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.