September 27th, 2012
02:53 PM ET
By Stephanie Gallman, CNN
(CNN) – A picture of a woman with facial hair wearing a turban posted to the social media site Reddit has garnered a firestorm of Internet reaction and has taught at least two Ohio college students lessons in graciousness, humanities and religious studies.
The picture was posted five days ago with the caption, "I'm not sure what to conclude from this."
A 20-year old college student, who asked to remain anonymous, says one of his friends took the photo at a library at The Ohio State University.
He's "not really sure why," but after he and his friends shared the picture amongst themselves, he posted it to Reddit.
"It was out of the ordinary," he said. "It's not something that you see everyday. I was thinking about it more as a picture, not about the people in the pictures."
For several days after it was posted, the picture elicited responses from those who teased to those who were disgusted with the post.
Some blasted the person who posted it online, defending the unnamed woman.
"This post is in poor taste," one commenter said.
"What you should conclude from this is that it's not ok to take photos of strangers and post them on the internet without permission," said another.
"Don't do this. Don't take pictures of people you think look weird and post them online," another chimed in.
Some commenters chose to joke with posts like, "Beards on women are now in!!! yes!!!"
"So is this a transgendered Sikh? Explains why they haven't shaved and the Turban. One of those things has got to go," commented one Reddit user.
One person said, "It's Pat," referring to the Saturday Night Live character whose gender was always a mystery.
The woman in the photo is Balpreet Kaur, a neuroscience and psychology student at Ohio State. After a friend contacted her on Facebook and told her about the picture, she responded to the post on Reddit.
"If the OP wanted a picture, they could have just asked and I could have smiled," she wrote.
"Yes, I'm a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair," she wrote. "Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body - it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being."
Kaur said her religion believes in focusing on actions instead of the physical beauty.
"I'm not embarrassed or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positive] that this picture is getting because it's who I am," she wrote.
She encourages anyone who sees her on campus to "come up and say hello," and notes that it's not her face that's important, but the smile and happiness that lie behind it.
"My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognized that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it?"
Her response led to more discussion on Reddit.
"Just want to thank Balpreet Kaur for serving as an example to me of the best way to deal with hostility and ignorance. Thank you, Balpreet, you are beautiful."
"I wish I could hug this woman. She makes my heart happy."
"As a hirsute woman, I one day hope to have the peace and acceptance of my body that you do. You are a true inspiration, and I thank you for replying to this thread."
The original poster returned to Reddit to apologize to Kaur and anyone he might have offended.
"I felt the need to apologize to the Sikhs, to Balpreet, and anyone else I offended when I posted that picture," he wrote.
He said he has reached out to Kaur and calls her an "incredible person." The next time he is in Columbus, the two plan to meet.
"I've read more about the Sikh faith, and it was actually really interesting," he said. "It makes a whole lot of sense to work on having a legacy and not worrying about what you look like.
Kaur, who works closely with Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that empowers college students to be interfaith leaders, released a statement through the organization saying she accepts the original poster's "sincere apology."
"I'm glad this situation has been positive and inspiring for many people," she said, "We need to cherish those moments that allow us to feel bigger than our own bodies," she said.
Interfaith Core President Eboo Patel said, "By responding to a moment of religious prejudice with grace, Balpreet taught hundreds of thousands of people about her Sikh tradition and showed them that religion can be a source of strength and bridge of cooperation."
Perhaps no one learned more than the original poster of the photograph.
"I hate using clichés, but I've definitely learned to not judge a book by its cover," he said. "Some of the people who may not be the most beautiful on the outside are beautiful on the inside."
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.