This year I’ll be joining the hoards of men and growing out my moustache to raise money for men’s health awareness. The only difference? I’m a woman.
Women have moustaches too, and I’m hoping that by doing Movember I can show that facial hair is not something to be ashamed of. Whether it’s barely-there blonde hair or dark, beard-like peach fuzz, every woman has hair on their face. Yet as a society, we don’t allow women to keep their facial hair in peace.
Since the age of 16, I have chosen to bleach, wax or shave the hair on my face. Because I’m half Indian, the hair is thick and dark, collecting into a monobrow above my eyes and creating a shadow above my top lip.
I’ve been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – a condition that causes a high level of androgens, the ‘male’ hormone in your body. This means that the hair from my head thins like it does with male pattern baldness, and that already-present facial hair is even more apparent.
PCOS can also mean you struggle to lose weight, have irregular periods and difficulty conceiving. It is estimated that one in 10 women in the UK have PCOS, but many don’t have any symptoms.
When I first got my diagnosis at 21, I was relieved – there was a reason why I had such blatant facial hair. But within a matter of weeks, I was even more down than before. It felt like I faced years of hair removal ahead of me.
When I looked into the mirror as a young teenager, I thought I could easily have been a boy of the same age, showing the first flourish of facial hair. But for a girl, this sign of manliness meant something very different.
I felt ugly and like I didn’t fit in with my feminine peers, and school bullies poked fun at my hairy lip. I heard one call me ‘Man-ria’ behind my back, which knocked me into taking action against my own face.
I started bleaching the hair on my top lip. But soon enough, it became too thick to be rendered invisible, with the now-blonde moustache hairs easily catching the light. I was constantly self conscious about it, assuming that people were staring as they talked to me and that their eyes were floating downwards.
I then turned to waxing, standing in front of the mirror every week, willing myself to get the courage to rip the hairs out. It was a painful process that I followed for years. At first, my face would look perfectly hairless. Then, over the course of the following weeks it would reappear, soft and thin at first but quickly getting thicker.
Very recently, at the age of 24, I discovered dermaplaning – using a single razor in short strokes to shave off the hair. This method cuts the hair shorter than it would with a normal razor, and I bought a cheap three-pack online so I could do it myself at home every week.
If I hadn’t kept up with my routine through the years, I would have felt uglier and like less of a woman. This wasn’t helped by exes making a point of telling me every time I was due for a wax.
One time I realised I hadn’t waxed my top lip and the fear of my then-boyfriend reacting negatively made me quickly do it before leaving the house to meet him. When I kissed him, his stubble sandpapered my damaged skin, leaving me with a graze that stayed behind for weeks.
I’m not afraid to go out with leg hair, because it’s become less of a taboo topic – man, woman or nonbinary person, most naturally have noticable leg hair, so I know people won’t think I’m weird. But moustaches are a different creature.
The bearded lady is a freak-show staple. In fiction, moustaches on women are laughable, and represent a lack of femininity, hygiene or popularity. In Shrek 2, for instance, Princess Fiona – who is an ogre – is shown shaving her face. In The Big Bang Theory, Howard’s mother is said to have a moustache, alongside several other unfavourable traits. The message is clear: get rid of the hair or be ugly.
I want to put a stop to this. Some tiny hairs on your top lip don’t change how beautiful you are. As they say – ‘the people that mind don’t matter, and the people that matter don’t mind’.
For this year’s Movember, I will not be removing or disguising the hair on my moustache and chin. I want others to see that facial hair doesn’t change who you are or make you any less of a woman.
I decided to participate after Movember had taken place last year; several of my male friends had done it and suddenly it clicked – I could do it too. Ever since, I’ve been nervous about starting.
But when lockdown sent my hair-removal schedule into disarray, I’ve become accustomed to seeing a couple of stray hairs in the mirror.
As of mid-October, I had stopped removing the hair on my face in preparation for growing as impressive a moustache as I can, and all I feel so far is relief. In this terrible world we live in, I have one less thing to worry about.
If this challenge has just one positive effect, I hope it’s to get rid of the silly notion that I hold myself, of feeling that I have to remove my facial hair.
I might keep my moustache after the month is over, or I might not, but one thing is for sure – I will no longer be afraid of the hair on my face.
You can donate to Maria’s Movember fundraiser here.
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