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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. Wow...

    We could use a few more Sikh's around here.

    September 28, 2012 at 4:35 am |
  2. Selendis

    I fail to understand why he/she/it/transgender or hormonal is any concern of people at all. I understand the picture catching your attention, that it does. But, actually having a debate about who, or what she is? Who cares that much, and why?

    September 28, 2012 at 4:10 am |
  3. Another Lyin' Ryan?

    Have to add, Balpreet has more guts and grace than most. I have to agree though with some other posters here, that being so hirsute usually indicates an underlying medical problem possibly with more side effects.

    September 28, 2012 at 3:29 am |
    • riplowg

      OMG!

      September 28, 2012 at 3:38 am |
  4. Jayan Rajan

    Funny, people say that she doesn't care about looks, and she herself believes that. Isn't it obvious that she does care, albeit deeply, only her reasons and sensibilities are different? How ironic to dismiss 'looks' wearing that head gear!

    September 28, 2012 at 2:28 am |
    • NKBhamrah

      That headgear is called TURBAN. I am a Sikh woman and I too like any other Sikh lady do not care about looks.

      September 28, 2012 at 4:13 am |
  5. augustghost

    I think it's a guy...too many "manly" features"

    September 28, 2012 at 2:27 am |
  6. J-Man

    I would bet this is a transgender man (with breast augmentation). There is a lot more than the facial hair that make this a man. Other than breasts this looks nothing like a woman. The shape of the arms, shoulders and facial bone structure. This is not a woman. Getting a boob job doesn't make you a woman.

    September 28, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • Huh

      Agreed. I hear of many crossdressers who call themselves women, and think they can speak out for women's rights. I am sorry but being a woman is more than having certain body parts, or lack thereof. If you never went through being raised as a girl, experienced certain life events like menarche, risk of pregnancy, felt ugly/fat at times, forever falling under stereotypical expectations and societal pressures unique to women- you are just a man in a dress.

      As far as this person goes, many women have extra body and facial hair. I went to high school with a bearded girl. I'm thinking this one may have taken hormones to get that beard. Being androgynous seems to be hip these days.

      September 28, 2012 at 2:26 am |
  7. Anita

    Wow, what a lesson to all! Many blessings to you Balpreet Kaur, you are truly human inside and out... hope the rest of us learn from your response.

    September 28, 2012 at 1:51 am |
    • 24 Hour Crisis Center

      Anita you are blind and stupid.

      September 28, 2012 at 2:28 am |
    • sugarpill

      I think she should realize that god made her a woman and treat her body as such. She's not doing justice to her gender by looking like a boy and her religion since that makes the rest of the sikh women look unhygienic. Not all Sikh women believe that the best way to display internal beauty or focusing on one's actions is by neglecting basic grooming....

      September 28, 2012 at 2:59 am |
  8. K.T.

    On a different news site it mentioned that she had a hormonal imbalance as a teenager and it has since been corrected with medication. Ignoring the religious aspect of her life right now, the fact that she's comfortable in who she is and what she looks like to respond to a teasing post with such poise is more than 90% of the population could ever do. If that comes from her religious outlook, then so be it.

    We as a world judge people by appearances so often that it's damaging to our psyche and yet we do nothing to change that. And when people come along who don't care about other's perception of them and are comfortable with who they are, then we instantly try to find something else to criticize. No wonder we have such a problem with bullies in American schools. The kids are watching us as adults and seeing us judge others by appearances and what's "normal" in our own biased eyes.

    September 28, 2012 at 1:25 am |
  9. John Smith

    "Leave Brittany Spears alone !"

    September 28, 2012 at 1:19 am |
  10. BinaryTruth

    All the world is mad.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:52 am |
  11. Ceci

    This woman is a class act.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  12. Epidi

    I have a friend who has a similar condition and she is a most wonderful person. She does her best to keep the facial hair at bay but develops a 5 o clock shadow none the less and I know it bothers her when others stare. I think I will forward this article to her. Good lesson contained in this article about an age old saying – You can't judge a book by its cover. Inspirational. I would love to meet the woman this article is about. She sounds like a good person to get to know.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:34 am |
    • 24 Hour Crisis Center

      Epidi, who is judging her?? She has a hairy face, end of story. What in the world does that have to do with anything except her hairy face???

      September 28, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • Epidi

      Do you not know how to comprehend what you read? I said I have a friend with a similar condition and it bothers HER. Go to bed little one – you are getting cranky and need a glass of warm milk & your mama.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:52 am |
    • Clarissa

      Who is judging her? Seriously they posted a picture of her to explicitly judge her. How ret*arded are you?

      September 28, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • 24 Hour Crisis Center

      Epidi and Clarissa

      You are blind and stupid. How can you not look at this and see the reality of trans-gender. Stupid.

      September 28, 2012 at 2:31 am |
    • Jat

      @24 Hour Crisis Center
      You are posting all over the place, and trying to force your opinion over others.
      Kindly give your comments and let others do the same. Go get a life dear.

      September 28, 2012 at 7:20 am |
  13. Me

    Imagine the bush. As someone once said, like Chewbacca,s shower drain.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:34 am |
  14. 24 Hour Crisis Center

    Mom....Dad....I want to meet Balpreet.

    ~~~~

    Tragedy today in rural Ohio on Thanksgiving...gunshots.....fire.....neighbors said they were nice people......

    September 28, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Mr.Rational

      Idiot

      September 28, 2012 at 12:48 am |
  15. prosegarden

    wow. no one can spell anymore...

    September 28, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • 24 Hour Crisis Center

      I kan.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • Mitt Romney's Flying Circus

      Or capitalize.

      September 28, 2012 at 1:21 am |
  16. Schmegma

    All I got to say is "Yikes!"

    September 28, 2012 at 12:21 am |
  17. Fil

    I respect the idea that this person is comfortable in their own skin enough to endure the ridicule and stares she must encounter each day. However, I think it would be much more meaningful if the rationale weren't wrapped up in some religious mumbo-jumbo.

    Whatever floats your boat I guess but your hairy chin does not make me feel one jot more respectful of Sikhism. It's a curious malady of the virus, nothing more, nothing less.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • 24 Hour Crisis Center

      +1

      September 28, 2012 at 12:23 am |
  18. ScottInNYC

    What an absolutely incredible woman. She has attained the inner peace that 99% of the world's population only ponders. She represents what life is all about – being who you truly are, as expressed by your essence, not your physicality. I have incredible respect for her and a small amount of respect for the person who ultimately apologized to her for his insensitive actions. She has hopefully taught countless people the true meaning of grace, kindness and individuality.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • 24 Hour Crisis Center

      "She represents what life is all about"

      Do you mean the part about lying about being a lesbian and hiding behind your religion so you don't have to come out of the closet? Please, if this isn't and OBVIOUS butch lesbian then I am from Pluto.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:22 am |
    • Aletheya

      @24 Hour Crisis Center – you're from somewhere strange, that is clear. And you learned nothing from the article.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • Epidi

      Hello – I never met anyone from Pluto before. I hear it's very cold there.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • 24 Hour Crisis Center

      @Aletheya

      Anyone can write an article. I have experience and common sense. I would bet a small fortune that I am right. Wake up.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • ccw

      24 hour...please don't insult the people of Pluto....

      September 28, 2012 at 12:46 am |
  19. talkintrashallday

    Just think how it looks "down there"...*cringes*

    September 28, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • 24 Hour Crisis Center

      Nobody needs to go there. Literally and figuratively.

      September 28, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  20. Rondi

    She can do and wear whatever she wants but she's not exactly clear. Being a Baptized Sikh does not mean that women grow facial hair. As a Baptized Sikh she's not supposed to cut her hair and that includes facial hair. This facial hair rule wasn't necessarily only for men only but generally this a rule that men mainly follow because it's not typical for women to have enough facial hair to require a full shave. She probably has a hormonal balance (which could be corrected with medication) but she has chosen not to go the medical route to stop growing it. More power to her I admire her keeping her beliefs and following them to the letter.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • Genome

      Um, who says she didn't visit an endocrinologist? She's probably undergoing treatment...

      September 28, 2012 at 1:07 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.