The moment Dakota Cooke, now 30, hit puberty, she noticed masses of hair growth on her face.
Soon enough, she was committed to having weekly waxing appointments and shaving their face twice a day in an effort to look more feminine.
Dakota spent years feeling judged and insecure about her hair growth, and fell into a decade of anxiety and low self-esteem.
Despite going for several tests, it’s unclear what caused Dakota’s facial hair, but doctors believe it to be something to do with her adrenal glands producing elevated levels of testosterone.
The circus performer said: ‘When I hit puberty at 13, I guess I got hit with a little bit extra.
‘It started out with peach fuzz on my face that started to get longer and dark.
‘A friend of the family pointed it out at the time, so my step dad took me to the doctors to do tests, and then took me to the hair salon where I had my first ever wax.
‘It was super uncomfortable, and at the time, I was just about learning how to shave my legs.
‘I grew up in a period where women with facial hair was so stigmatised that the women at the salon were telling me how girls aren’t supposed to grow facial hair.
‘I guess that stuck with me, because for the next ten years, I kind of just sunk into this shame spiral where I’d try and hide my face in photos and be attending waxing sessions every week.
‘It got to a point, when I worked one of my first jobs in retail, that I was shaving my face twice a day, once in the morning and then on my break because the hairs were just so visible, and I was working in the makeup department where it wasn’t acceptable to be anything other than a stereotypical woman.
‘I’d be covering the shaving scars and rash with makeup and my face would just be so irritated and red all of the time.
‘I’ve probably still got some of those shaving scars to this day.’
Everything changed in 2015, when Dakota was at a party with a friend, who told them about working in the circus.
Dakota fell in love with the idea of being a bearded lady in the show, and so decided to ditch the razors and waxing and let her facial hair grow in.
‘That was really the catalyst that began my journey to loving myself and my beard,’ she remembered.
‘Growing my beard out was quite uncomfortable at first, it took a lot of effort not to just cut and shave it off again.
‘I remember the first time someone tried to take a picture of me after I’d had my first inch of growth, and I got plenty of stares.
‘I had a lot of anxiety about the staring at first, but it got to a point where I just decided not to care anymore.’
Gradually, Dakota learned to sit with the discomfort and love the way she looked.
She now does a circus act in which she goes by Dakota the bearded lady, and performs feats such as hammering nails into her nose and walking on glass.
All this has helped them to finally embrace her appearance, beard and all.
‘My family and friends have been super supportive throughout my journey of self-acceptance and have even bought me a “don’t f*** with the bearded lady” sign which I love,’ Dakota shared.
‘My followers on TikTok have also been amazing, and I love answering their questions, as well as receiving words of support.
‘I even got complimented by one of my absolute heroes John Waters, after I visited him at a book signing in full makeup, feminine attire, and a full beard.
‘He told me that he loved my look and that I needed to do advert campaigns, that my face should be everywhere.
Even though I am non-binary, I still dress very feminine and love to wear makeup and dresses and skirts.
‘Having a beard has never affected me being a femme person, it’s just a part of me now, and I love that I’ve embraced it.’
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