A SMOOTH skin is every woman’s dream. But what do you do if this dream eludes you and worse still if you find yourself with pronounced facial hair yet you are a woman.
Take Agatha Komukama for example; for as long as she can remember, the little beard on her chin has always gotten her unwanted attention. Being of a light complexion, her beard is evident even to a person seated a few feet away from her.
“Well, at first it used to really bother me when people stared. But over the years, I learned to get used because I realised just how easily I could lose my mind if I didn’t learn to ignore the stares,” Komukama says.
She adds: “At one point, I was tempted to cut it but I was only 18 at the time and a friend told me that it would only grow back, longer even. So I freaked out and let it be. Every time I am around unfamiliar people, I try to cover it with a scarf. It is very frustrating. There’s not a day I don’t wish I could wake up and it is gone forever.”
To Agatha, the hair on her chin is a nightmare. But as uncomfortable as it makes her, ways to get rid of it are not an option.
“After what my friend told me when I was 18, I will not hear of waxing or even tweezing it lest it grows back with a vengeance,” she says.
Doctors explain the problem
According to Dr Titus Suge, the Head of Pharmacy Department at Mount Kenya University, facial hair in women is commonly caused by high levels of male hormones known as androgens.
“There are several causes of facial hair which is commonly known as hirsutism. Hirsutism usually occurs when a woman’s body produces too much of androgens hormone thus leading to unwanted hair growth. Some of the facial hair development is genetically passed on. It tends to run in families. In general, hirsutism is a harmless condition although women that suffer from this condition find it embarrassing,” Dr Suge explains.
He adds that there is no specific medication for hirsutism besides shaving.
“Women suffering from hirsutism may also have irregular menstrual periods, acne trouble, weight loss, and diabetes. If these symptoms start suddenly, then there are chances that the woman may have a tumour that releases male hormones and it’s advisable to see a doctor,” Dr Suge advises.
He adds: “The best way to deal with unwanted facial hair is to shave other than taking any medication which could cause more harm than good.”
Like Komukama, Lorraine Kamikazi, a 28-year-old student at Mt. Kenya University is going through the same frustrations. For as long as she can remember, she has had two small hairs on her chin. It’s not something you see the second you face her but after a while, even when she hasn’t mentioned it, you somehow notice it.
“When I was young, I used to get teased a lot. In school, kids gave me all sorts of names and I actually grabbed a razor once and cut it. But it grew back. And I realised that I would never fully get rid of it,” Kamikazi says.
She adds: “My mum consoled me and told me I was unique and that it was what made me special. But I didn’t want to be special. I wanted to be normal so that kids wouldn’t make fun of me.”
“As I got older, I learned to accept it though it still makes me uncomfortable. Every time someone notices it, I get embarrassed even though they are not out to mock me. Right now, my boyfriend makes fun of it but I know he doesn’t mean it.”
Actress Fabiola Mukasekuru on March 16, 2014, decided to experiment with the not-so-feminine look at the Rwanda Movie Awards held at Serena Kigali Hotel. She showed up with a beard - and moustache in tow.
Mukasekuru who thought she was being funny and creative, was surprised when some local media outlets attacked her for her bold look. It got so ugly that insinuations were made that Mukasekuru was advocating for gay rights.
“I didn’t know that I was sending the wrong message,” Mukasekuru narrates. “Because of the facial hair makeup, for days, local Kinyarwanda newspapers and websites made allegations that there was a possibility that I was gay. I was just trying to appear different for the awards.”
“If I received such treatment when it was just makeup, I do not want to imagine what women with actual facial hair like beards go through. I believe it’s so hard for them to cope with the way society portrays them.”
The myths about women with facial hair
As strange as it is for some people to understand, it gets even stranger when some of the myths surrounding facial hair in women are laid bare. The most bizarre of all is that women who eat goat’s meat are likely to grow a beard.
Yes, to all the brochette lovers, myth or not, we can agree that the next time you salivate at that juicy stick of goat’s meat, a ‘little hairy issue’ will pop on your chin. Perhaps it has something to do with that goat beard but worry not, it’s just a myth.
And to the ones desperate enough to try just about anything to get rich, the myth that a beard in women is a sign of wealth might force them to buy hair enhancing products.
To demystify these societal beliefs, a publication by Kathleen Blanchard, ‘Why Do Women Grow Facial Hair?’ indicates that there may be no underlying cause for excess body hair in women; the term used when there are no discernible medical problems is “idiopathic.” When a medical problem exists, it usually appears at puberty and may be the result of polycystic ovarian disease, or abnormalities in adrenal gland function.
The author indicates that older women who suddenly experience facial hair growth should have a medical exam to rule out the presence of ovarian, endometrial or adrenal cancer. Tumors associated with cancer secrete hormones that cause facial hair to grow rapidly. Other medical causes include obesity, diabetes and insulin resistance.
Young women with sudden weight gain who have recently discontinued oral contraceptives might see an increased growth in facial hair. If facial hair exceeds that which is culturally normal, it may be important to see your doctor for hormone testing or a review of medications that might be contributing to the problem.
It’s unlikely that the bearded (or moustached) look will be a trendy look anytime soon – hence, women will keep plucking, electrolysing, waxing and shaving so as to appear acceptable.
Natural ways of getting rid of facial hair
TWEEZING or pulling the hair out with tweezers. It’s a cheap and effective way to remove hair from any area on the face. The major downsides are only that it is time-consuming and somewhat painful, especially in sensitive areas.
Use an epilator is a device; it’s usually priced between $30-100, which works by pulling out multiple hairs at once. While effective, fast, and relatively inexpensive, it can be painful the first few times it’s used.
Waxing is one of the more common ways to remove facial hair. The cost of the procedure will depend upon what part of your face you have waxed, but it is generally not too expensive. The effects will usually last a few weeks but the procedure is painful. It can also result in ingrown hairs.
Try threading, the pain of waxing and the expense of an epilator not for you? Threading is an easy way to remove hair from your brows, lip, or face in general. This method is simple to learn, easy to do, relatively painless, and doesn’t require any tools. All you need is some string! You can also go in to a salon for professional threading, but only if you really want to.
Try trimming. If you are worried about your eyebrows more than other facial hair, consider trimming the hair rather than removing it. Trimming the eyebrows can make them appear less thick and dark and is easy and cheap to do yourself at home.
Shave sparingly. You can, of course, also shave any facial hair which bothers you. While it is not true that shaving will make hair grow back thicker or darker, shaving will often cause shaving bumps and is most likely to cause ingrown hairs so use shaving sparingly or with appropriate precautions.
Some cultural myths were meant to act as a barrier to certain behaviour. Men came up with the myth that if women ate goats’ meat they would grow a beard just to perpetuate their greed. For the 70 plus years I have lived, I have seen women who have eaten goats’ meat and I have never seen any hair grow from their chin.
Joel Harinditwali- Resident of Nyamagabe