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This interview is from a 32-year-old, European woman who would like to be called CatLady. This struck me on several levels. She is incredibly strong and insightful, and has been through so much. CatLady, I am honored that you responded at all, and with such thoughtful, courageous content. Thank you.
When did you first discover you had facial hair?
It’s not just facial hair, it’s everywhere. And it’s those “other ones” that I noticed at first. I was about ten years old. I realised I was growing a beard around 16.
How did you react?
When I first saw my legs looked different than girls (and boys…) at school, I thought something was very wrong with me. I was told “something was wrong with me” since I was born, about everything, so it was nothing new… I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it, my parents were, let’s say, not available. So, I just avoided gym classes, changing clothes, sleepovers – basically, any situation that would require me to take clothes off. Then I finished elementary school, moved out of the “family home” and figured, if I stick to clothes that cover everything, I’ll get through it. Around fifteen I had a “boyfriend”, and one day after “making out” he asked me if I plucked hairs from my face. I didn’t. I didn’t really think about my face. I had a nervous tick – I would pull on my face hairs when anxious (often). But I didn’t realise what these hairs meant. When he asked, that’s when I started looking. And plucking. I think, back then, I had this thought that it was only temporary, that one day I won’t worry about this issue. I didn’t know it was only going to get worse with age.
What is the cause of your hair?
I was three years old when the Chernobyl “accident” happened, I didn’t live far away. It affected a lot of my peers’ health, in many ways. Also, my understanding is that my parents have allowed for medical experiments to be conducted on me when I was a child. My doctor explained it to me this way: my cells are not working properly, haven’t developed right. It’s a bit like a building built out of dry sand. It shouldn’t really stand, but hey, here I am! :) It’s not just the hair, it affects the whole body. As you can imagine, all of it put together, affects the mind, too.
What have your medical experiences been like? How has it affected your life, other than the hair?
I have tried going to doctors, all kinds of them. I don’t really want to recall that, none of it was pleasant. Then I finally met the doctor I mentioned above, he really made an effort to figure out what is going on with my body. Then he retired and referred me to some young lady who passed me on to someone else who then referred me to a psychiatrist. Yup. In the meantime, I was given various meds. Since then I learnt one of them (anti-conception) caused some deaths in the country. Other one (hormones) took my period away for two years. Another one made me really sick. None of them did anything about the hair. About two years ago I started taking a herb: agnus castus. I cannot really tell if it affects the hair growth as my hairs are on speed these months plus laser plus plucking – but I *think* it makes it a bit… softer? As in: not as aggressive as they used to be. Though still on speed ;) Agnus castus helps with hormone levels and is recommended to PCOS patients. Takes about six months to “start” working though so patience is required.
How have your family and friends reacted to the hair, if they know?
When I was eleven, my mother accidentally saw me and told me I was a mutant. Since then, I didn’t really feel like telling people. I told some. I told my fiance of six years – he was saying he “didn’t mind”. Our relationship ended due to him wanting to “have fun”, or rather: having said fun with hairless girls. He passed away now, so I am not going to go into all this but yeah, that didn’t help either. Then I told another boy. Well, showed rather than told. He asked if I was a man. And so on. So, no, it never really ended nicely as far as relationships are concerned. With other people, I didn’t tell many, a couple girls I felt close to. It was “ok”. Now, now it’s different because I have changed these recent years. I have left behind the desires to please others and/or to impress them. I am not sure if it’s about growing up but the pressure of “how do they perceive me??” really got to me at some point. Ironically, I did not realise it at all. Until my body broke and told me: “you’re taking a break now, time to figure out what it is you really want from life”. Turned out, making a good impression on people I barely know was not how I want to spend my life. True, I have been living quite alone last few years due to this breaking situation, but still, now I am able to say: “Oh, yeah, I have hirsutism. It’s when you have hair growing all over your body” in passing. Instead of: “Let’s make an appointment, sit down, be ready because I will now tell you something huge and scary”. Yes, of course, it is still an issue. But – five years ago I’d tell my fiance not to call the ambulance if something happened to me, so that they don’t see the hair. Now, now I want to give a hug to that younger me and tell her: “silly, look what you are worrying about”.
How do you make sense of the hair? What does it mean for you?
Today I see it as a gift. And I really mean that.
I remember back when I was active in the cyster community, we were talking with one friend and we both agreed we wouldn’t “swap” the hair. Realising that there are people out there who suffer so much more due to their medical conditions and they live their lives, they try, they don’t give up – this was the first step.
Then, there is the personal aspect: I have been protected all my life. I was born into not-so-good family, the town where I was a child was creepy and dark for too many reasons, I followed path of destruction and escape as my peers did. Every time I was about to make a Really Bad Mistake, I somehow was diverted from it. I wouldn’t be able to count how many mistakes were prevented “through” the hair. I am so happy I was not able to do the things I wanted to do in the past.
Having your own self-esteem issues makes you understand others better, builds up empathy in you. You have more respect toward others, you see the world in more clearer light. You understand unrealistic expectations. You understand we can’t look like the ladies on the magazine covers. You cannot be hijacked by the corporations and businesses going after your soul. That’s, in my opinion, a super-power.
It’s what I hope my life is shaping up to be now. At some point I started comparing. I am involved in some refugee helping etc and learning about lives of people going through what they’re going through – it made me realise my blessings. Among all my blessings, the hair is just one little obstacle.
And lastly, though it took a long time and I am still working on it – that realisation that I am not my hair, I am me. That genuine belief that if someone says something stupid about it – it’s them that there’s something wrong with – not me. That realisation was extremely freeing.
Having said all that, here’s the kicker. I have decided to devote my life to the orphans and not to pursue romantic relationships. This is not to say, if I meet someone who will somehow be able to prove me that they will respect me for who I really am, not what I look like, I will run. No, no. My point is – I changed my priorities. I am so focused on my plans and have so many (realistic) ideas about them that no-husband-option is not something that I think about too much. I accepted – ok, this is my thing. Everyone has a thing. Many have way more, and heavier things. It’s the acceptance of it, on a physical and psychological level, that makes everything else so much easier. It’s been easier to fight since I stopped fighting it.
What fears, if any, have you had or currently have about the hair?
The thing that scares me is that I’d start thinking about it again; un-accept it, if you will. I don’t feel this way but there are bad-hair-days when I go back to that old place – thinking what others will think, will they notice; how I reallllly prefer winter to summer… This happens less and less but it still happens. I don’t want to be slave to the hair, to my looks, to social expectations. My fear is to waste too much time, too much life on worrying about something so insignificant.
Have you in the past, or do you currently, remove it? How?
Not on my body, because my skin is too sensitive. Ok, when it gets really too much, then I’ll shave, gently, but it means bleeding for weeks and scars – not pleasant. A lot of nasty rashes when it grows back. My face – I pluck, tweeze, use cream and do laser every six weeks. Which is why the skin on my face is ruined. Laser itself shouldn’t be done so often, and it does not remove hair for me. It just makes it easier to pluck, tweeze, cream… The ingrown hairs (and consequences) are quite bad. These months, I have been letting it grow out a little bit. Because of all the laser, etc, they don’t grow as “hard and heavy” so, when I put thick make-up on, it’s not as visible. Still visible, but it’s that part of me not wanting to care so much. Putting cream on is painful, my face hurts for days afterwards. So, I do it less often. If they stare, let them stare. I wouldn’t know, I always look at the ground anyway ;)
What has happened when you have removed? What methods have worked, and what has not?
As above, meds did not work. Plucking I think is most successful, however it takes way too much time. Cream is the easiest if you have “thick skin”. Laser, if your insurance covers it, and if you have dark hairs, and if you are not expecting miracles – may or may not work. I’d say, try but if it doesn’t work for you after a year – leave it.
If you do not remove, how did you come to that decision? What has it been like for you?
On the days I let go (more and more often), it surprises me how I don’t really care that much. Of course, I’d rather didn’t have a beard. But, once I force myself to leave the house, once I’m out and about – it’s not so scary. Admittedly, I haven’t had any negative reactions as I don’t interact with people much and I stare at the ground a lot ;) I guess that’s my way of coping with it until I am strong enough to hold my head up high. Hopefully, that day will come :)
Have you ever been made fun of for it?
Not fun as much, as hurt. It was back when I would “date” people. Some guys can be quite nasty. But this was my fault. I wasn’t talking to the intelligent men with priorities worth exploring. I didn’t see myself worthy of the “good guys”, I was reaching out to the, erhm, not-so-good ones. This was a big change in my attitude – I no longer blame myself (or my body) for someone else being rude and/or stupid.
What kinds of thoughts come into your mind when you think about the hair?
The mind. How hirsutism is a psychological issue more than it is a physical one. How it is do to with the world around us and expectations; how we do not realise that maybe someone wants us to spend a lot of money on certain cosmetics. When I think of hair, I think – “why am I thinking about hair again??”.
How does it impact your self-esteem, if at all?
Certainly less than it used to. And I hope and pray that every day, it will affect me this little bit less.
Are there any positive aspects or benefits of the hair?
Most of them are benefits (see a few questions up). If we see them that way. It really is up to us. Not just about the hair, but about everything “bad” that happens to us. If we see the positive aspects, it will become a positive thing. Faith and patience help, for sure :)
It doesn’t mean we are not allowed to cry about it from time to time. We’re human. It’s about not making it into the only thing we think and cry about.
If you grow it (don’t remove), do you prefer that people ask about it, or ignore it? What have your experiences been with interested parties?
I partially answered this above. I think, for now, I still feel more comfortable if people ignore it. However, if they ask, I’d answer – because how else are they supposed to know?
Do you have a community of other hairy females? If so, where do you find them?
I used to be more active in the online cyster community. Since I got “broken”, I moved away a bit. Maybe I should pop in and see how everyone is? :)
Why do you think hairy females are not considered beautiful in mainstream culture?
Because mainstream culture is idiocracy. What “culture”? There’s no culture in the mainstream. We need to stop chasing after the photoshopped ideals and focus on what really matters. The baby doesn’t care if Mom has a beard. Until the baby grows up, watches tv and learns that what baby thought was normal and ok – suddenly becomes uncool and weird.
What do you want to say to other hairy women out there? What do you wish someone would say to you?
To all the women: trust in yourself. You don’t need a corporation to tell you if you are beautiful, smart, fashionable, “a good catch”, etc. Find out what matters to you, what is really important. Find a purpose, your purpose – not what “you are supposed to do” because everyone else is doing it. Learn about yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses. Test your limits. And accept them – understand that if something is not meant to be, it’s ok. We can’t have everything. Don’t dwell on it, look for something else that will make you happy. Don’t put yourself in a cage. Face your fears – never assume how things will turn out, you don’t know the future. When you fall, don’t give up, don’t stay down. If it goes wrong ten times, eleventh time might be the one that will change your life. Have faith. Have patience. Have hope. Be strong.
I wish someone told me… I guess I wish I knew that it’s ok to be myself. This society, the media, schools – we are constantly told what to be but nobody asks us what we want to be. I wish someone told me that what they say doesn’t really matter.
Much love to everyone who is struggling. I wish every cyster to find peace and happiness.