Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) caused one New York woman to develop excess facial hair, and after deciding to embrace what she couldn’t change she grew out a full beard.
Alma Torres, from The Bronx, developed PCOS at the age of 15, though she wasn’t diagnosed until she had a blood test three years later.
The syndrome is a hormone condition that affects how the ovaries work and causes symptoms such as irregular periods, weight gain, excess hair growth and infertility.
While in high school, Alma found herself growing dark facial hair which other students would tease her for.
The 27-year-old explained:
I had never really noticed how people would make fun of my facial hair, until a guidance counsellor at school asked me if it bothered me – and suddenly I realised how many people would stare and whisper.
That changed everything for me. I shaved for the first time when I was 16, before my eighth-grade prom, and I continued to try to get rid of the hair for the next eight years.
Alma recalled receiving her diagnoses aged 18, describing it as ‘a real slap to the face’. Learning she may be infertile caused her to become ‘very depressed’ for a long time, and she continued to try and hide her beard by shaving, waxing and bleaching the hair.
The New Yorker even attempted laser hair removal, but a year after her diagnosis she began to try and embrace her condition.
When I was about 19, about a year after my diagnosis, I became an advocate for myself, because I had to. I really struggled to start with, and every time I would try to grow my beard out I would end up running to shave it off after a few days.
Alma persevered and continued her research into PCOS, eventually coming across social media star Harnaam Kaur, who shows off her own PCOS beard with pride to more than 150,000 followers.
The 27-year-old described the discovery as a ‘turning point’ and remembers thinking: ‘She doesn’t care – if she can do it, surely I can too!’
When she was 23, Alma finally got the courage to grow her beard out. Though she initially got self-conscious of people staring at her and taking photos, she has since learned to take it in her stride.
I had tried for so long to change how I looked, but I couldn’t. I grew to believe that I’m meant to be this way, so I stopped trying to change it.
At first, people would make cruel comments and it would really bring me down. I’d get very self-conscious when I would catch people taking pictures of me while they thought I wasn’t looking.
Now, I still get people taking pictures when I’m out and about, but it doesn’t bother me at all. I just turn and stare at them so they know I can see what they’re doing, and that I don’t care what they think of me.
Now, I’m more confident with my beard than I ever was without. Learning to accept my beard has been, without a doubt, the best thing I’ve ever done.
Alma started documenting her experience on Instagram in 2017, and has since racked up 6,000 followers. She admitted the confidence is ‘not something you can build overnight’, but said she was able to get there by taking things one day at a time.
Social media has allowed me to share my story and show people how I’ve embraced what I can’t change, which has pretty much become my mantra.
I get far more positive comments than negative, and I’ve also had a lot of women who struggle with PCOS themselves, who ask me for advice and tell me that seeing my Instagram helps them.
Through social media, Alma hopes to inspire other women with PCOS to embrace their bodies as they are.