Healthy Mind

What is hirsutism?

So much great work has been done in recent years to reduce the stigma associated with mental health – It has yielded undeniably successful results.

But we now face a different challenge entirely in tackling what is perhaps one of the most under-estimated and unacknowledged stigmas that many countries have yet to address.

I am referring to the stigma attached to the excess hair condition known as hirsutism.

Statistics from an article published by The Guardian in 2010 reveal that thirty percent of women with excess facial hair also suffer from clinical depression and a quarter claimed that facial hair had a part to play in preventing them from getting a promotion.

Similarly, an article was published on a beauty blog called ThandieKay in October of this year in which facialist and skincare consultant, Dija Ayodele, revealed that she sees many women who continue to suffer in silence with their condition, rather than choosing to seek help for it. In this same article it was revealed that eighty-nine percent of women feel their self-esteem would be higher if they did not have facial hair. Additionally, statistics revealed that over half of the one thousand women who took part in the British 2010 ‘We can face it’ survey, which was part of a campaign to raise awareness of excessive facial hair in women, would feel uncomfortable in discussing the topic of bodily hair with friends and family.

Hirsutism can be defined as an excess hair condition affecting women which causes the pattern of hair growth in a woman to follow that of what one would typically find in a man. According to statistics from the Health Service Executive (HSE), it is a condition that may affect one in three of every twenty pre-menopausal women, depending on how hirsutism is defined. While it can be down to genetics, it can also be caused by a hormonal imbalance in the body.

Race is another factor that affects the likelihood of developing hirsutism. According to a study conducted by the Hair Research Society of India, the condition is much more common in southern, European and dark skinned Mediterranean women than it is in northern, fair skinned Europeans. However there are numerous different types of hirsutism that someone can be effected by, it can most simply be broken down into idiopathic hirsutism and secondary hirsutism, as Irishhealth.com explains. 

While idiopathic hirsutism can often, but not always be hereditary, secondary hirsutism can often present alongside other symptoms such as irregular menstrual cycles and more masculine bodily features. This condition is often, but not necessarily always, linked to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Statistics from the HSE indicate that almost three quarters of pre-menopausal women who suffer from hirsutism are also effected by Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It is advised that if a women experiences irregular menstrual cycles alongside excess bodily hair, they should consult their GP to find out whether they may possibly be suffering from a more serious, underlying condition. You can easily and confidentially organise an appointment with the doctor in your college if you wish to seek further help or guidance and find out the best way that is most suited to you to deal with this condition.

This condition is very treatable and, despite the stigma and shame attached to it, there is no reason to feel afraid of seeking help. As a hirsute woman, this condition and the associated social stigma has significantly affected every single aspect of my life, most noticeably my confidence.

You constantly feel unhappy and uncomfortable in your own skin and because of this, your confidence is torn to shreds. Such is the vicious cycle of the condition that you subsequently struggle more and more every day to pick yourself up and move forward as you simply do not have the energy to do so.

Regardless of how talented you are or how successful you could potentially be, this all-consuming condition, which leads to highly obsessive thoughts over ones body image is always holding you back psychologically. When people praise you or try to compliment you, their words, regardless of just how true they are, carry no weight or meaning. The voice in your head that stems from your condition is always going to dominate your thoughts and drown out any positive thoughts.

We need to remove this stigma from this condition, which as a symptom of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, was ranked as the eighth most stigmatized health disorder in 2011 by LiveScience.com. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you do have excess bodily hair as a woman, be it a treasures trail, chest hair, facial hair or otherwise.

So how do you break a stigma in society? The single most important thing to do is talk. We have seen in recent years the incredible success with which the stigma associated with mental health has been addressed. What is stopping us from adapting the same attitude, the same methods the same sheer determination, to break the stigma associated with hirsutism? Surely the same effect can be achieved if we are to address this stigma in the same way.

It is important that we begin to start the flow of conversation around the issue of body hair and hirsutism. The topic of bodily hair, and indeed the removal of it, is something that many of us still need to learn to talk about in a far more open and honest way. It is a feature, rightly or wrongly, of many women’s lives and because of this there is no reason why we should feel a sense of shame or discomfort in talking about it.

The media need to discuss this condition more in the hope to normalise it and therefore reduce the stigma attached to it. More hirsute women need to be given the opportunity to discuss their personal experience with this condition in an open and honest way.

Photo: kris krüg/ Flickr