Men aren’t the only ones taking part in this month’s Movember charity campaign - women too are showing their support for men’s health issues by ditching the wax, bleach and tweezers and growing their facial hair.
Losa Morrison, a 28-year-old student from Brisbane, says she normally needs to shave every day but is facing her fears and growing a beard to raise awareness and funds.
“I've been growing my facial hair for Movember for the past five days and I already have a goatee,” says Morrison. “My facial hair is pretty obvious and I've decided to try and break some social boundaries by revealing this embarrassing feature.”
Morrison says she was inspired to take part in Movember because of her father’s struggle with mental illness. “There’s no way I’d normally do this. My father was diagnosed with depression last year and he won’t talk about it or do anything about it. I thought if I do this maybe he’ll come out of his shell and discuss it. I feel that men don't talk about mental health issues because being emotional is considered feminine. In the same vein being able to grow facial hair is considered a masculine thing and therefore women don't discuss it.”
Since growing her facial hair, a number of women have approached Morrison to discuss their own issues, she says. “Last weekend I had about five or six women come up to me and say they have it and hide it too. I had one lady who was nearly crying in front of me.”
Morrison is not alone going public with her facial hair to prompt men to take their health concerns seriously. In the UK, 36-year-old Siobhain Fletcher is also sprouting a moustache and beard for Movember.
Fletcher has been hiding the problem for twelve years. “If I can go out on the street with a beard or moustache for a month, then surely men with health problems can go and get themselves tested?” she said. “I think it is awful that some men are too embarrassed to have a simple test which could save them from prostate or testicular cancer.”
By taking a public stand, Fletcher is also raising awareness of a medical condition which affects many women. Twelve years ago she was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition which can cause excessive facial hair.
“My condition used to make me depressed but this is for a good cause. I want to highlight that people shouldn’t judge you on what you have on your face — it’s what is inside that matters.”
A UK survey estimates that 40 per cent of women have some degree of unwanted hair on their face. The 1000 Women’s Survey Report which was part of the We Can Face It campaign, said that “unwanted facial hair in women (also known as excessive facial hair and facial hirsutism) is surprisingly common but it is still something of a taboo subject and is rarely discussed.”
The survey went on to say that unwanted facial hair had a major impact on the emotional wellbeing and self-esteem of women. "They feel unfeminine, embarrassed and anxious. 98 per cent of women experienced negative feelings as a result of having facial hair."
“Unwanted facial hair is a very common problem that causes enormous distress to those many women who suffer from it” wrote endocrinologist Professor Steve Franks in the report. “However the general public (and indeed many medical practitioners) are unaware of the extent of the problem and the emotional disturbance that it can evoke.” Unwanted hair may be an indication of an underlying hormonal problem, he added. “In many women the appearance of excess facial hair is a symptom of PCOS. So unwanted facial hair is not just a cosmetic problem, it may be an important symptom of a hormonal disorder that needs further, specialist investigation and appropriate treatment.”
Australian chiropractor and nutritionist, Dr Rebecca Harwin runs a support group for women with PCOS. She has suffered from unwanted facial hair herself and advises fellow sufferers. She believes raising awareness of the issue could help reduce the stigma attached to it. “I think this issue is rarely mentioned because (like PCOS) it is a silent problem. It is not often spoken about outside of of support groups because of the utter embarrassment.” Harwin says facial hair can be devastating for a woman's self esteem. “Often women feel very self conscious, embarrassed, and isolated. It can adversely impact on their lives in many ways, from relationships to quality of life. I know women that don't want to leave the house because of it. Personally, when I was experiencing excessive facial and body hair, I was mortified. I never felt attractive, or even feminine. I was single for many, many years. Taking femininity away from a woman is devastating.”
With more than two weeks left to go, Morrison says she would like to shave off her beard but hopes she will be able to resist the temptation until the end of Movember. “I’ve had a lot of women tell me I’m brave. I’m doing it for charity so that helps in a way. I’ve already raised $240 dollars. The encouragement I get really keeps me going.”
Help Losa support men’s health by donating at her Movember page.