Written by my Spring 2017 apprentice, Katie Dwaileebe, this post discusses PCOS and hirsutism.
I remember being hairy since age 11, when I was made fun of for having underarm hair. That was my first introduction to school bullies. Up until that point, I never even thought twice about it.
I asked my mom to order a box of Nads and the first time I used it on my upper lip, off came a layer of skin along with the hair. Youch. Since then, I’ve tried medications, bleaching, threading, laser hair removal, shaving, tweezing, and electrolysis. I am here to report that nothing worked permanently (and I ran out of patience). All of those treatments just left me feeling raw, frustrated, and ready to punch someone. It has been a few decades since I’ve sprouted those first hairs and I still have them today.
Being a hairy lady not only depleted my bank account, but it took a toll on my self-esteem. I avoided eye contact, social situations, and certain lighting that might put a spotlight on my imperfections. I remember feeling so uncomfortable, constantly thinking that people were staring at the hair. It was holding me back from interacting with the world around me.
There’s a Name For It: Hirsutism
I researched the heck out of body hair to try to find the magical cure to make it go away. I stumbled upon the term hirsutism, which I had never heard before. I remember thinking to myself, this is a thing? And other women have it?
Hirsutism is defined as male-pattern hair growth and affects 5-10 percent of women (1). While the degree and location of hair varies from person to person, the hair is generally excessive, coarse and grows in places like the face, chest, stomach, and/or back (not that cute peach fuzz that many women have). Hirsutism is caused by an excess of hormones called androgens.
High androgens are linked to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) (2), but in some cases the cause is unknown (3).
The effects of hirsutism often go much deeper than physical appearances. In many women, hirsutism can lead to depression and anxiety because we feel we are not “supposed” to have hair in certain places. And removal can be very costly, giving women few long-term options for being hair-free.
Hirsutism in women is conventionally addressed through birth control (been there, done that) and androgen-blocking drugs like Spironolactone. Other treatments include mechanical hair removal such as electrolysis. Since I had tried all of the above to no avail, I was done with wasting my money on meds and treatments that not only didn’t get rid of the hair, but also left me with unwanted side effects. I was putting chemicals on my face, gosh darn it!
I began to ask myself why I was putting up with the pain, spending my money on treatments; but more importantly, why I was letting it interfere with my self-confidence.
Hirsutism and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
I finally started receiving some real guidance (other than being handed a prescription for birth control and sent on my hairy merry way), when a doctor talked to me about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) which is a hormonal condition that affects approximately 10% of women (that’s 1 in 10 women!). The more I learned about PCOS, the more things started falling into place – why I had violent, soak-through-clothing periods, why my cycles were 45 days apart, why I had adult acne, and perhaps even why I experienced insomnia!
And a beautiful thing happened – once I started opening up to other women about PCOS, I discovered that so many of them were experiencing the same thing! Suddenly, I found myself becoming quite comfortable talking about breakouts, periods, and hairy parts. How ‘bout them apples?
In addition, knowing what I was up against gave me a path to properly address the hair. Rather than blindly taking medications and oral contraceptives, I started seeking guidance for natural solutions, such as minimizing sugar, drinking spearmint tea, and learning more about which supplements to take.
How I Feel About My Hair Now
I’m not going to stand on my little soapbox here and tell you that I have embraced the excess hair, and now proudly tout it regardless of what I think people might say or feel about me (or what I feel about myself). I still trim it, thread it, and tweeze it every damn day. I am still working on self-acceptance, but I worry much less about the hair. I stopped financially investing time and money into it. I am who I am on the inside whether or not I have hirsutism, and I am done walking around with my head down because of it.
If you have hirsutism, whether or not you decide to remove your body hair is totally your call. But what I would invite you to do is to love yourself, hair and all. You are definitely not alone. If you do not know anyone else in your life who feels your pain, feel free to reach out to me – I would love to help support you in any way that I can. Or check out some blogs or Youtube videos of girls who live with hirsutism (I love this one). In the wise words of India.Arie, you are not your hair – you are the soul within.
I’d love to hear from you! If you have any comments or would like to share your hirsutism story, please leave me a note below.
Katie Dwaileebe is a certified nutritionist with a Master’s in the Science of Nutrition from the National University of Natural Medicine. Based in the Pacific Northwest, Katie helps women understand how the food they eat can help address hormonal chaos and improve their menstrual cycles, energy levels, and blood sugar health. She is also a tea-enthusiast. Check out Katie’s blog.