She is dressed in white, like a bride. Only the full beard that falls down her cheeks gives any indication that Harnaam Kaur is posing, not for a wedding but for a cause. With body hair that make her look like a sardar boy, Kaur is reworking the definition of beauty and becoming well-known in UK’s world of art and fashion — as well as on social media sites — as the Bearded Dame.
The journey hasn’t been beautiful all the way. “I used to self harm to hurt my body, which I hated. I wanted to kill myself because I hated my life,” says Kaur, over email. She was 11 when diagnosed with a hormonal imbalance that caused excess body hair, among other symptoms. Kaur tried common remedies such as waxing, shaving, bleaching and threading. “My face would burn and my skin would rip as the wax came off,” she says.
Her family in Slough was supportive but school was tough. “I did not like to go to school and hated sitting in the classroom as I knew people will be horrible to me,” she says. She went through phases of bullying and depression until, at 16, she decided to turn “negative energy into positive energy”.
Instead of getting her face waxed, Kaur started growing a beard. On her Instagram account, harnaamkaur defied the ideas of “being normal” and “beauty” by calling herself the Bearded Dame. She has more than 20,000 followers.
Now, a teaching assistant, her photographs were a part of a show in Somerset called #Project60, in a section, titled Beard Exhibition. This is where London-based Louisa Coulthurst from Urban Bridesmaid Photography spotted her and asked her to model in bridalwear. “This is what I want to do in future. I will help women and men with body image issues, and challenge society’s definition of being normal,” says Kaur.