Meet Harnaam Kaur AKA The Bearded Dame –
Ditch the Label had the pleasure of chatting with Harnaam who talks about what its been like for her growing up with a beard. Read on to find out about Harnaam’s battle against bullying, prejudice and negativity towards her appearance and how despite the hard times, she’s embraced her differences in the most courageous way.
DTL: Hi Harnaam, thanks for chatting with us! First of all can you tell our DTL readers a bit about yourself?
Harnaam: My name is Harnaam Kaur, I am 26 years young. I am an anti-bullying activist, body confidence activist and life coach. I live in Berkshire, England, and upon laying your eyes on me you will recognise me as The Bearded Lady aka The Bearded Dame.
DTL: Growing up, did you experience bullying?
Harnaam: I have been bullied horrendously due to having a beard, being plus sized and looking very different from other girls in my school and class. That which is different will either be approached with caution, love or ignorance, and unfortunately for me, the first part of my life people approached me with ignorance, arrogance and hatred. Unfortunately, I experienced emotional, mental and physical abuse during my school years but now, it is more cyberbullying that I encounter.
Being bullied as a young girl for having facial hair left me with low self-esteem and no sense of self. I found comfort in self-harm which led to me being very suicidal.
DTL: At what point did you decide to embrace your appearance?
Harnaam: I hit rock bottom at the age of 16 and it was at that point that I really was looking forward to liberation in the form of death through suicide. However, I decided I shouldn’t allow my oppressors to live life for me. I realised that I deserve to be happy in the most amazing way. I hit back by embracing and keeping my beard against what society and the people who were bullying me were telling me.
“Now 10 years on, I love my appearance and beard more than ever.” – Harnaam
I knew I had to be stronger now more than ever because I now look very different. Where previously, I was removing my facial hair, now my hair was longer, thicker and darker. Now, 10 years on, I love my appearance and beard more than ever!
DTL: What were people’s reactions?
Harnaam: People’s reactions vary. Some are passionate enough to show love and embrace me when they see me. Some are intrigued and will ask questions and are open to being educated. Others just wish to stay closed minded and laugh or mock. I guess being in the media and having a presence world wide, most recognize me and my work so they approach me to show admiration. I try to show everyone love even in the hardest of situations.
[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/harnaam-cropped.jpg” alt= Harnaam Kaur Talks”]
DTL: How do you deal with negativity towards your appearance online and IRL?
Harnaam: This is tough. When I see cyberbullying or death threats online I tend to laugh it off. The online presence of hatred is different to me now. I can block it out as I know that with whatever I do I will get hate. I laugh off the death threats with my brother. I laugh off any mockery, or answer back in a very sarcastic way, finding humour from the toughest of situations can be difficult but it can also help you heal. Now, facing hatred in real life is different, even if you close your eyes in the face of horridness, the hate will still not go as it’s so in your face.
“Finding humour from the toughest of situations can be difficult but it can also help you heal.”
I try to move away from the situation and carry on with my day. I have great friends who help me see light from difficult situations. I struggle with social anxiety depending on the situations, area and environment. It’s through the help of loved ones which allows me to carry on. My mission is bigger than any anxiety I have.
DTL: What would you say to someone going through appearance-based bullying and what would you say to people who are bullying others because of their appearance?
Harnaam: I would have to be honest, being different in today’s society is tough. It is one of the hardest things that you may have to do especially because this society can be narrow minded and shallow. Your strength and courage will show when you stand your ground and stay true to you. Never be ashamed of who you are, never change yourself based on other people’s opinions. Changing for someone else, you may lose yourself in the process. Be true to you, unashamedly.
If you are being bullied, please do not suffer in silence. Speak up! Talk to a friend, family member, teacher or police. Bullying is never okay. Please speak up and do not ever suffer in silence. I know bullying is a scary thing to go through, so it is essential for you to talk to a loved one.
DTL: Not enough is known about Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in the public eye, can you tell us a bit about your experience?
Harnaam: I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary syndrome from the age of 12/13. PCOS is a condition in which the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone are out of balance causing cysts on the ovaries. Essentially, I have more testosterone in my body which allows the growth of my glorious beard!
To be honest, PCOS wasn’t something I prioritised in life growing up, I was more focused on overcoming the bullying that I faced. Due to the fact that hardly anyone spoke about it in the media, I actually thought that I was dying of a rare disease!. As I grew up, I realised that it is more common in women than I had realised. 1 in 5 women are diagnosed with it.
“It does take me time to come to terms with all the changes that my body makes, but this is my body to embrace, so no matter what she looks like or how she forms, I love her unconditionally.”
My body changes regularly in shape, size and color, due to major weight gain and loss so I have stretch marks. My hormonal imbalance left me with tuberous breasts and vitiligo. It does take me time to come to terms with all the changes that my body makes, but this is my body to embrace, so no matter what she looks like or how she forms, I love her unconditionally.
DTL: What do you think is the biggest road block people face when coming to terms with self acceptance and loving themselves?
Harnaam: Being embraced or accepted my family and loved ones. I feel that our friends and sometimes even strangers who may be going through the same situation as us, find love for us. They accept us because they understand the struggles that we may face. The hardest thing can be not being loved by our parents or close family because we are different and have decided to live life away from what they believe to be the “norm.”
People like me then muster up all our courage to brave the mockery and hate from the public as we walk out and live life just like anyone else, only then to be stopped and judged by employers during interviews. I wanted to work in the Business sector; I applied for many jobs and many apprenticeships only to have doors shut in my face. I then had to make a career for myself. Now I am the voice of the voiceless, I teach people to be themselves, I tell people about the importance of self love. I have fallen in love with my job, it is my passion.
DTL: Attitudes towards appearance is the number one reason why people are bullied, with 52% of people under 25 experiencing appearance-based bullying. Why do you think it’s so difficult for other people to embrace difference?
Harnaam: Women and men nowadays have been portrayed in the media in such a false way all thanks to photoshop, porn, and surgery. People have been conditioned to accept the “norm” through a lot of editing and reconstructive surgery. Surgery isn’t the issue, if altering something gives you peace of mind, happiness and contentment then go for it; but the issue comes when that body is then shamed against another body which may be natural.
We bow down to what is not natural and then shame the men and women who are comfortable within their own bodies. We do not have enough self-love within us. Once we find love for ourselves which is unconditional, that same love we will exude to others; we cannot give what we do not first have.
DTL: What’s the one thing you remember when you’re having a bad day?
Harnaam: Everything in life has a timeline from the food that we eat, the people in our lives, relationships and even our emotions and tough days. Our tough days will end. I realise that once I hit rock bottom, I can’t go any lower, the only path I can go is up and that is what I like to focus on.
Don’t allow your setback make you sit back, be ready and prepare for your comeback. Tough times come and go; it is up to you to figure out what you do during your struggles. Do you sit and do nothing, or do you fight through them strong and gain something from your pain?
Are you dealing with appearance based bullying? Talk it out with a digital mentor who can give you expert advice on overcoming bullying and building up your confidence, just like Harnaam! Join the community now…
Follow Harnaam on Twitter @harnaamkaur