Love yourself, ‘you’ are the only ‘you’ that ‘you’ have,” says Harnaam Kaur, the bearded dame who is changing the perception of beauty around the world.
You may have heard of Harnaam Kaur, the 24-year-old woman from UK who refers to herself as the ‘Bearded Dame’. Beautiful, courageous and confident, Harnaam is a true inspiration to many in this world struggling with unrealistic and fabricated standards of beauty.
TBI had an email conversation with Harnaam Kaur about her difficult but ultimately rewarding journey:
“I love being a body confidence activist and a plus size model. I enjoy challenging the definition of beauty,” says Harnaam, who is living with polycystic ovary syndrome. Her condition causes hormonal imbalance, which in turn can result in excessive hair growth on the face and body.
At the impressionable age of 11, when hair first started growing on her face, Harnaam became the victim of bullying and hurtful comments – a fate that was to follow her persistently through her growing years. She tried everything – waxing, bleaching, shaving, and a lot more – till she reached her lowest point and was ready to give up on life.
“I was affected by bullies a lot. I had to cope, I wanted to stay alive. I used to cry rivers of tears to let out emotions of hate towards my body and the bullies. I used to self-harm. I wanted to kill myself because I hated my life. My bedroom was my safe haven, I would lock myself in my room and stay in it after I came back from school. I used to only go to school and come back home. I never had a social life as I was afraid of getting bullied. Going to school was like doomsday every day,” she says.
But today, Harnaam is well past those dark times. She sports a beard which she loves and has been growing it since the age of 16.
“One day I decided that enough was enough. Self-harming never helps a situation. It causes you more deep emotional and physical pain and the bad situation will be there still for you to deal with anyway. You should seek help and advice when wanting to overcome problems. I remember turning the negative energy of being suicidal into positive energy. People don’t realise how much energy it takes to want to commit suicide. I decided to live life happily.”
However, it was not an easy step to take. Tired of all the bullying and the pain it caused, Harnaam first started to grow her beard for religious reasons; she converted to Sikhism, a religion that forbids cutting one’s hair. Her decision caused consternation within the family. Her parents did not think she would be able to lead a normal life if she had a beard. And it did lead to the expected problems – people staring at her on the street, in stores and washrooms and other public places.
However, over time, she grew to love her beard as a part of her body. Her brother, Gurdeep, was the one person who stood by her and supported her though everything.
Recently, Harnaam made headlines when some pictures of her dressed as a beautiful bride were shared all around the world. Posing for the Urban Bridesmaid Photography studio in south London, Harnaam looked radiant. Photographer Louisa Coulthurst, who did the photo shoot, had seen Harnaam’s portrait at the Beard Exhibition held at Somerset House in March. “I had always been intrigued by the thought of floral beards and a thought came to me of wouldn’t it be cool to have a floral beard on a woman. I emailed Harnaam and she was excited and wanted to get involved,” Lisa was quoted as saying here.
Harnaam, who will be doing many more photo shoots in the future, says – “I absolutely loved my bridal photo shoot. I did not actually get married. It was just a photo shoot and my aim was to help portray diversity in society and to challenge the definition of beauty. I wish to one day officially dress up in bridal wedding attire, be it Indian or Western.”
Ask her about what motivates her to keep going, and she says, “I guess the amazing comments, emails and letters from people make me smile and encourage me to carry on the path of helping people find self-love, empowerment and strength after going through hard times. I receive messages such as “your self-love gives me self-love,” or “you helped me love my life and not be suicidal anymore,” and “I wish that my children grow up to be as brave and confident as you.” These comments and messages make me realise that what I am doing is having an impact on the wider world, and I will continue to live my life’s purpose.”
Harnaam, who is also an anti-bullying activist, has made a video called Labels, which is a short film to create awareness about bullying.
To people who are struggling to find the same courage that she has been able to in life, she says – “I love all the elements of my body. How can I not? This is my body. I feel that once we find self-love and contentment, then anything that people say in a horrible way will not affect us. Society always tells us that we are too fat, too chubby, too skinny, too tall or too short, too dark or too light. But I am here saying that we are all absolutely beautiful and nothing that anyone says will change that. My marks on my body all describe a journey that I have been on, how can I erase that journey? I love my body and I hope that others can love theirs too.”
Harnaam plans to do many more photo shoots around different concepts in the future – concepts that will help redefine the meaning of beauty and what is normal. She is also planning on producing more short films on subjects close to her heart.
“Live happily, live contentedly. You have one life, live it right. Help each other achieve greatness, and empower each other to reach limits that you thought you couldn’t ever achieve,” is Harnaam’s inspiring message to the world.