I’ve been shaving my face since my early 20s. Back then, I didn’t have health insurance, so when I noticed I was growing an actual beard, I just tried different razors and shaving creams—I even tried Nair and other types of hair removal. But the hair was always there.
At one point during undergrad, I asked my doctor about the hair on my face, and what I could do about it. I’d hoped she’d understand the desperation in my voice, but she dismissively stated, “Stop shaving.”
I’ve always been a hairy girl. I’ve always had hair on my arms and legs, and because I’m light-skinned, it’s pretty thick and visible. As a teenager, I shaved my legs and underarms religiously. One time, I even shaved my arms, too. No one told me the hair just grows back appearing even thicker. As an adult, I’ve kept the underarm ritual, but I’ve abandoned shaving my legs because screw it; if folks don’t like my hairy legs, they don’t have to look. But my face? That’s a different story.
I know a bunch of women who have chin hair. A few of my friends laugh about their “stray eyebrows” and dish about which bathroom on campus has the best light. Or they chuckle about tweezing as a Sunday ritual they indulge in while watching The Real Housewives franchise.
I always listen to their stories about pesky, unwanted hair and wish I just had a couple of random hairs that decided they wanted to hang out on my chin rather than in my eyebrows. But the hair on my face feels like it has daily plans for a takeover.
It’s not like I think people don’t know I shave. I’m fairly certain they can tell. I know when other women shave. I’m often curious about their regimen, wondering if they feel satisfaction from tweezing like I do; if they feel weird in public when they don’t shave; or even if they ever go out without shaving. But I’d never ask, because talking about shaving makes me feel like I’m exposing a hypervulnerable part of myself.
No one teaches women how to shave. That’s usually the purview of fathers (or male role models) and sons. And although, now, you can find shaving techniques on YouTube, when I started shaving, there was no one to talk to. Keeping the secret about shaving my facial hair is almost like “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” but so very obvious because I sometimes have razor bumps.
In the past, I’ve written about the audacity of loving oneself and being engaged in the work of improving my life by saying yes to things instead of “maybe later.” Despite the self-love journey I’m on, when I thought about writing about my facial hair, I had to think about whether I wanted to reveal something about myself that is incredibly intimate and, at times, embarrassing.
My whole life is built around my shaving routine. If I want to go out on the weekends, I shave. If people are coming over, I shave. If I have to do anything after work and I can get home, I shave.
For the longest, I looked at this routine as a burden, part of living with imbalanced hormones and my vanity. Although I am masculine of center, I do identify as a cis (a person whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth) woman. And for a long time, I believed that cis women didn’t have to shave their faces, meaning that my way of being a cis woman was disgusting or wrong or deviant.
But a few years ago, a young Sikh woman named Balpreet Kaur went viral when she was bullied online because of her facial hair. The Sikh religion forbids shaving because they believe the body is sacred. Not long after, there was another story about another Sikh woman and model, Harnaam Kaur, who was also bullied about her facial hair, and their acceptance of self helped me to think about the hair on my face differently.
I began to wonder if I could ever embrace my after-5 shadow or the nearly full beard I can grow over a weekend. I didn’t stop shaving, but I decided to find out why it was growing there.
There are lots of reasons why women grow hair on their faces—from polycystic ovary syndrome and adrenal gland disorders to the use of certain medications—but all of it is comes under the label “hirsutism.” Hirsutism is usually genetic, and while predominantly seen in women of Mediterranean, South Asian and Middle Eastern heritage, it can affect any woman.
When I was finally able to talk to a doctor who cared about women’s health, she helped me understand that I had a slight hormonal imbalance and that the only way to get rid of the hair on my face would be to shave, wax or opt for laser hair removal.
But she also assured me that having hair on my face was natural and that lots of women have it. She said she’d seen it all; her central message was that I should learn to take care of my skin.
Understanding the cause of my facial hair didn’t make the embarrassment immediately go away, but it reassured me that I wasn’t deficient, and there wasn’t something wrong with me.
These days, I have trans men friends who are envious of my ability to grow hair. What they need “T” (testosterone) for, I can grow in a weekend. Over the years, I’ve subtly tried to ask my male friends about their routines: What kind of shaving cream do they use; what type of razors; how often do they shave; what do they do about razor bumps and ingrown hairs?
The shame and embarrassment of being a cis woman who shaves had kept me from pursuing activities with friends because I didn’t want to have to bring my shaving gear with me on trips. I didn’t want to risk them seeing me in the morning before I shaved off the night’s growth. I want—I need—to go forward without allowing these fears to dictate the way I move through the world.
I knew when I wrote this I’d be revealing something about myself that I’ve rarely, if ever, even talked about. My partner—who loves it when I don’t shave—and I talked about this article representing another big step into radical acceptance of myself.
She’s right; like Balpreet and Harnaam, the hair on my face is just part of who I am. I may not stop shaving, but I am going to work on not letting it control the way I see and love myself. I know I’m not the only woman who has to shave or worries about facial hair; if you can relate, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.