Here, Leah Jorgensen, 33, tells the story in her own words.
S￼tepping onto the crossing, the car came at me so quickly that I had no chance at all. Smash!
It knocked me over and then came to a screeching halt as the driver realised what’d happened. Oh no, I thought, trying to stand up before feeling my left leg collapse under me. But sitting there, with my head in my hands, the pain didn’t worry me. My near-death experience wasn’t my focus. Of course this had to happen now, I thought angrily, imagining the scene when the ambulance came. They were going to see my body. There was no hiding and I was utterly terrified because I had a secret, which I’d kept for the past 16 years. Taking me to hospital, my worst fears were realised. ‘We’re going to have to cut off your clothes to see the extent of your injuries,’ a doctor told me. Eyes down, I nodded. ‘Um, I have polycystic ovary syndrome so I’m a bit hairy,’ I mumbled. I wanted to warn them. ‘You have hirsutism?’ he said, using the medical name for my condition, which is essentially excess body hair. Nodding and wishing the ground would swallow me up, I waited for them all to see.
Snip, snip, snip, went the scissors, unveiling me to their waiting eyes. But far from the shocked intakes of breath I’d been expecting, I just felt experienced hands checking my body for more cuts and bruises. There was a total lack of interest in my hairy chest and back. Nobody seemed to care that I had black hairs on my legs or that the long hair on my arms could belong to a man. They don’t think I’m a freak, I realised. With that, the weight I’d been carrying most of my adult life started feeling a bit lighter. I was just 13 when my condition first became apparent. Although I knew puberty involved some changes, when I started getting excess blonde hair on my face and body, I thought it was a bit odd. ‘I haven’t had a period in ages,’ I told my mum, Laurie, now 58, when I was nearly 14. She took me to the doctor and that was when my nightmare began. At first I refused to let her examine me as I was so embarrassed by what was now thick, dark hair covering my body. ‘We’ll come back another time,’ Mum said, confused. I’d been so good at hiding it, even Mum didn’t know its extent.
Before returning to the doctor, I meticulously shaved every part of my body. But on seeing me, the doctor made such a horrified face it etched into my memory forever. If a doctor is shocked by me, how would other people react? I thought. After blood tests, I was diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) a hormonal disorder which meant I had high levels of male hormones. It explained my lack of periods and the excess body hair.‘You can take the birth control pill and if you lose some weight the body hair should reduce,’ I was told. Sent home with no other support or advice, I withdrew from life. Covering up became a well-practised art form. Before gym class I found a room to change in and would always wear long sleeves. I avoided swimming and wearing anything even slightly revealing. And boys were a no-no. ‘What are you doing in there?’ Mum would call outside the bathroom when I’d been inside for hours. ‘Nothing, I won’t be long,’ I’d call back, shaving quickly. It could take up to four hours to shave my body and face, and it became totally exhausting. Waxing or laser were never an option as that would mean showing myself to someone.
By the time I was in my mid-twenties, daily shaving had become too time consuming. I’ll just cover up, I decided. And so, when I had my accident, age 31, I was still hiding my hair in shame. But, as incredible as it sounds, that day changed my whole life. The medical team’s unfazed response and then my physio’s amazing support showed me a different side to my body. ‘Your leg is so strong,’ the physio said as I worked with him for months to fix my damaged limb. I’d hated my body for so long, but he made me see it had value. It is awesome, I realised proudly. And it’s time I owned it. Shortly afterwards I started opening up to friends. ‘I have PCOS,’ I said explaining and even showing them my hair. They were so supportive. Mum was great too. ‘I’m sorry,’ she cried. ‘I never knew how to deal with it when you were growing up.’
Buoyed by their reactions, I went public last year with an Instagram page, Happy and Hairy. I wanted to be open about my condition and the responses were empowering. I’ve even been confident enough to have boyfriends. Although I’m currently single, I’m ready to find love. My PCOS is fine and I don’t need any medication. In fact, I’ve been offered pills which could reduce the hairiness, but I’ve chosen not to take them. I’ve learnt it really doesn’t matter what you look like – being happy with yourself is the important thing.
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