The activist and model is hosting a retreat to bring together people with PCOS, share expertise on how to manage life with the condition and help them reconnect with their bodies
When Harnaam Kaur was first diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) as a teenager, she worried she was dying of a rare disease. Despite impacting around one in ten women in the UK, the condition was so rarely discussed in the media that it took a school nurse for Kaur to hear those four letters for the first time.
The main symptoms of PCOS, which affects the ovaries, are irregular periods and high levels of ‘male hormones’ (androgens) which can cause excessive facial or body hair, as well as acne. As a result of PCOS, Harnaam is able to grow a full beard. “Growing up, many of the South Asian women in my family had facial hair, baby hairs, upper lip hairs, sideburns, hair on their arms and their throat areas and stuff like that,” Kaur says, “so for me, it was the norm. I wasn’t aware that I had an issue until I was bullied for it.”
After years of relentless bullying and painful experiences attempting to remove her facial hair, at 16 Kaur decided to grow her beard out. Since then, she’s gone on to model, advocate for embracing all types of beauty – especially female facial hair – and raise awareness of PCOS and its symptoms. “There’s going to be young girls out there, ten years old, who are going to have PCOS and they need to be taught about the condition,” she says. “This is why I am so open to speaking about it.”
As part of her mission to raise awareness and help others with their PCOS, this March Kaur is hosting her first PCOS wellness retreat. Taking place in London, the one-day event will offer guests the chance to hear Kaur’s story first-hand and learn more about the condition from the experts, as well as take part in reiki, crystal healing and yoga sessions. Kaur is hoping it will also allow guests to discover a community of people with a shared experience through PCOS. The retreat is being funded by razor brand Estrid’s The HumanKind initiative, a project launched last year which provided grant money to people in the LGBTQ+ community, including Pxssy Palace’s Nadine Noor and Kaur.
We spoke to the motivational speaker, model and activist about living with PCOS and her upcoming event.
What made you decide to stop shaving and embrace your facial hair?
Harnaam Kaur: I hit puberty very young and started my period in year six. I had this moustache and began sprouting underarm hair. I remember looking at one of my teachers in school and noticing she had no underarm hair and thinking, ‘what is this sorcery?’ It was only then that I realised that people remove it, and I started going to the salons to get my facial hair removed.
I tried waxing, threading, tweezing, shaving, using buffer pads that you can remove hair with and even hair removal cream that I don’t think you’re meant to use on your face. I was in a lot of pain because sometimes the beautician wouldn’t hold my skin taut, so with waxing when the strip came off, my skin came off too. I had scabs from where it made me bleed. The hair came back so quickly and so fast; it was unbearable to go through that pain over and over again. It went on for years and I can only imagine how many other young women go through this because in the UK more than 50 per cent of South Asians and just over 20 per cent of white women have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
How do you manage your symptoms?
Harnaam Kaur: I haven’t spoken about it much, but I put on so much weight due to PCOS. I used to be so scared about talking about weight because I don’t want people saying I’m fat shaming but this is real shit which is happening to people, and I ended up getting Type 2 Diabetes [something that people with PCOS have an increased risk of]. So now I’m looking after my health better. I have a clean diet, I work out every day, doing weights and cardio and I’ve got two dogs that keep me active. I’m on medication too.
When I lost weight, my sugar levels went back down to normal and I was able to regulate my periods. I used to have two periods a year, just spotting, but I’d be in so much pain around my midsection and ovaries. I was on painkillers. I was bedridden. I used to spoon my hot water bottle. But as soon as I dropped that weight so many things just balanced themselves out. I’m very mindful of the fact that it is very difficult to lose weight when you have a certain medical condition, but it is not something that’s out of hand, it can happen, and you can manage your weight.
“I want people to feel good. I don’t want people to think PCOS is all doom and gloom. Yeah, it is hard and horrible and there’s a lot of pain you go through, but hey, there’s a way to cope with it, there’s a way to embrace it.”
The PCOS retreat is a mix of activities designed for spiritual, mental and physical well-being, as well as PCOS awareness and educational sessions. How did you design the programme?
Harnaam Kaur: Mind, body and soul are connected. We can’t look after our minds and disregard our bodies. Yoga will protect you from injuries, makes you so much more flexible and can help your metabolism. It also improves your respiration and your energy levels – women who have PCOS tend to have very low energy and suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness. Reiki helps with any emotional distress by allowing healing energy to flow freely and it helps aid relaxation and lower anxiety. I didn’t want the event to be about taking a couple of pills to sort out your physical health, because it’s so important to look after your mental health as well.
What do you want those who attend the event to take away with them?
Harnaam Kaur: Firstly, I want them to walk away feeling like they’re not alone. And secondly, realising there are some hairy people like me around! I want people to feel good. I don’t want people to think PCOS is all doom and gloom. Yeah, it is hard and horrible and there’s a lot of pain you go through, but hey, there’s a way to cope with it and embrace it. A part of that comes with understanding what the condition is, how the condition works for your body, and then being able to find ways in which to deal with that. This is why I love the fact that we’ve got such a well-known PCOS specialist there because she will come with no BS, just pure facts. I’m really trying to help people.
Can we expect more events in the future?
Harnaam Kaur: I pray so. I love hosting events. It’s definitely not going to be a one-off, I want to do more. Since posting about the event on Instagram I’ve had people from America, Australia, France, Spain, Brazil, and all over, hitting me up to ask when I am hosting one in their country.
What would you tell someone who has just been diagnosed with PCOS?
Harnaam Kaur: Do not feel ashamed. Reach out to the doctors and see where your health is at. Every person will have different symptoms, where I have facial hair someone else might not. Look at the symptoms you have and prioritise the ones you want to tackle and find support in people who are outspoken about it because there are a lot of people out there who have experienced the same thing as you and we’ve all found ways of dealing with it mindfully and healthily. We can all help each other.
Harnaam Kaur’s PCOS Retreat will be held on March 12, 2023 from 10am-5pm. Tickets are available here.
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