I immersed myself in social media accounts of women who accepted, and even LOVED, their body hair—including women with beards. I also met an amazing person who became a good friend, a huge emotional support to me and made me feel like, yes, there was a place for me in the world. A combination of all of these things helped me to become more comfortable with myself.
Being comfortable with myself meant being honest with others. My friend encouraged me to open up to other friends in my life—and slowly I started to have conversations with them and show them my hair.
My journey to loving my hairy body took a lot of time. Sometimes I grew rapidly and sometimes, my progress was slow. But at 33 years old, I know I have truly broken out of my shell. I no longer hide my hairy body, and I am even starting to feel proud of my unique body. I grew into the beautiful and confident woman I am by practicing and working through discomfort.
If you are learning how to accept or love your body, be patient with and kind to yourself. Find someone you can trust to open up to about your struggles, fears and insecurities. Trust your journey and process, work toward accepting yourself a little more every day, and it will get better.
Leah Jorgensen is a 33-year-old hirsute woman with PCOS who has found comfort in her own skin. She wants to share what she's learned and is learning with the world. Follow her on YouTube here.