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Facial hair: the construction of female bodies

September 9, 2009

I have facial hair. I haven’t been injecting testosterone: it’s just been there for years. I remember being embarrassed about it when I was 13 or 14. I hadn’t seen any media images of women or females with moustaches, so there surely was something wrong with having facial hair (I use “women” and “females” interchangeably because, at that point, I thought they were the same thing). The same went for leg hair, and for a while I was really paranoid about the hair on the back of my hands. I had heard that shaving made things worse –since you can see the thick base of the hair instead of the thin tip– so I tried depilating creams, plucking and wax. Ouch!

Eventually, I realized that there were women with body hair — lots of them. Who would have guessed that media representations of women were far from accurate?! I had been so busy feeling ashamed of myself that I hadn’t realized that some of my female friends had even fuller moustaches than I did. If I hadn’t noticed, maybe no one could notice my hair, either. I relaxed a little, although tried to I keep my facial hair at a minimum until I started identifying as male. That’s when I started shaving.

I thought that shaving didn’t truly stimulate growth, but in the past year I started noticing that my facial hair was more visible. My moustache and sideburns probably look darker due to shaving, but my chin is definitely developing more and more thick hairs — not a full-blown beard, but past the “allowed” female amount. It might be the shaving, it might be hormonal; I only know that it’s there. My body is typically female and it grows facial hair. So why are beards construed as male? No wonder Leslie Feinberg includes (cissexual) women with beards under the gender-variant umbrella: they’re defying the very rules of what female bodies are allowed to do.

I’m trying to tie in my critique of male/female body construction with the fact that I want my body to look more male-typical: I want the narrow hips, the beard, the low voice. Those seem like opposite notions — my desire to transition physically appears to reinforce the construction of a male, masculine, man’s body.

I think the connection lies within the idea of freedom: people should be allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies, no matter if they don’t fit into traditional notions of what a “normal” body looks like. And I should do whatever I want with my body, even if that brings my body closer to the standards of what men’s bodies look like — after all, if I withheld my deep desire of transition in order to “free the gender/sex system”, how could I be freeing myself? I’d just be creating a new set of standards that limit my liberty.

I know that my facial hair doesn’t make me any more of a man. I could identify as a woman and still embrace it. But it’s something I enjoy, so I’m going to go ahead and embrace it. As a person.


PS: your might be interested in Female Faces: How facial hair influences women’s everyday experiences, a site created by a woman who sports a goatee. It includes a thesis on the subject, resources and a message board. “Prepare to enter a world where women’s beauty is not defined, it’s simply embraced.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Perrin12 permalink
    September 10, 2009 12:02 pm

    “if I withheld my deep desire of transition in order to “free the gender/sex system”, how could I be freeing myself? I’d just be creating a new set of standards that limit my liberty.”

    So true. You write so beautifully–glad to see new posts showing up. I hope school is getting better!

  2. nome permalink
    September 10, 2009 12:46 pm

    It amazes me how often I’ll read a post of yours and completely identify with it. I wrote a piece about my own facial hair a while back and think you might find it as interesting as I found yours.

  3. September 10, 2009 10:41 pm

    Awesome! Same here. I was SO ashamed of my chin hairs and my soft stache, especially in my 20s. I put this depilatory cream on EVERY DAY. The kind that burns if you leave it on for more than 5 minutes or so.


  4. nome permalink
    September 11, 2009 3:07 am

    FYI, I just dyed my beard bright red. :D It’s great fun!


    Sorry if that was completely random. I can be that way!

    • genderkid permalink*
      September 11, 2009 1:05 pm

      Neat! I should dye my beard someday; that might make it more visible.
      Oh, and I didn’t know you had a blog. After reading a few posts, I signed up to your RSS feed : )

  5. nome permalink
    September 11, 2009 6:14 pm

    Aww, thanks! I take that as a HUGE compliment and I think you’re the first to subscribe to my blog. *blushy smile*

    Ya, the packaging said not to dye facial hair so I don’t want to make it a regular thing, but it’s fun.

  6. Johnny permalink
    September 15, 2009 2:16 am

    So I’m not the only one who had a moustache pre-T…. nice to know ;)

  7. nome permalink
    September 15, 2009 3:08 am

    Haha, ya, I didn’t know it was so common either. I’m the only female besides my mom I know that grows a pretty decent beard.

  8. SociologicalMe permalink
    September 15, 2009 12:36 pm

    Hi again, cis woman here- but I have a story about facial hair that I’m about to teach to my class on socialization, and I thought you might enjoy. When I was just starting to go to elementary school, maybe 9 years old, I had an incident on the bus ride home. Some older children from a neighborhood a block or two away from mine surrounded me and started taunting me, saying I had a moustache. I did have some hairs on my upper lip, but I’d never really thought about it before. They certainly didn’t look like my idea of a man’s moustache- it was just some hair, barely longer and more noticeable than the fine fuzz that covered the rest of my face. So I thought about it for a second, and told them something that made perfect sense to me: “That’s ok, so does my mom.” You can imagine how they reacted. Here I was thinking this would demonstrate to them that women can have hair on their upper lips, and somehow managed to insult my mother, who I held up as a standard of beauty. I wish I could go back and tell my 9-year old self that I was right all along!

  9. September 18, 2009 1:23 am

    Great post. I also used to be somewhat ashamed of my facial hair and the hair on my knuckles, of all places. The hair on my knuckles is super fine and very blonde, and I’m sure no one but me notices. And the hair on my face – most notably, my chin – is pretty amazing. I’ve just begun to appreciate the fact that it grows in with quite a bit of red, which has actually inspired a bit MORE pride since I consider that a nod to my Irish heritage.

  10. Mr.Melby permalink
    November 4, 2009 11:51 am

    As a goatee’d female identified person, I really enjoy this post. I’m hoping to get your permission to print it and share it. Can you contact me, or send me your email to contact you? I know this is public, but I want to have good internet etiquette before sharing it. Thanks!

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