Circus Freak. Weirdo. Ugly. When someone looks a bit different than everyone else, those are the horrible names that they can be subjected to. And then, of course, there’s the stares. People look at you like you’re a circus freak show or something that needs fixing. 25-year-old photographer Alma Torres is used to dealing with all of that because even though she is a female, she grows a beard. But instead of allowing all of the hate to get to her, she chooses to inspire others on her journey.
When Alma was 16 years old she was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that causes ovaries to become enlarged and small cysts to form on the outer edges. It’s directly related to an unusually high amount of insulin, and because people with PCOS make more insulin to make up for their bodies’ resistance, they end up making more hormones, like testosterone, as well.
Some of the side effects of PCOS include excess body hair and acne, irregular periods, or sometimes none at all, fertility problems, pelvic pain, and the development of dark patches of skin. Approximately 10% of women are diagnosed with PCOS, and up to 70% of those women suffer from hirsutism, unwanted hair growth in a male pattern. There are some treatments that include hormonal contraceptives, and those are sometimes combined with spironolactone, which block the production of androgen and the way it affects hair follicles. There is no known cure for PCOS.
Alma spent many years shaving her face in order to try and hide her condition. Despite the fact that she faces a lot of criticism, Alma has decided to quit shaving and embrace her symptoms with pride. “When I was first told, I started crying and I thought it was a really bad thing. They said the word “disease” and I thought it was really bad until I did my own research. About two or three years ago, I was starting to feel more confident and positive about myself. I look up to women who are body confident,” Alma told Daily Mail. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with Alma’s decision.
“I have been called ‘ugly,’ others have said I should ‘kill myself.’ People have told me ‘go wax your ugly a**’ and have called me ‘cancer.’ People usually don’t make comments in front of me. Most are over the internet but I will get stares. I’ve noticed people trying to take pictures of me but I just laugh and smile. I know it’s not a big deal so I’m okay with it,” said Alma
It must be extremely difficult to handle all of the physical symptoms of her condition – Alma still has severe ovary pain, abdominal pain, irregular periods, and fatigue. Alma also suffers from anxiety and depression. Alma chose to accept herself the way she is and embrace her condition, instead of continuing the fight against it. Her mentality is definitely one that should be adopted by others, and Alma hopes to spread that mindset.
“I think everybody has their own insecurities and when they don’t feel good about themselves they try to hurt other people to try to make themselves feel better. I have helped a lot of people feel good about themselves, we need more girl power. Having the beard has made me a better person. I feel more confident and I want to encourage other women with PCOS to feel the same,” explained Alma. We’re so happy that Alma has found acceptance, but what does her boyfriend think about her hair?
Taylor, Alma’s boyfriend, is 100% supportive of everything that Alma chooses to do. When Alma would need stray hairs plucked, Taylor was right there to help her, but now he says her facial hair doesn’t affect their relationship and he thinks it’s beautiful and natural. “I told Taylor about my beard when we started dating. I was shaving at this point so there were times he would see me frustrated and help me tweeze it. When I started to grow it I looked at him and asked him, ‘babe, what if I grow my beard? Would it bother you?'” she said.
Taylor’s answer was simple: “Nope, it’s just hair. That’s normal.” He continued by saying, ‘I wouldn’t know what to say about PCOS but I know my girlfriend has it and it’s a struggle every day but she pushes through. She’s still beautiful to me and her beard doesn’t define her. It’s just hair and it doesn’t have anything to do with how a person feels and should never be able to change that. It’s what is inside that matters. It’s something that’s natural and there’s nothing wrong with that.'” And Alma definitely agrees.
Alma frequently posts on Instagram. She wants to help other women suffering from PCOS by encouraging them to not let the negative side effects of the disease get them down or define them. “I want to tell other PCOS sufferers that this is who you are but if you want to change it then its fine, but if you feel comfortable then don’t change. I don’t want to change…I’m happy with the way I am,” said Alma. The beautiful part of it all is that she is inspiring others to come out with their own stories!
“Yes, I have a beard due to my Polycystic [Ovarian] Syndrome. But it’s not in and of itself deleterious to my health, nor is it a ‘mistake,’ a ‘joke,’ a ‘tragedy’ or a subversion TO or a detraction FROM my womanhood. On the contrary it is beautiful, natural, and the crowning glory OF my womanhood,” Schwarz told Health.
“Someone recently asked me why I am trying to normalize body hair when my amount of body hair isn’t ‘normal’. My reply was…who says it isn’t?! … I am tired of this being kept in the dark. I want this to be seen and I want this to be talked about,” wrote Jorgensen on an Instagram post. And she’s doing exactly that by posting pictures online and keeping all conversations body positive. And other people are joining in, as well.
“Women shouldn’t have to shave if they choose not to, but what about those of us who have way more hair than what is considered socially acceptable? What about us women with dark, thick tummy and chest hair? What about us women who are fully capable of growing a big, bushy beard? You’re not alone, not even close, and it’s so important that others know they’re not alone, either. Go forth and start unlearning all that self hate. It’s alright to love your body, no matter what that means,” wrote Galaxia in a blog post for Graceless.
“Sometimes the way hair grows blows my mind! Like that little empty patch from my chest to my shoulders! Lol. It’s so cute! My body is not your concern. Things haven’t always been easy for me with my hairy self. It’s been a growth process and I’m so much better for it! If you go through things that seem like the end or seem like they’ll never end, they do. Believe me, they DO end. Things get better always. Just keep going,” wrote Nodine on Instagram.
“I like having my beard because it makes me unique. I think it gives me a talking point to people, to educate them or teach them about PCOS. They think that if a woman can grow a beard, she must have crazy body hair, she must be a werewolf. And that’s just not true,” said Hackleman in an interview with Marie Claire. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. These women are beautifully confident and accept themselves the way they are and it’s truly admirable. Moral of the story: Just be you, no matter what!