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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. Klara

    I DO NOT THINK SHE IS HUMBLE – IT IS THE OPPOSITE: SHE IS A VERY GOOD EXAMPLE OF THE SIN OF PRIDE!!!! Pride (Latin, superbia), or hubris (Greek), is considered the original and most serious of the seven deadly sins, and the source of the others. It is identified as a desire to be more important (meaning: be significant in something) or attractive (meaning "having the quality of drawing people's eye or interest") than others, failing to acknowledge the good work of others (in this case: humble people take care about their looks in the way that does not cause indignation`especially if you consider that 1. facial hair can be managed easily and 2. even Sikh men trim their facial hair), and excessive love of self (especially holding self out of proper position toward God: is she a man or a woman??? She is really a self-imposed hybrid).

    September 28, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Mon

      You obviously had as very bad day. Haha

      September 28, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Mark

      Pride means you are trying to show others that you are better than them. Never once did I read she did that. Rather I heard her explain her beliefs to a large crowd of predigous people, like yourself. She wasn't even asked if it was okay to take the picture. Pride would mean she paid someone to take her picture so that she could get the attention.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • Bible Clown©

      Yeah, I just don't see where God would be unhappy with her for depilating that hair. I notice it seems to have been cut before because the ends aren't curly. It does verge on pride or self-absorption, but it could just be that she gave up on it. Who knows? A bonk from the Clown Hammer© for the guy who took the picture.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  2. biased reporting is bad and you should feel bad

    the most upvoted comment in the thread about her picture was a very detailed explanation about her religion. it explained her religion and not being allowed to cut her hair, including her facial hair.

    at least give reddit credit for the user-base having an open discussion and coming to the correct reasoning behind the photo. i know it's more sensational to post comments from all the morons that make the internet a creepy and it's easier to just pile on the reddit-is-a-creeper site bandwagon, but your job is to tell the truth. leaving out the top comment, the one that most redditors agreed was the best response to the picture is dishonest and you should be ashamed of yourself as a journalist.

    September 28, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  3. Dave

    WWJS?

    September 28, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  4. camelspyder

    Ok, time to address the ELEPHANT in the room. Reading these comments tap dancing around the obvious is funny. She is gay, wants to look like a man and happens to be of the Sikh faith. There, it's been said, now let's move on. I personally have nothing against people like her, because it does not affect me. Those who ridicule her looks need to catch up with life as it is today.

    September 28, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Mark

      "She is gay.". Wow! Send me a picture of you so I can tell a narcissist when I see one. thanks.

      September 28, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Mark

      If she is gay she is trying to get a woman as a woman. She wouldn't be trying to act like a man. That is defined as a cross-gender lifestyle. Please get your story straight.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  5. Brian

    The message I take from this young woman was not so much her type of religion. Rather, her religion is a guide to help her understand how she can live at peace with who she is. So many of us (myself included) spend much of our lives trying to mold our outside to conform to what we perceive is acceptable to the majority around us. Spending so much energy to adapt to an image that is so fleeting and capricious. There are many paths to understanding who we really are. Her path is just one. Ultimately, what we look like is not one of them. It's hard for most of us to get past the distraction of appearance, and go beyond to explore the greater value of what we have to offer.

    September 28, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • Moreluvin2013

      Well said.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • ASChicago

      Best comment yet. Kudos to you & her.

      September 28, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  6. swordsfor500

    I can't really relate to this woman's perspective about her condition (definitely a cultural thing), but I definitely respect anyone who has the will to see something like that about themselves in a positive light. If it were me, I would do anything I could to get rid of the facial hair.

    September 28, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  7. Sutemi

    At least she didn't wah and want to kill herself. This is how a properly developed personality deals with online bullying.

    September 28, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • erin

      well said my friend. well said.

      September 28, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  8. Michael

    This is in my library at skewl!!! kewl.

    September 28, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  9. joseph c smith jr

    Lovely, this is the best event, especially in light of recent attacks on Sikh's this event showcases the incredible beauty of Sikh people, their values, and the amazing contributions and legacy they give our world. much appreciation and thanks!

    September 28, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  10. this guy

    I wonder if the ppl criticizing her critics would be ok sitting next to an Indian woman with terrible body odor on a 12 hour flight.

    September 28, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Mark

      A 12 hour flight, everybody smells bad. Your point is?

      September 28, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  11. Ceci

    This woman is a class act.

    But the underlying issue that I see here is why do women (and even men) have to feel so pressured by this society that they have to change their looks. And I"m not just talking about shaving copious amounts of facial hair. Millions of Americans go under the knife for plastic surgery, inject toxins and chemicals into their face and lips, pay hundreds of dollars a year dying their hair, buying cosmetics, etc. Why must American women feel so pressured to look perfect like the people on TV? And if they don't conform to these standards they are ridiculed. I have to admit I've definitely fallen victim to societies unrealistic standards, but its nice to see a woman that has the guts she has.

    September 28, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • this guy

      Blame that on other women...women are usually their own worst enemy when it comes to their appearance.

      September 28, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  12. Amandeep Singh

    some say it is norm for women/men to shave but i ask u all if it's norm and majoriy is following then what about jesus/moses ? and at the time of jesus moses gallileo newton charles darwin ,people opposed them but ultimately the same people bowed to their eternal truth , so norm is man made not natural and it changes from time to time , the only thing which is self reliant and unchanging is mother nature , so Sikh faith is not a ritualistic dumb faith , indeed it's a lifestyle which tells to "Respect and follow The Laws of Nature and not to destroyy the beauty of nature" . So folks lets grow and be human inndeed tolerant so not to impose ur views on others , let people live as per their wishes in a peaceful manner.

    September 28, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • this guy

      she should just let her fingernails, toenails grow out then...not worry about washing her body, not brushing her teeth or getting any dental work, etc. Just bc it grows on our bodies doesn't mean it's "going against nature" to get rid of it.

      September 28, 2012 at 2:15 pm |
    • Mark

      Her religion specifically says she must not shave. I don't know what else it says. But what harm does it do if she has it to anyone else?

      September 28, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
    • this guy

      @Mark...her religion SPECIFICALLY states "WOMEN! Do not shave your face."??? or is that just the interpretation that she has raised to believe? It really doesn't matter, there is no RATIONAL reason for a woman to allow her facial hair to grow.

      That's like me saying, "I don't mind my cancerous tumor, it's a natural part of my sacred body and I don't want to go against what nature or a devine being has dealt me."

      September 28, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
  13. oreo

    she is probably more down to earth than anyone at the University.

    September 28, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  14. lindaluttrell

    As a western woman, I have never considered excessive hair on women attractive. However, in meeting and dealing with people from all over the world, I also know that I must RESPECT their culture. Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. I believe most people should keep that in mind.

    September 28, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  15. Amandeep Singh

    Majority cant be right , if as per Coexist majority is right then at the time of jesus , moses majority opposed them. So who was right? jesus/moses or majority , i saw majority r slaves and they r best consumers who know how to follow but have no instincts to lead. and Sikh faith is a lifestyle as per laws of nature and to obey them without questioning them.

    September 28, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • sanityguest

      huh?

      September 28, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • this guy

      free writing gone wrong

      September 28, 2012 at 2:07 pm |
  16. hypocrites

    For people making comments on someone's facial hair – I challenge cowards to come out and make comments on fully bearded Jesus.

    September 28, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • this guy

      hes just a bearded guy that could prob use a shave.

      September 28, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  17. this guy

    this just adds to the dumb S ppl do in the name of religion.

    September 28, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • thatgirl

      @ this guy. ALL of your comments have me cracking up! while i could care less what other people do with their lives i will say this. when you live in America, knowing that the culture here is very superficial and most things are based on looks (and not just here but other countries as well) you can't be surprised that people will find a fully bearded woman strange. Im just saying, im sure this woman is used to the stares by now. im not defending the people who posted, that was rude. what im saying is that people are acting like her facial hair won't get her a second or third glance!! who cares about her her turban, im looking at all of that facial and thinking...honey, worship thyself and SHAVE, laser, or something...smh

      September 28, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Mark

      People don't need religion to do stupid things. Your comment for example is one. You find her hair offensive, just because its on her face? I will pray for god to let you get the disease that covers your entire body in hair. I hope he hears my prayers and let's you get a new perspective and respect for others' choice of life.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • this guy

      @Mark Way to shed light on religious people...if you don't think like me, I want something bad to happen to u!!!!! AND you're conceding that an excessive amount of hair is a bad thing, so we agree. PLEASE wasie your time talking to yourself about me. It will affect me, not at all.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  18. The Flamingo Kid

    Here's the deal: MISTAKES HAPPEN. God did not "bless" this woman with facial hair. SOmetimes a woman can get a little extra testosterone and grow facial hair. IT is NOT A SIN to SHAVE IT OFF. I think God would like it if she shaved it off.

    September 28, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
    • jat

      "IT is NOT A SIN to SHAVE IT OFF"
      NOR is it a SIN NOT to SHAVE IT OFF

      "God would like it if she shaved it off."
      I don't thing GOD authorized you to speak on his/her behalf.
      If you believed in GOD you would not be making such statements.

      September 28, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Mark

      I hear jealously of her inner strength and her facial hair. One of the 10 commandments of God is to not dire another's itmes. I will be happy to send you a facial kit so you can look like her, and stop being so jealous of her.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  19. Puckles

    Ladies with beards are running all over Wal-mart, especially the one in Eastlake OHIO. You are pretty much guaranteed any time of the day to see a bearded lady in that store.

    September 28, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Doodles

      I agree. What is a sin is being that ugly and not doing anything about it!

      September 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm |
    • jat

      @Doodles
      A bigger sin is having an ugly heart (like yours) and not doing anything about it.
      I will pray to GOD to give you some sense.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
  20. lins

    i am curious what Sikh men think? Do they find it atractive? If they do – Is it on a beauty level or becasue she has choosen to embrace her faith so deeply.

    There is also a difference bewteen accepting it and liking it. I dont like facial hair on men – does not mean i am biased to men who have facial hair or discriminate against them – No.

    I of course accept her choice – YES, does it mean i have to think it is actractive – No.

    September 28, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
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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.