Woman with PCOS who got rid of excess body hair for years bravely gives up shaving
While many people have health concerns that they may find gives them unwanted stress in their lives, there are some whose symptoms are more pronounced than others.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome affects how a woman's ovaries work, meaning irregular periods and high levels of male hormones, which may cause physical signs such as excess facial or body hair. Leah Jorgensen, 33, from Wisconsin, has suffered from this hormonal disorder since she was 14.
Often bullied for it, she had to wear long-sleeved, high-necked shirts to hide the extra hair at school. By her late 20's she was spending hours removing the hair from her body. "I had never seen women who looked like me," she explained. "I was so ashamed that I didn't want to talk about it."
Her main goal at this stage was to hide away from the embarrassment, getting through each day without anyone noticing how hairy she was. This didn't stop a group of girls at school teasing her about it, making her feel "somehow less of a woman". The difficulty in hiding the hair contributed to her anxiety, taking a toll on her overall mental health.
But Leah had an awakening in December 2015 triggered by an unlikely event. She was hit by a car and rushed to hospital in an ambulance, where paramedics had to cut her clothes off before surgery. This was the first time strangers had seen the extent of her hair growth.
"I realized no one cared what I looked like, they just saw me as a person," she explained. "It really helped me to get over it."
Around the same time, she also met a man who loved her for who she was, and while they're no longer together, it gave her a push in the right direction.
"I realized that I never really disliked how the hair looked. The problem was not with the hair, it was with people's perception of it."
She has now decided she can wear low-cut sleeveless tops, reveal her legs and wear a bikini if she wants to.
This change lead her to make others in her life, leaving her insurance job, returning to college where she studied social work now working with autistic children.
"I used to be scared of people noticing my hair but now I embrace it and let it grow. I'm unique and that is perfectly fine.
"I do still shave my face because I like how my face looks without hair but I used to shave multiple times a day and now I will go a couple of days.
"It has been incredibly empowering."
Leah will be one of a hundred women photographed next month, for a project called Underneath We Are Women. She hopes that her story will encourage others to love themselves, and for those with similar conditions to know they are not alone.