Being a teen is hard enough – you’re going through puberty and dealing with all the self-esteem issues and judgement that comes with it, all with a load of hormones surging around your body.
Now imagine doing that while a hormone condition causes you to grow a full beard.
That’s what Alma Torres, now 27, was up against when she developed polycystic ovary syndrome at the age of 15.
She tried everything to remove the excess hair that had sprouted along her jawline, from shaving, to bleaching, waxing and even laser hair removal, but nothing stopped the dark hairs from coming back.
Eight years later, she decided to ditch the hair removal methods and embrace her beard – and now, she says it’s the best thing she’s ever done.
Now celebrating her four-year ‘beard-iversary’, Alma, who lives in The Bronx, New York, is sharing her story to encourage other people to embrace their physical differences.
The full-time student, said: ‘I learnt to embrace what I couldn’t change. That’s my favourite quote – it’s the one I live by.’
Alma recalled first growing dark facial hair aged 15, when she developed PCOS – although her diagnosis didn’t come until she had a blood test aged 18.
PCOS is a hormone condition which affects how the ovaries work. Common symptoms include irregular periods, weight gain, and excess hair growth – and it can also lead to infertility.
‘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,’ said Alma.
‘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.’
When she finally received her diagnosis of PCOS aged 18, she described it as ‘a real slap to the face’ and became ‘very depressed’.
But over time she learned to accept her condition – and the beard that came with it.
She was inspired in large part by Harnaam Kaur, who wears her PCOS beard with pride.
‘When I was about 19, about a year after my diagnosis, I became an advocate for myself, because I had to,’ said Alma. ‘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.
‘I saw Harnaam with a full beard and she wasn’t ashamed of it.
‘I remember thinking, “She doesn’t care – if she can do it, surely I can too!”.’
At the age of 23, Alma chucked the razors, bleach, and wax strips, and allowed her natural beard to grow in.
She was self-conscious at first, but has learned not to care what other people think.
Alma said: ‘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.’
Alma now shares her story on Instagram in the hopes of inspiring others.
‘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,’ she said.
‘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.
‘I just want to help people to understand that all our bodies are different, and you don’t need to change it – just learn to love yourself and accept it.
‘That confidence is not something you can build overnight, it took me years to get to this point! But you just have to take it one day at a time and believe in yourself.
‘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.’
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