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Will we ever normalise female facial hair?

TextGina Tonic

While the stigma around body hair is slowly being erased, facial hair remains taboo for cis women and even more complex to navigate if you’re trans feminine

My mam and her sister have a pact that if either of them went into a coma, the other would pluck out their chin hairs. Both these female relatives have always laughed about their facial hair and never kept it a secret from me, their daughter and niece respectively, that they have to remove beard hairs daily. While I have been a part of their follicular secret for as long as I can remember, I thought I had years before I would be signing up to the facial hair removal deal in case of immobility. 

In the past year, however, my struggle with PCOS – Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a condition affecting 40 per cent of the female population with side effects like ovarian cysts, irregular periods, and weight gain – has had side effects of the facial hair variety. As well as the peach fuzz along my jawline developing in density, several thick black hairs sprout forth weekly to be met with the wrath of at home waxing kits, epilators, tweezers, and more. 

As a queer plus size woman, I’ve found niches for myself on the internet that celebrate what others may see as flaws – my weight, my waistline, my stretchmarks – have become reasons to celebrate myself. But while body positivity tears through almost every subsection of body type and fills these people with indiscriminate self love, I’ve yet to find a female facial hair movement that celebrates the fuzz instead of trying to remove it. 

Thankfully, this isn’t the 50s and it’s worth acknowledging the forwards made for female body hair already in the feminist movement. Marissa Malik is a femme astrologer and DJ who happily flaunts her leg and armpit fuzz on the ‘gram and inspires many to do the same. Model Sophia Hadjipanteli has also been raging a similar war for body hair against beauty standards for several years and her #UnibrowMovement has seen her land campaigns, magazine covers, and more, and she continues to use her platform to promote diversity in the fashion world and beyond. 

Speaking specifically about her own facial hair as well as others, Hadjipanteli tells me about her journey to unibrow acceptance. “I’m a first generation Greek Cypriot American so having thick hair and a lot of it was never something new for me.” She continues, “There was never a specific moment where I started to embrace my unibrow – I liked the way it looked and so I kept it. I’ve always played around with the shape/size of my eyebrows and never realised how big of a deal it was to everyone else.” 

When she did realise she was challenging stereotypes of gender and beauty with her unibrow, Hadjipanteli felt even more compelled to keep it and she impressed on me the need for those comfortable with excess hair further down their face to not feel pressured into removing it. “For years people have been taught – trained – to remove facial hair because it is considered ‘ugly’ by mainstream media, and beauty standards in some areas of the world,” she explains. “We are each individuals and being hairless to some people is beautiful and to others their facial hair is stunning. We are told to have a long full head of hair, thick eyebrows, but no unibrow, we are told to have long luscious natural lashes, but to remove our mustaches, to have shiny healthy hair but no sideburns… Beauty standards are inherently obsessive because it is a ‘rulebook’ we have been forced to sign up for.”

“We are told to have a long full head of hair, thick eyebrows, but no unibrow, we are told to have long luscious natural lashes, but to remove our mustaches, to have shiny healthy hair but no sideburns. Beauty standards are inherently obsessive because it is a ‘rulebook’ we have been forced to sign up for” – Sophia Hadjipanteli, model 

One person who has embraced their facial hair on an international stage and most internet platforms is influencer and motivational speaker Harnaam Kaur. When her beard grew out as a preteen due to her own PCOS diagnosis, Kaur struggled to remove it. When depilatory creams, lasers, and razors couldn’t stop the hair from growing back, the London native decided to just let her beard grow out. It is now, arguably, one of her biggest assets not just for standing out in a crowd and on social media, but the ensuing career as an influencer. Although Kaur could be seen as a figurehead for cis women growing out their facial hair, having one person only to represent female facial hair is far from it being accepted as a norm – it is simply the first step.

We can’t discuss the future of female facial hair as a movement without consulting the trans women who feel similar pressures to remove their beards in order to adhere to strict ‘passing’ standards. Trésor Prijs is a trans femme person who flits between presenting themselves with and without a full beard, and she feels the negative connotations of females with facial hair has another sinister layer of taboo and prejudice when applied outside of the gender binary. 

“There is a singular weight that transfeminine folks carry regarding their facial hair. Within the confines of binary gender facial hair is often perceived as a clear cut manifestation of the masculine beauty ideal. With many trans folks that imposition of patriarchal masculinity is compounded by the effect of testosterone on the texture and appearance of facial hair,” Prijs muses.

She goes on to ask all cis people to consider that trans female facial hair “often grows coarser, darker, and faster than what would be the case with an average cis woman” and that, “removing this sort of facial hair, particularly in the case of a full beard, is an expensive and oftentimes painful process that not everyone has the financial privilege to undertake.” The dysphoria of being unable to remove unwanted facial hair – due to physical inabilities or financial ones – is a feeling I will never have to suffer through and needs baring in mind when navigating the online and offline worlds of female facial hair.

“The dysphoria of being unable to remove unwanted facial hair – due to physical inabilities or financial ones – is a feeling I will never have to suffer through and needs baring in mind when navigating the online and offline worlds of female facial hair”

For herself, and those like her who do not exist within strict gender binaries, Prijs hopes that the cis women with the privilege to wear their facial hair and face less abuse than non-cis people may, do so. “Facial hair is beautiful – it is but another gorgeous variation present in our biologies. We are exquisite with it, and just as exquisite without,” Prijs explains, reminding me that she often and bravely chooses to wear her beard. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t suffer from the “ideal” of a bald female face.

“These ideals have dire implications for every one of us, including those who enforce them. The more influence and privilege one has, the more of an immediate impact their expression can have upon the collective.” Prijs implores, “Cis women have that layer of societal privilege and with it a unique ability to lend a hand to those who may not.”

With all these wonderful women impressing the need for change both on and offline for women to feel comfortable with discussing their facial hair, let alone refusing to remove it, I feel I am meant to finish this article with some kind of epiphany where I also choose to grow out my mutton chops. Unfortunately, I’m far from happy enough with my black hairs to let them face the world just yet, but thanks to the women above and the women like them being totally open about this taboo subject, the only way is up for others with female facial hair. 

If I’m to be honest with myself, I doubt I ever will embrace the black hairs that grace my face. Although I definitely have privileges others in the female presenting world do not – I still stand before the public as a fat queer woman with enough on my plate than being the archetypal “bearded lady” as well. Again, I agree with Prijs that those with more privileges than us pair need to step up to the plate and represent their facial hair more openly so the rest of us have a path set before us, where female facial hair is more of a norm for us to adhere to, than for us to stand out because of.

Essentially, transparity on these topics is what is needed for the next generation – brought up on body positivity in their ads, magazines, and Instagram feeds – to push further and create spaces where the Kaurs and Prijs of the world aren’t anomalies or ground breakers, but part of the norm. 

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