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. Sherri

    It is never OK to photograph someone without their knowledge and consent and it is NOT OK to then post that photo online. How rude.
    This lady is a human being. She does not deserve to be treated like some freak and made fun of. She has feelings like all of us. Please remember this when you see someone who looks different from you.

    September 28, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Adam R

      Funny how people get all sensitive to hurting peoples feelings. But when 1.6 Billion human beings say don't hurt our feelings by drawing cartoons (good or bad) of a person who is closer to our hearts than our own families and children, all the tolerance goes down the you know what. And all you hear is "freedom of expression" and "we live in the free world" garbage. What kind of bull poop is this?

      September 28, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • Bleh...

      @ Adam R

      There's a HUUUUGE difference between those two things. This girl as an individual doesn't deserve to be criticized publicly. The same cannot be said for the belief system that those 1.6 billion people have (or any other belief system that is based on the supernatural, for that matter).

      September 28, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Kerry

      Adam, I can promise you that the person you replied to said nothing about someone's right to make an offensive cartoon or film.

      Just because they stand up for an individual doesn't mean they wouldn't stand up for millions.

      What is absolutely absurd is suggesting and demonstrating that a nation and its people should be destroyed because of what one person did. That is insane.

      No one here is suggesting to kill the infidels that took the picture of Balpreet.

      Many people are saying to kill the infidel that made a film. Not only them, but anyone they know. Anyone that governs them. Anyone that is within the same land mass as them. THAT is insanity. Absolutely nothing but insanity.

      It's unreal.

      October 6, 2012 at 10:55 am |
  2. bee

    How come the 20 year-old Ohio college student gets to remain anonymous in this article after posting a picture of a stranger? It amazes me how he is awarded the decency that he would not extend to someone else from the start.

    September 28, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Bleh...

      Eye for an eye, huh? Have you learned nothing from this article?

      September 28, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  3. minoo

    Balpreet Kaur you are a SMART WOMAN. God bless you.

    September 28, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Dr Singh

      Minoo you too have moustache? Are you from NJ?

      September 28, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  4. Chaddi Singh

    Balpreet Oye, you look dirty. Shave it off.
    Take care of your body and shave it daily. Use good body lotions if you love your body. Dont just make it ugly.
    There is no god and there is nothing divine. You are one do going to become ashes and will flow in sewer.
    Come back to senses pagli kudi.

    September 28, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • santa singh

      Chaddi, I don't think she has an issue... judging by your name... you have though.

      September 28, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Squeezebox

      Why does she have to? What obligation does she have to anybody to be beautiful or even socially appealing? It's what you call liberty. Learn to live with it.

      September 28, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • Chaddi Singh

      Ja oye Santa, tainu Balprret jaisi biwi mile.

      September 28, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Chaddi Singh

      If I was her father I would have forced her to get it clean. And no I will hear no arguments against my decision. Very difficult to understand by people of non-oriental and south asian back grounds. As we are superior beings by our thoughts.
      HAHAHAHAHA ...just kiddin maaaa man

      September 28, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  5. GethetruthW

    Clearly the young lady has a hormonal imbalance; so get it medically corrected; but to get religious is BS !! No religion tells its female followers to grow facial hair and look like a man. Sikhism like all religions are plain stupid and are based on supersitious beliefs. If a person has a gender problem, it is a medical problem, get it fixed !! Just the way you do when you have a medicval problem such as kidney failure, gall stones, heart problems etc. Ask your Doctor !!

    September 28, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
    • miketofdal

      then get your brain fixed. it's badly in need of repair.

      September 28, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Duni

      Her religion doesn't say to 'grow facial hair' its says for the person to focus less on beauty and focus on the internal. As in leave your body alone, don't augment it.
      If people did that more often, we wouldn't get as many UGLY comments as yours.

      September 28, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Michael

      It's only a "problem" if she sees it as such. It doesn't cause her any distress, obviously, or she already would have done something about it. It's her RIGHT to appear this way if she wishes to. It's quite petty to attack her for it and demand that she change just because her appearance isn't your cup of tea, Your demand that she adhere to man-made gender norms and your hateful attacks on her religion are just as nasty as the nastiest of comments from intolerant religious fanatics.

      September 28, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  6. Adam R

    Muslims are far better off than any other religious groups...because according to their Sharia they (men and women) have to shave their arm pits and private parts. Men have to trim their moustaches and let that manly beard grow.
    Sikhs don't make a lot of sense. Although they started off imitating the Muslims, but I don't know what happened.
    Also, I believe Muslims HAVE to clean themselves with water and tissue (or leaves etc.) after they use the bathroom.
    So, a poor Muslim villager in a remote desert in the middle of a war zone is much more cleaner than the president of the USA.

    September 28, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • GethetruthW

      You have no clue who the sikhs are ! They were formed to fight muslim invasion of India and primarily a Hindu offshoot.

      September 28, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
    • Chaddi Singh

      thats no excuse to become a muchchad [Indian slang for having moustache] woman.

      September 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • sunder

      Sikhs are not muslims and not even remotely related. Educate yourself.

      September 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • Adam R

      Yeah and the reason they started growing beards and wearing turbans is so that they may can look like the Muslims. They apparently believe that they will start shaving once all Muslims have been killed. And I must say good luck to that. A lot of the Hindus and Sikhs adopted this tradition of turbans from the Muslims, because back then the Islamic empire wa a super power and Muslims were their role models. Just like how kids like to imitate American culture.
      I am not sure about not shaving though. Because in Islam it is strictly forbidden to grow hair on private parts and arm-pits. You can't even pray if you have hair grown uptil certain lenghts. And Muslims pray 5 times.

      September 28, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Chaddi Singh

      Sikhs are the idiot breeds "Santa and Banta Jokes" of India

      September 28, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  7. derp

    That dude has huge t i t s.

    September 28, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  8. Perv21

    Image what her cootch is like! I'm sure there's a fetish for that somewhere! Shave, baby, shave.

    September 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • Terah Van Dusen

      This isn't OK.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • derp

      It's butt must look like a black wig stuffed between two volleyballs

      September 28, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
  9. Lawless4U

    Can you imagine what the bush must look like?

    September 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • khan in

      George that is....

      September 28, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
  10. Bill Duke

    Much ado about nothing. She looks they way she looks. Anyone who objects to her picture or who even objects to her picture being taken is just clueless.

    September 28, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • SkepticalOne

      I agree, and as we can see from the posts here, the clueless are many.

      September 28, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  11. Wendyjo

    I don't know. I've seen so many head dresses on so many people the one on that little lady didn't even phase me. Sure, I noticed her facial hair. Pretty sure that was just because hers is darker than mine. Must mean that she's a brunette compared to me being blond? Don't know. You know what really upsets me? Try as I might, it appears that we girls blessed with the ability to grow beards AND mustaches (due to polycystic ovarian disease) can't get more than what looks like 3 or 4 days growth on a man. Still, our testosterine levels are way high considering we are female. So are our insulin levels and together that gives us a much higher chance of developing uterine or other cancers. Treatment via an OB-Gyn is highly recommended and necessary for the rest of your life.

    September 28, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  12. internetisgay

    I don't care if she has facial hair or not as long as she showers. Your body may be ash one day but that doesn't mean I have to smell it.

    September 28, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • John

      looks like you are the ugliest person,

      September 28, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • Terah Van Dusen

      With all do respect, you are missing the point.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
    • Terah Van Dusen

      That was to Internet is..what?? Ugh.

      Regardless, the woman is incredibly wise and has reminded me of what truly matters, the ability to love.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Bleh...

      Funny, last I checked you can love AND shave at the same time! People are giving this girl WAY too much credit for absolutely nothing special.

      September 28, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • ECIAL

      @bleh– People are giving her the exact credit she deserves. She has the comfortability to be herself inside AND out, which is hard and actually discouraged in this society. Anyone who does anything out of the norm, but is themselves is looked down on and ridiculed by most, like you just did. Few people are able to see the beauty and courage it takes to stand up and say' this is who i am, and I like it'. so dont look down on her because shes able to do something you aren't. and if you can do that, then try supporting her and others who are okay with themselves

      September 28, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • Bleh...

      @ ECIAL

      Hmmm, you'll have to point out where I ridiculed this girl in the two sentences I wrote earlier. I didn't, although I would admit that this whole story is worthy of ridicule.

      Anyway, you're clearly reading way more into this that necessary. She isn't growing a beard because it makes her feel good. She isn't growing a beard because she likes the way it looks. She isn't growing a beard in order to buck the social norms of our culture. No, she isn't doing any of these. She is either neglecting to shave because she doesn't see the two minutes it would take to do so as a worthwhile use of her time, which is just utterly ridiculous. OR she is refraining from shaving because her religion tells her to avoid maintaining and tending to her body, which is equally ridiculous. Either way, neither of those reasons are worthy of praise, regardless of how strong her convictions are.

      September 28, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  13. run!

    it would be very popular in the middle east.

    September 28, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • khan in

      hell no....they get all the beautiful from Europe and us. THey have the petro dollars $100 per barrel

      September 28, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  14. solex

    Being comfortable with yourself is a blessing. We should all be so lucky...

    September 28, 2012 at 3:32 pm |
    • Karaya

      Yeah, "being comfortable with yourself" is the reason why we have the obesity rate highest in the developed world...

      September 28, 2012 at 4:28 pm |
  15. sara

    you can see the side burn is shaped. I believe she wants to appear as a man.

    September 28, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • ROdney

      No, you can't. And, no, she doesn't.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm |

      Maybe a sideburn takes a certain shape, because that is the way it naturally grows in...thicker in areas & thinner in others.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
    • Rye

      And even if she did, that still doesn't make what happened here any more "okay."

      September 28, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  16. Janie

    What a beautiful human being. She handled this situation with grace, class and kindness.

    September 28, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Donna

      Janie, you are so right. I should be so forgiving and kind.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Lawless4U

      I don't think class is part of that equation.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • Chaddi Singh

      And then poor Janie started growing moustache

      September 28, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  17. David

    In one act she has done more to raise my level of admiration for a religion than all of the evangelists running all over the world telling everyone how theirs is the right religion. If only Christians go to Heaven (i.e. Sarah Palin would be there but not Balpreet) then I have no interest in Heaven or in a god that would reward/punish people accordingly.

    September 28, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  18. Well.....

    I love that she completely embraces her faith. She has good self-esteem and responds peacefully to those who attack her, which is what many religions preach. She is an amazing role model and her parents I am sure feel honored to be blessed with such a wonderful child.

    September 28, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • TX Red

      Being comfortable with the things you cannot change about yourself is great. Apathy and laziness, on the other hand, are not admirable traits.

      If she refrains from shaving because she likes her beard, then so be it.
      If she neglects to shave because she doesn't want to spend the few moments it takes to do so, then that is not something worth respecting.

      On the one hand she notes that she doesn't "fuss" about her appearance because her body will eventually "become ash". On the other hand, she calls the human body "a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being". The two idea seem to contradict each other. Just because a gift is temporary does not mean you should neglect it, a "sacred gift" even less so.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  19. Luck is on my Side

    I have to commend this woman; to go against them norm and live her life how she chooses to live it. She is a strong woman and one could only hope to learn from her. I, myself, have a medical condition that produces male pattern hair in some areas, one of those areas being my chin. Ever since I was 17 I have struggled with it. I have seen doctors, taken medications, undergone electrolysis, laser hair removal procedures and almost 20 years later…it is still there. Some of the treatments may have worked for a short amount of time, but, there is no procedure out there that will take care of it 100%. So everyday before my husband wakes up, I go into the bathroom to shave my face because I am not strong enough to face the world the way that God made me. Everyday I live in fear that someone may notice and say something about it.

    All you that are criticizing this woman for being a strong, confident, selfless woman are the reason way girls at the age of 12 think they are fat and ugly; you are why girls grow up with no self respect for themselves. No matter what is on the outside, it is the inside that makes a person beautiful.

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

      Very well said. More importantly you seem to be beautiful inside.

      September 28, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
    • this guy

      It's called SELF ESTEEM! How the h*** am I going to tell you how to feel about your own d*** self?

      -Katt Williams

      September 28, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • derp

      Have you considered waxing?

      It might be easier than shaving every day.

      September 28, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  20. Mon

    I have to say that this is a woman who I truly admire. To all the people out there who have nothing nice to say.. What goes around comes around. Who are you to judge this woman? But that is the world we live in. Haters everywhere.
    At least she shows true courage not being scared to embrace who she wants to be and what she believes in. More than half the people out including the ones with their rude comments are cowards.

    September 28, 2012 at 2:56 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.