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Photo of woman with facial hair leads to conversation, understanding
Balpreet Kaur responded to the reddit conversation about her facial hair.
September 27th, 2012
02:53 PM ET

Photo of woman with facial hair leads to conversation, understanding

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."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: gender issues • Sikh

soundoff (1,032 Responses)
  1. Anonymous

    Ha. OP, thats newsworthy my friends!! please media dont take what i love!

    September 28, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  2. IhaveID

    Everyone who negatively comments about Balpreet probably work in the cosmetic industry.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  3. Marguerite

    Balpreet Kaur you truly have clarity and peace,the true meaning in the word a child of god. Some of us never achieve this grace,you are truly blessed. Maybe if more people would just stop and be as graceful as you were, in any religious or non- religious sector,as a nation we just might implement a more peaceful world......

    September 28, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  4. Bob

    She is actually pretty hot in my opinion

    September 28, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  5. Tony

    She is happy with the body she was given, as we all should be.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • giggity

      so according to that if an infant was born with lip and cleft palate, his parents should not consider a plastic surgery otherwise they would be considered ungrateful

      September 28, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  6. A_Singh

    How come no one asked Jesus, or other religious leaders to cut their hair? Or give them different situtations and scenarios as to "if you do this, why don't you do this? etc" Religious leaders of various different religions never cut their hair.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • giggity

      there was no shaving creams and blades back then

      September 28, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  7. ceyanna

    Why does he have breasts?

    September 28, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • Steve

      Quiet, your ignorance and inability to learn or understand is showing big time.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • BigJ

      Why does he have breasts. That is Hilarious!!

      September 28, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Anonymous

      plastic surgery, i suggest getting some. if you can afford it, that is.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • giggity

      gynecomastia

      September 28, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  8. Kristen Lott

    She's a hero to many and very humble, but also does not know how to handle this attention. She understands American ignorance and even wants to be friends with the poster. I know Balpret Kaur personally from an immersive capstone journalism project I'm doing at Ohio State. If you have questions for her let me know, http://kristenslott.com/life-of-a-sikh/, and I'll get them answered.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • ceyanna

      How is she a hero? By openly and happily embracing slovenliness? By blindly following religion to the point where she is a social anathema?

      September 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
    • peps

      A hero? Give me a break.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Kristen Lott

      I mean that exactly how I said it: "She is a hero to many." Balpreet disagrees with this. I'm reporting what I've seen, not only from the Internet, but also among interactions with her peers. She believes she is just a tool to educate others about her religion, and does not want to use this "publicity" for selfish motives. I'll be posting audio from her reaction today. http://kristenslott.com/life-of-a-sikh/?p=90

      September 28, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Dhulfiqar

      Hi Kristen - I would like to know more about Khalistan? http://www.oppression.org/asia/khalistan.html
      Thanks,
      D

      September 28, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      @ceyanna,

      How is she a hero? By openly and happily embracing slovenliness?

      How is she slovenly? She is clean, her clothes are clean. Just because she doesn't subscribe to your idea of what is acceptable doesn't mean she's a slob.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  9. yo!

    That's one back-handed compliment:
    ""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."

    September 28, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • gateway

      My thoughts, exactly. Hopefully it wasn't intended.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  10. Brad

    I went through a phase of respecting my body and not altering it in any way. I didn't get a date for 10 years.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • TX Red

      Respecting your body and grooming are NOT mutually exclusive...

      September 28, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  11. schwarzey

    Interesting. What if no one shaved? Probably wouldn't matter.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:03 pm |
    • TrueAmerican

      All you fools are just buying into the Obama communist liberal propaganda that encourages the break down of society. You Libs like 1safechick are mindless drones. Every atheist like Bible Clown will be praying to God when they are on their death bed.. All hypocrits.. Mitt Romney will be president – so get used to it

      September 28, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • DavidinCorpus

      @trueamerican. Your tone makes me want to vote for anyone but Romney cause you like him. That being said I am voting for him anyone just to get rid of that mistake we put in office.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • @TrueAmerican

      Whoa, buddy, dial it back. I'm sensing a little anger in your corner. It's Friday. Take a deep breath, have a beer, maybe cuddle up to the lady tonight...

      September 28, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      "Every atheist like Bible Clown will be praying to God when they are on their death bed.." Been there already, didn't do that. Not everyone is a coward. You are as far off the target as the weenie who said I must be bald. Why would I pray to something I don't think is real? Are you going to pray to Allah and Buddha when you are dying? You know, just in case? Me neither.

      September 28, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  12. mark

    More power to her, and if all of us could be so strong in our convictions; but the fact remains in today's society, looks DO count (unfortunately) and she will continue to get harassed, made fun of, etc until she conforms a bit more.
    Culture or not, facial hair on a woman is just bizarre in western society and WILL get various reactions, negative and otherwise.
    At least she's seems up for the challenge.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  13. giggity

    in sicily they say ' donna baffuta sempre piaciuta'

    September 28, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  14. lynne

    I think the point here WAS: something that started as a distasteful joke turned into a balanced and open discussion about openness and respect, thanks to both the grace and dignity of the subject and the humility and willingness to admit wrongdoing of the poster. I think it is a nice story. Too bad so many people have to zero in on religion and kick that dead horse for a while.

    September 28, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • Seyedibar

      The religion horse isn't dead by a longshot.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
  15. ExphDK

    Does she cut her nails ? Doesn't that defeat what her god gave her than?

    September 28, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • eldono

      Do you not cut your nails? What's your point? Be direct.

      September 28, 2012 at 11:55 am |
    • giggity

      this is a very good point, nails and hair have a similar protein makeup

      September 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
    • fekt

      you would have made a better point if you had asked about the glasses correcting the vision she was meant to have by the creator.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
    • CatholicandProud

      Keeping one's nails short has less to do with vanity and more to do with hygiene. Anyone knows this.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Anonymous

      nails fall off. work and they break off.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
    • TX Red

      @ CatholicandProud

      Ok. And trimming/shaving your body hair can also have more to do with hygene than with vanity. So what's your point?

      September 28, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Rob

      eldano, did you read the article at all? If you did, his question was direct!

      September 28, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • allyall

      Unclipped nails can interfere with daily functions. A little facial hair won't. But you missed the main point: she's comfortable with who she is.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  16. Bible Clown©

    " Christians have tried responding graciously whenever someone has criticized them for what they believe, but they've still been bashed anyway." How gracious of you to say that. What a terrible burden it must be when people don't agree with you.

    September 28, 2012 at 11:47 am |
  17. paul

    OMG !!! what if she got cancer ? would they throw her out of the religion ? well ?

    September 28, 2012 at 11:46 am |
    • Kaur

      Seriously Paul? If this has to be explained to you then here you go: Cancer/ Treatment to Cancer is not a voluntary thing. That is a situation God has chosen for that person and NO they don't get kicked out of the religion. Even if we don't chose to live our life like Balpreet we don't get kicked out of our religion. Sikh religion is a peaceful, open to all and the most accepting religion in this free world.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
    • Dhulfiqar

      I'm sorry Paul - I won't be as nice as the young woman featured in this story - please forfeit your vote.

      The world will thank you ...

      September 28, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  18. Ponter B

    I hope female facial hair catches on if for no other reason then it's another brick taken out of the wall we call "normality" and "beauty" and one step closer to the IDIC. Infinte Diversity in Infinate Combinations.

    September 28, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      Get some minoxidil and paint on sideburns. Stop the minoxidil and they vanish. I'm surprised it isn't common.

      September 28, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Reasonable

      Hopefully we can all learn to spell by then.

      September 28, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  19. swohio

    –"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."–"

    I can't help but wonder why people can't say the same thing about Christianity. Christians have tried responding graciously whenever someone has criticized them for what they believe, but they've still been bashed anyway.

    September 28, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • Carsosi

      "Christians have tried responding graciously whenever someone has criticized them for what they believe, but they've still been bashed anyway."
      I have been bashed by plenty of Christians who then apologize for their comments, but then later are telling someone the same comment again. I have met very few "Christians" who actually follow what they confess to follow.

      September 28, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      " I have met very few "Christians" who actually follow what they confess to follow." And THAT is why they get bashed – they are unchristian and unforgiving and, like Mitt, unapologetic.

      September 28, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      "actually follow what they confess to follow." PROFESS to follow is better.

      September 28, 2012 at 11:50 am |
    • 1safechick

      @swohio. Seriously – it's NOT about you. I'm a Christian and the biggest fault I find with many of my fellow Christians (like you) is that they tend try to make EVERY SITUATION about them. Christians ARE NOT being persecuted in the US. Get OVER yourself.

      September 28, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • Pat Reardon

      I'm assuming that you are from the US. In the US, christianity in its multiple denominations, enjoys the status of being the majority belief. It's not difficult to be gracious when you can anticipate that the majority will not be criticizing you on beliefs that you hold in common. What I mean is that when Christians in the US are bashed, they are the majority and can turn to the support of the majority to diminish the impact of the insult. Christians in the US are therefore not as exposed as minority faiths are. However, the concern you are pointing out is not what is occurring here. She is not being insulted because of her faith but because she looks different owing to facial hair which is exacerbated, but not caused by, the requirements of her faith. Her community is thus smaller and consequently when she turns to her faith community for support in the face of insult she has less popular strength to draw on. She's an underdog – Christians in the US are not. I say this as a Christian (Catholic) myself.

      September 28, 2012 at 11:56 am |
  20. Really?

    Sidenote, i'm not sure what all the uproar is about. It is human nature to question and be intruiged by something that isn't normal. Her having that amount of hair on her face is not normal. Women do not have sideburns, goatees, or mustaches. It is what it is.

    September 28, 2012 at 11:37 am |
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About this blog

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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.