According to the NHS PCOS is a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work.
Thanks to the high levels of “male hormones” in women with the condition, one of the most common side effects of PCOS is the growth of dark hair on your face and body.
Despite being perfectly natural, excess hair is often seen as a beauty taboo, which is why women often feel pressure to remove it.
But not Leah Jorgensen. The 33-year-old behavioural health technician from Wisconsin has suffered from PCOS since the age of 14.
Having been on the receiving end of cruel comments by people branding her a ‘man’, Leah spent years in full-sleeved, high-necked shirts and long trousers in a bid to hide the excess hair.
By her late 20s, she was spending hours shaving to remove the thick hair on her chin, cheeks, upper lip, chest, stomach, arms, legs and back.
Leah’s insecurity about her body hair stopped her from getting close to people – she didn’t have her first kiss until age 27 and avoided the dentist for twelve years.
“I had never seen women who looked like me,” says Leah. “I was so ashamed that I didn’t want to talk about it.
“My way of coping with that shame and embarrassment was to hide. My daily goal for a long time was to just get through the day without anyone noticing how hairy I was.
“Because I have so much of it, it was very difficult to hide it. I developed a terrible case of anxiety and it really took a toll on my mental health.”
Leah recalls an experience with her doctor who said she had the most severe case of hirsutism (excess body hair) she’d ever seen, which left her feeling like a ‘freak’.
And further experiences with classmates who teased her about her hair, also took their toll.
“I felt ashamed, embarrassed and scared, like I was somehow less of a woman,” she says.
“I covered up with clothes and shaved my face, and if I was going to be showing any part of my body I would shave it.”
“It gets hot and humid here in the summer and I would wear hoodies year round so I would be drowning in sweat. ‘People would ask me, ‘Why are you wearing that?’ and I was just like, ‘Leave me alone.’”
“I was really convinced I would lose my friends and my family would disown me and I wouldn’t be able to get a job or a boyfriend, I would just live a miserable life alone.”
The turning point came in in 2015, when Leah was hit by a car. She had to be taken to hospital by ambulance, and then had her clothes cut off by paramedics to undergo surgery. This meant people saw the extent of Leah’s hair growth – but to her huge surprise, they weren’t at all bothered.
“I realised no one cared what I looked like,” she explains, “They just saw me as a person. It really helped me to get over it.”
From that moment onwards Leah vowed to stop shaving and hiding away her hair. Instead, she now embraces her hair, wearing low-cut, sleeveless tops and skirts with bare legs out in public without worrying about what people think.
She also bravely wore a bikini for the first time last summer.
Her new found body confidence lead to Leah setting up her Instagram where she regularly shares photos of her body hair with her 2,500 followers alongside empowering messages encouraging others to love their own bodies.
Speaking about overcoming her body fears she says: “I realised that I never really disliked how the hair looked. The problem was not with the hair, it was with people’s perception of it.”
“I thought, ‘Enough is enough.’ I didn’t want to run from it anymore.”
The mindset shift also prompted her to quit her job in insurance and return to college, where she is studying social work and recently got a job working with autistic children.
“People definitely stare or try to take photos but I expect that because you don’t really see women who look like me,”Leah says.
“I used to be scared of people noticing my hair but now I embrace it and let it grow. I’m unique and that is perfectly fine.
“I do still shave my face because I like how my face looks without hair, but I used to shave multiple times a day and now I will go a couple of days.
“It has been incredibly empowering,” she says of her body confidence journey.
“I hope that sharing my story will give others courage. And to women who have hirsutism; you are not alone.”
Leah isn’t the only PCOS sufferer who decided to ditch the razor. Singer and sideshow performer Little Bear Schwarz used to have to shave every day to remove the traces of her hair. But at 31, stopped shaving and found it to be not only empowering, but also lucrative for her career.
“I realised it was kind of now or never, so I grew it out and within a few weeks found a flyer for a beard competition, which I entered and won,” Schwarz told Yahoo Lifestyle.
Within a month, she had joined the Wreckless Freeks sideshow as a performer. “I learned pretty early in that [having a beard] was not just possible but also lucrative.”
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