Ok so here it is, I am hairy, some of it is light blonde, some of it is dark, some of it is long and some of it is like hard cactus needles.
Like many women I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is one of the contributing factors to my infertility, but is not the cause alone.
I have decided to write about one of the impacts on the body, excess hair growth, known medically as hirsutism.
So this is me, and this is my hairy truth.
Where is the hair?
Everywhere and it feels embarrassing and brings up feelings of shame.
Shame in how I feel about my body, shame that I am so hairy and shame that I can at times feel so disgusted in how the hair growth changes how I perceive my self.
I feel all those that have shunned me in the past, told me I will grow out of it, or that I should get rid of it because women are not meant to be hairy, should also feel shame, for making light of a condition that has a big impact on my everyday life. This attitude only serves to reinforce that to be accepted by society we should hide all the parts of us that we feel ashamed of. We shouldn’t share the perceived ‘ugly’. I am here sharing mine, as the more we share our so-called ‘ugly’ the less ugly it becomes and it becomes normal and part of being a woman.
(I acknowledge that not all women who have excess hair growth have PCOS , this is piece is for any woman or man who may relate or just wants to know more.)
I still sometimes hold out hope that there will one day be a cure to make it all go away and my confidence will sky rocket and I will be able to conquer the world. Well maybe not that extreme, but have the confidence to leave the house without a pair of tweezers, the fear of bright lights and the feelings of anxiety that rise up as someone speaks to me and I feel they are examining my face and may spot a stray hair at any moment.
So where should hair grow?
Well according to society, for women it should only grow on your head, in your pubic region, in your armpits, legs and arms. Yet the removal of hair is a multi billion pound industry, with women having their pubic regions nipped and shaped into all sorts of styles, landing strips, the full naked, the bush and the tamed one. Legs, arms and armpits are waxed, sugared, threaded, bleached and lasers’d, until the hair is in remission, banished gone until the next time the hair resurfaces and meets its next timely death.
My first ever-home wax still makes me feel sick, hunched over in the bathroom aged 16 not a clue what I was doing. I had pubic hair that stretched beyond my groin and graced the top of my legs, it just didn’t seem to end, all I knew was I needed it gone.
Peeling the wax strips apart, I pressed them on, making sure they were really stuck, but rookie mistake alert, I didn’t hold the skin taught. All the colours of the rainbow adorned my bikini line following that wax. To make it feel worse, they were highlighted by the sun whilst away on holiday, making the reds, blues, greens and yellows somehow glisten even brighter, as I tried desperately to pull my t-shirt down to hide my shame.
This is just one of my many mishaps I have had along the way.
How do you manage an ever-growing load of hair, in places you just don’t want it?
That’s a good question, and one I am still working through!
Lets explore where the hair is….
A list is simplest and I am shaking as type, I have spent as long hiding and ridding myself of this hair so no one would know it existed but now I am typing it out.
Chin, upper lip, sides of face, neck, a few long hairs on my chest, stomach leading to my pubic region, my back, mainly upper and lower, my buttocks, of course my pubic region which joins onto the top of my thighs, my legs and arms, armpits, and I finish off with hairy feet and toes.
I remember being at the hospital at the endocrine clinic where I was diagnosed with PCOS. The doctor asking me to undress so they could record how much excess hair growth I had. In their hands was a picture of a body and they circled and circled a never-ending set of circles until they reached my face. That tiny room became smaller and all I could hear was that pen being pressed into the paper, marks covering the face on the page, it was like they were drawing a cartoon beard.
That pen not only left indentations on the paper but also left indentations within me.
Gorilla girl was all I could hear circling in my head, and I felt like it, like a specimen to be examined, to be recorded for all its abnormalities.
Gorilla girl is a name that makes me feel sick to the pit of my stomach; I feel like I am being dragged back years and I can feel the embarrassment and the shame, the wish the ground would swallow me whole. A guy I once thought I was safe with and trusted, branded me with the name and told everyone that I was hairy just like a gorilla.
My face is my main cause of anxiety if the light catches it just right, or if I am cold, its like a pile of fuzz standing to attention, but that’s just on my cheeks.
My chin, upper lip and neck have excessive growth. Over the years I have tried so many different ways to get rid of it, from scrapping and digging at my skin in hope I could removes the follicles. Electrolysis, sand paper, wax, sugaring, bleach, hair removal creams and IPL.
The doctor at the clinic prescribed me medication and told me it was for men transitioning into women, noting this would help to balance out my hormones. I was also given a cream that was like thick lard, to be smeared on my face twice a day. Medication and cream, that only served to deepen the disconnect I had with my body and a reminder it was not doing what a woman’s body should do, in fact it was acting like a mans and I needed medial assistance to become more like a woman.
I had no one to talk to, I was to embarrassed and ashamed of how I felt and looked, how would anyone find me attractive when I myself was so ashamed of my body and the thick down of dark hair that adorned it.
So how did I move forward?
All of the above has come with outcome that have been less than desirable, scarring, ingrowing hairs that have becomes infected, bleach burns, blisters caused by allergic reactions to hair removal cream.
Electrolysis would leave me red for days, blisters would sometimes appear, and a battle with ingrowing hairs would commence until my chin and upper lip was red raw, cracked and at times bleeding.
I saved as much money as I could to try IPL in a specialist skin clinic, but it made little impact, it just turned some dark hairs into white thick prickly hairs that seem to announce themselves in broad daylight for the world to see.
Tweezers are my best friend and my nemesis, I love them and hate them in equal measure, they get rid of the hair, but it always comes back.
I saved again and bought a home IPL gun and I use it religiously. It has worked wonders on my bikini line, my dark line I had from my tummy button to my pubic region. It’s worked on my armpits, my buttocks, lower back but that hair on my chin and upper lip will not budge.
It has been a wonder of a machine for me, but there are downsides.
One of the downsides of using the IPL machine is the relationship I have had to establish with shaving my face.
In order to use the IPL machine you can not pluck, thread or wax, you can only trim or shave as the hair follicle needs to stay in tact. So here at my computer in the privacy of my on home I feel the shame rise up and I feel mortified to be sharing this in the wider world that I shave. It has now become the one way I feel I can step out the door free from the worry of that stray straggler of a hair catching someone’s eye.
I can her the yells almost coming through, “don’t do it, it will grow back thicker, you will destroy your skin!” The truth is though, my chin is already really scarred, and the hair was thick as could be before I started shaving. It is a trade off between thick hairs forever, or a hope that one-day they will be gone.
I don’t have a miracle cure, I wince if my husband touches my face, and I cannot look in a mirror without closely carrying out a detailed examination to ensure I am hair free.
I sometimes wonder if I was granted three wishes what would I wish for?
I know one would be to be free of PCOS and all its symptoms and unwanted hair growth it brings.
This is my hairy truth and it’s hard to write, I know it makes me no less of a woman, yet somehow it still leaves its mark.
I have tried to write this piece many times, and have deleted it over and over.
But here the words now sit, plain as day on the page, just like the hair on my face. There is no hiding from the truth, and this is my hairy truth.
I know I am not alone in this, 1 in 10 women have PCOS. Not all women are impacted by hirsutism, but PCOS presents itself differently in each woman.
Lets not hide from our feelings surrounding PCOS or how we feel about our bodies.
Today I was reminded that our bodies are a shell, and the energy we permit is truly who we are.
Lets celebrate each other for all we are, hair or no hair, our intricacies and quirks that make us truly unique and like no other.
Together we can stand tall and support each other.
What’s your hairy truth?
Please note Laura is not a medical profession, the blog piece is written from her own perspective and experiences.
If you need guidance or support in being diagnosed with PCOS or if you have PCOS please consult your a professional.
Here are some sites that offer support, advice and more information on PCOS.
Verity – The UK PCOS charity