Harnaam Kaur isn't here to make you comfortable. In, fact, she likes making you nervous. As a motivational speaker, bearded lady, and advocate for those with PCOS, Harnaam Kaur has made a living out of challenging societal perceptions. She speaks where others are silent. She grows her hair out in places others would hide. And she's here to make young women feel good about their bodies — no matter what they look like.
In conversation with her good friend and manager Elizabeth Watson, as part of Bustle's 2018 Rule Breakers issue, Kaur tells us repeatedly why her voice is the one she listens to, and why it's her body, her rules.
Elizabeth Watson: So Harnaam ... can you tell us who you are?
Harnaam Kaur: I'm a bearded lady. I hope that's obvious. I have polycystic ovary syndrome, which up to one in five women have; it affects the way the ovaries work. The ovaries [of someone who has PCOS] find it hard to release eggs, which causes infertility, and the excess androgen [that the body produces can lead to the development more] bodily hair. After years and years of going through body-shaming and bullying and being ostracized and scorned, I decided at the age of 16 to just love myself and keep my hair.
As a woman, being able to grow out my beard is a physical and metaphorical middle finger up to society to say I'm not going to abide by your rules and regulations. I live my life on my terms. I'm going to show you by growing out my beard to fuck your patriarchal standards. I'm happy being me.
Being able to connect to people's lives and helping them, embracing them, and inspiring them in any way that I can, that's been the highlight.
EW: You're an inspiration to lots of people. What's been the highlight of your career so far?
HK: I love the fact that I'm able to connect to so many different people because my story is multi-faceted and bullying is universal. I love that the more I open myself up to the world, the more the universe opens itself up to me. Being able to connect to people's lives and helping them, embracing them, and inspiring them in any way that I can, that's been the highlight.
EW: What do you do during bad mental health days?
HK: I let them happen. Everyone goes through them. It's important I don't just embrace my high points, but also embrace that I'm human and I have emotions and I will get hurt. I still know that once I do fall down, I'm able to get back up and rebuild myself. I embrace my sadness, my depression, my anxieties, but regardless of what I'm going through, I just know that I'm going to be OK.
EW: You're going to make me cry.
HK: Sorry, this is what I do. ... I make people cry.
EW: What's your long-term goal? What do you want to achieve?
HK: I don't want to say "take over the world," because that's quite cheesy, but, also, I would love to. I want to build an empire where I'm able to help people in need, to make enough money not for myself, but to give back to society.
In a more of a personal sense, being a mother is my goal. I'm already picking out names, but, also, girl, have yourself some sex first, innit?
EW: Oh my god, you're so funny. What's your rule breaker motto?
HK: My body, my rules. I hashtag that under every picture. Our bodies are politicized from our heads to our toes — from Black women who can't wear their hair out in their natural form, to nipple censoring, to our vulvas where tampons are taxed, all the way down to our feet where we have to wear heels in workplaces.
So if I live by "my body, my rules," no one can change me; no one has the right to change me because my mind is my own, my body is my own, and I will do with it as I wish.
EW: You're breaking down so many barriers.
HK: Any powerful woman that's ever walked on this earth will cause fear in the hearts of insecure people, especially men.
EW: Hell yeah.
I think my rule-breaking icon is the bitch that looks back at me in the mirror. I'm like, 'Yo, I like you.'
HK: I've been bullied, body-shamed, discriminated against, ostracized, and downplayed by people — even friends and family. It takes a strong person to be able to stand up in front of your loved ones, people that are supposed to care about you, and say that.
EW: What do you think is the rule influencers on Instagram should break more often?
HK: Stop being so fucking fake. I try and show people my low side as well as my heightened, most glamorous self. I try and show myself as a vulnerable woman. I try and show myself as a powerful woman. I might cry on my Instagram Live.
Not wearing makeup today is rebellious. Even on Instagram Live, I will just do it without makeup. And it's funny how your natural state is a rebellious act.
When it comes to other people ... I know your life's not that great. It can't always be great like that. Just stop being fake.
EW: Love it, love it, love it. Who's your rule-breaking icon?
HK: I think my rule-breaking icon is the bitch that looks back at me in the mirror. I'm like, "Yo, I like you."
EW: That's a very real answer. Do you ever have imposter syndrome and how do you push past it?
HK: I know I'm amazing. Really, I do. That's the thing though, we forget our self-worth. We forget our values. And just because there's another fantastic person in the room with me doesn't dull the value of my power.
EW: It's fantastic that you don't have imposter syndrome, but do you have advice for young women who do?
HK: It all comes down to self-esteem. If anyone puts themselves down in comparison to another person, I would say, "You need to take a deep look at yourself." And I'm not having a go at you like a motherly figure. I'm saying actually sit down and reevaluate your whole situation, reevaluate your whole life. Are you living in regards to other people's opinions? Are you looking to be happy?
Look, you live one life. Give it all you flipping got and take all your shots. One's bound to hit the target.
EW: What's your favorite part about what you do?
HK: I love the fact that I have a beard. I love the fact that gorgeous men fondle my beard. I love the fact that my beard also makes men fearful of their masculinity. I love the fact that my beard makes women fearful of their femininity. I like the fact that my beard actually mind-fucks a lot of people.
EW: What is your least favorite part about what you do?
HK: I can't be everyone's savior. I am one person trying to better 7 billion people's lives and I can't always do that.
Listening to people's stories, listening to the heartbreak that they go through... My heart sinks because people really do go through a lot. I want to help people, but I physically can't. I think that's one of the hardest parts.
As soon as you say to yourself, I want to be free, I want to be me, I want to be happy, I want to have self-love, I want to be confident, you are literally giving yourself a green tick to be all those things.
EW: We've seen your end result — a very confident human being — but can you talk more about your journey?
HK: Looking back, I can connect the dots to why I went through all that bullshit. I had to have a story to tell to help others, but coming to that point was very difficult. It was full of social anxiety, depressing moments, suicidal thoughts, and self-harming tendencies. I think words are very powerful. They can either make or break you. We forget that we have the power to create change.
So anytime a bully would say whatever they said, I would label myself with two positive comments because you have to override the negativity somehow. That's why positive affirmations are very important in my life and very pivotal for me to get from the negative mindset to the positive mindset. But again, as soon as you say to yourself, I want to be free, I want to be me, I want to be happy, I want to have self-love, I want to be confident, you are literally giving yourself a green tick to be all those things.
Happiness is a journey. You can't find happiness. It's not a medal that you win after going through certain trials and tribulations. It's a mindset. It's a consistent emotion. It's also hard. How can you get to that point? It's only through self-healing, personal growth, and just knowing yourself. Being able to heal yourself will allow you to feel that liberation.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.