Hairy and proud
What? Have you never seen a bearded lady before? Hope Schmerfeld, 38
I did my best to defuzz before he woke up
Wetting my razor and lathering on shaving cream, I started my morning routine.
It was February 2017, I was 36. Only I wasn’t just shaving my legs or armpits. But my face, too.
Since I was 14, I’d suffered with abnormal hair growth.
It’d started slowly. The hairs on my upper lip getting darker, thicker, until I practically had a moustache.
I sobbed to my mum Cynthia, now 71.
‘Girls aren’t meant to look like this,’ I cried.
‘We’ll sort it out,’ she soothed. She took me to a salon near our home in Pennsylvania, asked them to wax my lip.
As the beautician ripped the hairs out, I prayed that’d be it.
But a few days later, the hair started growing back.
I became fixated on my face. Mum tried her best to help. Taking me to get waxed, paying for electrolysis. Nothing worked.
After two years of trying
everything, I turned to tweezers. So began my 5am morning ritual. Checking for a five o’clock shadow, spending two hours plucking every chin hair.
I carried tweezers and a mirror everywhere in case I missed patches.
Have they noticed my stubble,
I’d worry, chatting to classmates.
My self-esteem hit the floor. To boost my confidence, I started pole dancing, got a job in a club.
But the pressure to be this feminine beauty took its toll.
It meant no hair… Anywhere. Sometimes, I’d shave twice a day.
In October 2003, I met my partner. Every morning, I’d creep out of bed, into the bathroom.
Doing my best to defuzz myself before he woke up. Exhausting.
But it was six months before I confessed to him about my ‘problem’.
‘It doesn’t matter to me,’ he smiled. ‘But I’m glad you get rid of it.’
So I continued plucking daily. Then, in July 2006, we had a little girl – and after all these years, I was getting fed up with plucking for hours.
So I went to my doctor, had years of tests.
Finally, in October 2014, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
It usually causes elevated testosterone and excess body
hair. But in my case, my body produces too little testosterone.
Medics think it’s a genetic mutation but don’t know why it causes me to grow so much hair. And there’s no cure. I felt helpless. So I turned to my partner.
‘Will you teach me to shave?’ I asked.
As he helped me guide the razor over my skin, I felt ashamed.
No other woman has to do this.
Then, earlier this year, my partner and I officially went our separate ways.
With my life falling apart, I knew it was time to change. I read articles about British PCOS sufferer Harnaam Kaur. Like me, she had facial hair. But she’d stopped shaving at 16, and instead of being an outcast was a model and Instagram star.
I can’t hide any more, I realised. So in April, I threw out all my razors, creams, hair-removal remedies...
It was hard at first, leaving the house with a hairy chin. People would stare, gawk. Men in bars would even ask if I was transitioning. ‘Nope, I’m just a bearded lady,’ I’d smile.
It wasn’t easy.
Some days I was tempted to shave it all off.
But I refused to give in, and soon started to feel free and confident. Myself.
Now I want to inspire other women – whatever their battles – to be confident in their own skin. However hairy!
I spent too long hiding, but I’m not ashamed any more. I started online dating as the real me, and now I’m officially seeing someone. And I’m hoping to go on tour with a circus next year, as a bearded pole dancer. I wish I’d embraced my beard years ago. Because this is me. And I rather like who I am.
I want to inspire women – whatever their battles
Finally free to be me
As a teenager, I was fixated on my face
Pole dancing gave me the lift I needed