I'm Not Quite the Bearded Lady ... But Close

Amy Kuras

bearded ladyCan you imagine not only having to shave your face, but having to shave more often than your husband? Me neither, but that's exactly what Allison Landa spent much of her life contending with.

Landa, an accomplished writer, wrote a piece for Salon last week about her experiences as a "bearded lady"; or, more kindly, a woman with excess facial and body hair. It was brought on by an adrenal disorder called congenital adrenal hypoplasia, and is a genetic defect, "a gift of inheritance," as she calls it. It causes male pattern baldness, obesity, and infertility along with the excess hair.

Landa's piece was fascinating; she talks about discovering her disorder at age 10, when classmates made fun of her for her "werewolf" lower back. She'd never looked, never known there was anything outside the norm for her. It traces her attempt to conceal it, as well ... shaving twice a day and not letting anyone touch her face.

She finally resorted to laser hair removal, which sounds ... ouch. She describes that, as well; the piece is an excerpt from an upcoming memoir, which I will be reading to make sure it turned out OK for her. That's a testimony to how nicely done the piece is, that I found myself really rooting for her after knowing her story for about five minutes.

I can sympathize, too. I have polycistic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which causes all the lovely side effects her disorder has, just less so. The excess hair growth of PCOS, at least the kind I have, can easily be handled by conscientious tweezing (the Tweezerman slant tweezer totally lives up to its hype, in case you were wondering). Still, I know how insecure that can make me feel in a variety of situations; I've gotten nervous if someone seems to be looking at my face a little too long, or anxiously run my hands over my chest if I am wearing a v-neck to make sure I didn't miss any errant hair.

Life's hard enough without always feeling shame over your appearance, and certainly in our culture where women are judged on little else it's very difficult not to feel icky about something. Landa seems to have gone right ahead and built a pretty awesome life; I'd like to bottle her confidence.


Image via Bart Everson(Editor B)/Flickr

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