“I don’t love my beard but I have accepted it and have gained more self awareness and confidence because of it”.
Annalisa Hackleman has spent most of her adult life making other women feel beautiful, even on days she didn’t quite feel it herself. The professional pin-up and fetish photographer has shot, touched up, encouraged and counselled many a model despite feeling the burden of her own insecurities, one of which is living with a beard. Now 30 years old, the Californian beauty has opened up about her life-long struggle with Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Natasha Christian speaks with her below.
When did you first start to notice your facial hair?
I personally never noticed the hair on my face or cared that much to begin with once it was pointed out. The hair on my face was noticed by my mother when I was 14. I was raised to be ashamed of any type of body hair to do with puberty: armpits, pubic region, legs. When my mother said that I had facial hair and accused me of shaving my face (I hadn’t) I couldn’t understand why that was a bad thing..
What was your initial reaction?
I didn’t see why it mattered that I had darker hair on my face. At the time it was still peach fuzz looking. After being hounded about it, I became self conscious. My mother decided I needed laser hair removal which ultimately didn’t work and began shaving my face to look ‘normal’.
What was life at school like at the time?
I was a shy, silly girl. I wasn’t bullied, had close friends. In my younger years I didn’t do too well in school academically. Teachers loved me, but I was lazy and never did my homework! Overall, school was fun for me social wise.
What PCOS related symptoms did you experience through puberty?
Heavy periods that would last anywhere from two weeks up to six months. Extreme mood swings, severe bouts of depression, cystic acne, severe sleepiness from anemia as well as extreme fatigue and hair loss. I had a two centimetre cyst on my right ovary which eventually ballooned up to eight and required surgery. I gained weight over time and wasn’t able to lose it through normal diet and exercise.That’s to name a few.
How were your friendships in school?
I had lots of girlfriends growing up, more so boys as I got into High School. My friends have always been my life. I still have friendships from those years; not as close anymore or as many but that is okay.
Did you have many interactions with the opposite sex growing up?
I did not have any romantic relationships throughout school.
When was your first kiss and with who?
My first kiss happened when I was twenty. It was just a quick peck on the lips.
Did the heavy periods ever stop you from being able to do every-day things?
Oh YES definitely. More so when I was in middle school because I didn’t know how to deal with them, and didn’t wear tampons until later. I didn’t know what the hell was going on with my body. Emotions, cramps, pain, fatigue, anemia. I still deal with these issues now, but things used to be so magnified back then. I would get migraines that felt like someone was stabbing my eyes out with pencils if I even had a bit of light in the room. My symptoms were devastating for a young teenager, or anyone for that matter, to deal with.
A lot of women with PCOS have difficulty losing weight, have you?
It’s not too too hard to lose some weight with diet change but I plateau after some time. I have always been overweight. Some women just cannot lose the weight.
Has your weight changing over the years affected the amount of hair growth?
I’m sure it did, my hair growth has changed a lot in the past few years though and I haven’t gained any weight in over three years.
How did your life change when you first started going out in public with a full beard and can you share what that time was like?
About three years ago, I was at the point of shaving my beard twice a day. I would pluck and pick the hair out of my face constantly. It was a never ending battle. I formed agoraphobia (unable to leave my house) and would feel anxiety trying to plan outings or go anywhere. When I did leave the house after much stress, crying and worry I found the anxiety wouldn’t calm down. Thankfully my husband helped me to get out of my haze and demanded something be done as it was ruining our life together. I decided that I would work to accept my beard, focus on self love and stop spending so much time hating my face. It was a slow process. I started by skipping a few days shaving here and there, then I let it grow longer until I had gone over a month without shaving. I used to regularly trim my beard. About six months ago I stopped and let it go. It has been a long, hard process but I’ve been blessed with a great support system.
I don’t know if I’ll ever remove by beard again. I feel free, confident and more womanly than I have in years because I can be me and not worry about what anyone else thinks. I don’t love my beard but I have accepted it and have gained more self awareness and confidence because of it.
Can you share how you met your husband?
We met on MySpace.
How long have you been together?
A little over five years married, over eight years total and going strong!
It seems like he adores you quite a lot, have you faced many challenges within your relationship due to your condition?
David is my biggest support system, we’ve been hit with a lot of challenges like dealing with infertility due to the PCOS. Right now, we are trying to get pregnant and it has been hard to realize you may never conceive naturally. But we are trying! I want to be a mom, but I am not sure if I will get to in the traditional natural way. I keep hoping every month it’ll happen but it hasn’t yet and we have been trying for the last three years, it’s tough.
You’re quite the photographer! How did you first find working with clients and what do you like most about pin-up style?
I took my first course in 2003 and fell in love. I never imagined working with models. I started working with models in 2009 and stuck with it ever since. Pin-up is the most requested style because all body types can make it work for them so in their mind it’s the only thing they can picture doing.
View Annalisa’s work at SnapShotNinjaPhotography.
You spend a lot of time making other women feel beautiful, what do you do for yourself to allow you to feel beautiful too?
I was down for so long that it has taken me a while to get back to what I would consider to be my old self. Painting my nails has always been a really fun pastime but I recently got back into wearing makeup after years of not really taking the time to do it. I feel more and more comfortable wearing dresses now. I am more carefree and no longer worried about other people thinking horrible things about me.
You said in a blog of yours that you hated the hair on your face, can I ask what stops you from shaving, waxing or hair removal?
That blog was written about four years ago. At the time, my facial hair was the bane of my existence, I did many things to remove the hair. When that blog was written I was homeless, stressed out and desperate for relief. As of right now, I live my life with a full grown beard.
A lot of bearded women are becoming more comfortable expressing themselves online, how do you deal with trolls and body shaming?
Surprisingly, I don’t deal with trolling too often. I have received some email death threats in the past, which didn’t last too long thankfully.
What are your general hobbies outside photography?
I love to play video games, specifically Legend of Zelda and Candy Crush. I would like to go to more concerts because I am a huge live music fan! I love crafting and sewing and recently got into collecting Disney pins.
You have a lot of feminine features and you’re obviously a beautiful woman, have you ever had gender identity issues because of your facial hair?
No, I haven’t ever had gender identity issues. I am 100% woman and was born a female. That won’t change. Did I ever feel like because of my facial hair I looked like a man? No, however I do understand the question. I have heard someone ask their friend as they walked by me if I was a man or a woman when I first started growing my beard out. I have been accused of ‘betraying’ my femininity by allowing any type of hair to grow on my body by other women with PCOS. Personally, I am attracted to both men and women but that has nothing to do with the hair on my body, that’s silly. The hair on my body doesn’t make me any more or less a female.
What features do you find are the most beautiful about yourself?
Physically? My long hair has always been my pride and joy, I try to take very good care of it and I feel very beautiful when I actually take the time to style it. I also think my smile is nice.
Where do you see yourself in a few years from now?
I have been trying to get a project that I’ve wanted to do since I enrolled in college photography class underway named ‘Unveiling PCOS’. The idea is to photograph women across the world and share their story. I want to show that PCOS doesn’t define who we are and that no matter what we have suffered we have strength in common. I would like to travel, spreading awareness and meet with women with PCOS and creating a book with the collection of images and stories of ‘cysters’.
What would you say to young girls who have discovered facial hair on their face?
Don’t ever let it make you feel like you can’t have a normal life or that you should be ashamed. You have so many options for removal, however I think the decision is not as easy as people make it seem. I wish someone had told me what a huge task removing hair would be and that it would affect my self esteem and happiness for the rest of my life. There is no guarantee that hair removal is permanent, no matter what the advertisements say. You are perfect just the way you are, love yourself as much as possible, and enjoy your life as much as you can. Your body hair does not define you.
What advice would you give to other women struggling with PCOS symptoms?
See a reproductive endocrinologist. Diagnosis of PCOS doesn’t mean you are less of a woman, and every one of us is affected differently. While your doctor will quote statistics and tell you that you may not ever have children, that may not be the case for you. A lot of doctors will treat it as a weight problem, but know that thin women also suffer from PCOS, and your weight may not have any affect on your symptoms. Demand that your doctor respect you and listen to you, they are in the service industry and you pay them for that service. They need to listen to you and your problems. If they don’t, ask for a second opinion. Talk about it. Tell your friends and family about your struggle. It will help you. I am here if you need it too.
How could the medical world improve in dealing with PCOS as a condition?
The most common thing that most of us ‘cysters’ have to deal with is a general brush off. When I was diagnosed I was told there wasn’t much that could be done until I was ready to have children and I was sent on my way. I wish that someone had told me that I could have been more active in my reduction of symptoms and lessened my suffering. I wish my doctors would have cared more to inform me of everything….but I realized that they really have no idea a lot of the time.
Follow Annalisa Hackleman’s @SnapshotNinjaPhotography on Instagram.