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Here's how the bearded lady learned to love herself and became a world record holder

15th September 2016

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It’s fair to say that Harnaam Kaur has left a path of glorious destruction in her wake.

She shattered gender norms and beauty standards back in 2015 when she rocked a lace bridal gown, extravagant flower accessories and her natural six-inch beard for a photo shoot.

Then she moved on to smashing expectations – including, and most importantly, her own – when she walked the runway during last year’s London Fashion Week and became the first woman with a beard to do so.

Now the 25-year-old has taken it to a global level by becoming a Guinness World Record breaker for being the youngest woman with a full beard.

But really, she’s been battling and overcoming challenges way longer than that, ever since the age of 11.

“It’s amazing to be celebrated in this book for something I was shamed for,” says the self-titled Bearded Dame, whose beard is the result of polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that affects one in five women and causes excess growth of facial and body hair.

She makes no secret of how tough her school years were and sums them up simply as going to school, getting bullied every single day, then coming home again.

It was these bullies who made Harnaam properly aware she was starting to grow facial hair (11-year-old kids don’t tend to sit and examine every detail of themselves in the mirror) but as soon as she was aware of it, she wanted it gone.

“When I was in secondary school I went through bleaching it, using hair removal cream, waxing, threading, tweezing, shaving,” she says, reflecting that she was too young for laser surgery but that was the next hopeful step.

As her hair grew back with a vengeance, her social life, her studies and her confidence did the opposite. She kept herself away from the world in the safe haven of her bedroom and she began to self-harm. At her lowest, she contemplated suicide.

But a change came from within when she was 16. Enough was enough. “I just thought to myself that I want to live happily, I want to feel liberated, I want to just be myself. Why am I being shamed for something that my body is naturally growing?”

Of course, that didn’t mean the bullying went away – it actually got stronger and came from a much wider scale, now including taunts and comments from adults and the older generation as well as from kids and teenagers.

But Harnaam wasn’t growing out and accepting her beard for them, she was doing it for her. And the confidence and liberation it was starting to give her was not something she was going to let go of: “If you want to stand by something then you have to stand strong.” Without that strength, she would never have the record she has today.

Harnaam poses
(Guinness World Records)

After building on all her experiences, Harnaam has transformed herself into a proud, unapologetic, inspiring and incredibly busy person. She’s a body positivity campaigner, anti-bullying advocate, an Instagram icon and also a bit of a gender sceptic – “Back then, men were men and women were women in my eyes”.

While some of her collaborations with the traditional and often fairly rigid industries of beauty and fashion might seem a bit conflicting, she’s always thinking how they can tie in with her activism and her game-changing message. And she’s always on the lookout for more.

She has big plans for the future to organise talks in schools about bullying and to host some self-love events in London. As for the modelling, it’s taken a bit of a back seat at the moment (although LFW organisers, if you’re reading she’s free for this year …) Right now, she wants to focus on the record and what it means, to others and to her.

“This record allows me to be out and open and proud about who I am and what I look like and it allows for me to be celebrated for my beard, which is a huge achievement in itself.”

Guinness World Records 2017 is out now.

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