150px-Hirsutism-3Have you met the bearded lady? She is a creature of enigmatic legend. She is lovely, graceful, tender, sensual, stern, adaptable, kind, tolerant, timid, exciting, outlandish, generous, amusing, frightful, curious, feminine… and hairy.

I sport a rockin’ lady-beard sometimes. Usually when I am “growing it out” for a new treatment experiment, or just for an all-at-once tweezing session, but sometimes entirely out of laziness. It is sad/hilarious. I have determined that it is a case of either generalized hypertrichosis or hirsutism. Doctors don’t take this seriously when you ask about it, btw, they think you are just being vain. Those who know me well are aware of the issue and accustom to it, but most people just have no idea. In fact, until I came to a place of acceptance, only my partner (s), over the years, have known. It’s like a secret life you hide from the world. Like mental illness or addiction… that is how it used to feel anyway. Shameful, heart-wrenching, apocalyptic.

If you are unfamiliar with these conditions, basically they endow you with the magical ability to grow shocking amounts of hair in unconventional (READ: embarrassing) places. If you are afflicted with any similar condition you may also consider that you are secretly the child of the Yeti, Big Foot, or Chewbacca and your mother simply couldn’t bring herself to expose her shameful affair. In my particular case, I would assume it is Chewbacca, I mean if you have to admit you are secretly the daughter of some hair-covered beast-man, at least let it be one from iconic American culture, right?

Following are brief descriptions of the aforementioned conditions for those unfamiliar:

Generalized hypertrichosis: Acquired generalized hypertrichosis commonly affects the cheeks, upper lip, and chin.[3][4] This form also affects the forearms and legs, but is less common in these areas. Another deformity associated with acquired generalized hypertrichosis is multiple hairs occupying the same follicle

Hirsutism: Hypertrichosis is often mistakenly classified as hirsutism.[1] Hirsutism is a type of hypertrichosis exclusive to women and children, resulting from an excess of androgen-sensitive hair growth.[17] Patients with hirsutism exhibit patterns of adult male hair growth.[1] Chest and back hair are often present on women with hirsutism.[17

For me, this condition began at approximately age 17, when I noticed a few rogue hairs growing under my chin like little bitch-trolls frolicking merrily under a bridge. Longish and dark but mostly still possessing the vellus quality of fineness (short, fine, light hairs are vellus), I was not too concerned, broke out my constant companion, tweezers, whom I had developed a loving and trusted relationship with since my 13th year or “The Year of No Eyebrows” (more on this some other time), and simply removed them. This went on for a few years and then one day, I don’t even really remember when it was… sometime in my early twenties, I noticed that the number of rogue trolls had increased significantly. At first I was a bit dejected and then I developed a slight obsession, spending inordinate amounts of time pressed up against the bathroom mirror (often having to sit on the counter to get the best view) and tweezing until each bitch troll invader was annihilated. My longtime live-in partner at the time became quite annoyed with my newfound hobby, expressing impatience and frustration at the fact that I was spending more and more time cuddled up to the mirror hysterically plucking away. This did not deter me. I simply learned to satisfy my now junkie-like trichotillomania like any good addict, in secret.

I know that many out there might be thinking of that old wives tale that so many persist in believing, despite the information available to us through the miracle of modern science, that shaving and/or tweezing will make your hair grow back thicker and coarser. This is really not the case. Trust me because I never resorted to that option until much later in life and it has had no effect whatsoever, good or bad. Hair follicles respond to changes during puberty, this happens in almost everyone, and typically those changes do not produce the kind of terrifying result that some of us see. They also respond to pregnancy hormone changes and an excess of androgens, among other things, which with certain medical conditions or simply follicle sensitivity, can change a follicle so that rather than producing vellus hairs it produces terminal (long, dark, coarse) hairs. YIKES! All accounts say that once this happens, it is difficult if not impossible to change it back.

So as time went on and more and more of my facial follicles transformed in this wondrous way, it became just part of my regular toilette to tweeze for long periods of time. Then the miracle of pregnancy happened and between two pregnancies over an 8 year period, I now have the ‘coveted by women everywhere’ ability to grow a full and attractive beard which is rapidly encroaching upon my cheeks as well! It is really quite something and no doubt the envy of pre-pubescent boys everywhere. My sweet family understands my situation and they are kind and gracious about it, but I struggle to keep it under control enough for public display due to the fickle nature of hair growth patterns. Sigh. Such is life, yes?

I suppose I always have the option of becoming a carnie.