Harnaam Kaur is a British Anti-Bullying Activist, Life Coach, and Motivational Speaker. She currently holds the Guinness World Record for being the youngest woman to grow a full-length beard. For years she was bullied, intimidated with death threats and even stabbed with pens by her classmates during school for her unusual appearance. Now she has won the internet with over 100,000 Instagram followers and has emerged as the poster girl for positive body image, self-love and acceptance. She has delivered a Ted Talk, contributed to government discussions on body image and even fronted several body-positive campaigns.
Born on 29 November 1990, Harnaam first noticed that she was growing facial hair at the tender age of eleven.
At just 11, Kaur had to deal with the painful irregularity of her menstrual cycle, which saw her confined to hospital wards; she experienced unusual hair growth on her chin, cheeks, jawline and neck. Kaur recalled, “My body formed itself in shapes which led me to become confused in what it wanted to be. I was a lot larger than everyone in my class; actually, I was the ‘fattest person in year 6’, I remember hearing another child say. Children can be so mean, can’t they? Especially when they have the freedom of being without their parents. With my irregular bodily functions, the pain and the discomfort, I constantly found myself in the doctor’s surgery.” The diagnosis revealed that she had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS); a common side effect is Hirsutism that causes the body to grow excessive facial and body hair.
While most adolescent girls going through puberty experience many changes in their body, Kaur’s was much more severe as she began developing a full beard. She spent her teenage years frantically trying to remove excess facial and body hair by waxing twice a week, shaving incessantly and wearing baggy clothes.
Kaur tells The Guardian, “The wax was applied, the paper was put and then they pulled. I screamed so loud that the woman getting her hair done in the next room threw her magazine across the room. I was crying my eyes out. I did that every other day because my hair grew back so fast – and also shaved in between. They waxed it until my skin burned, going over the same patch again because of dense growth. Then they would thread my skin raw, then pluck it.”
During her teenage years, she faced horrendous bullying that eventually led to Kaur’s depressive phase. At one point, she even considered ending her life until one day; she had an epiphany. She shared, “At the age of 16 I hit my biggest low. They called me a ‘man’, ‘a beast’, an ‘ogre’, or just ‘fat’. I had been suicidal all year due to immense bullying from school and people in society. As I sat there, I started to counsel myself. I told myself: ‘The energy you are putting into ending your life, put all that energy into turning your life around and doing something better’.”
Kaur then took a big step and started growing her beard at 16. This personal experience greatly impacted her and pushed her to share her story with the public.
“I realised that people are struggling. Body shaming, bullying, lack of self love, low self esteem, and lack of self worth is universal; we all feel it at some point in our lives,” she said. “I had to be another person with a testimony to stand up and actually speak out loud, we need more people to do this, it is important for people who are dealing with depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts to know that they are not alone. This is why I find it important to just carry on talking authentically.” She has now built a community online who are not only supportive of her but, more importantly, to each other.
In 2014, Kaur became the first woman with a beard to walk the ramp in London Fashion Week. Now, she endorses several brands and products. As a model, Kaur has one rule – the collaboration must break down barriers and stereotypes. She said, “I want to shock people with my look in a positive way. Look at me and be confused, I am here to change everything that you know or believe about what it means to be or ‘look’ like a woman.”
In 2015, Kaur won the Guinness World Record for being the youngest woman to grow a full-length beard. Speaking about the accomplishment, she said, “I was absolutely thrilled to now be celebrated and world renowned for something that I was previously bullied and body shamed for. My record is evident that you can achieve anything and everything once you are authentic and living life truthfully for yourself.”
She continued, “I never really understood what role I had to play in this world as a bearded lady. As the years have gone on I have realised that I was born to stand up proud as a woman who promotes body confidence within both genders, I was born to show the world something else apart from the ‘society’s norm,’ and I was born to help people become confident and comfortable within themselves.”
Kaur is now far from hiding her true identity. Her social media feed flaunts her pictures of her various trips and the new friends she’s made on the way. Her wedding photoshoot shattered the internet as she gorgeously flaunted her floral beard.
In conclusion, she said, “I now use my experience, my hardships and what I have overcome to help people overcome their own. I travel nationally and internationally spreading the wider message of self-love and compassion. My work is universal and will go on even after I’m gone. With or without my Lady Beard, my work is still powerful because the message is of love and acceptance.”