Now that Halloween is over, many of us may be counting down the days until the next time we can put together our most elaborate costumes.
But for artist and performer Little Bear Schwarz, it's a huge relief that Halloween has passed. Schwarz wrote on Facebook on Tuesday that the holiday is a "painful" time of year for her — because it's when people begin assuming that her beard is part of a costume.
Schwarz, who tells Refinery29 that her beard began growing at age 15 due to undiagnosed PCOS, is frequently told on Halloween that people "like her costume" or is asked, "who are you supposed to be?"
"Being in public on Halloween when I'm not performing is genuinely scary for me," she wrote. "It's vulnerable. It's panic inducing. When people ask me about my 'costume' it reminds me how far I have to go in my mission to make Hairy Women valid & visible. It reminds me that above all my merits — talent, beauty, sensitivity — I am seen as above all else: strange."
Schwarz says that after her beard began growing, she shaved it daily from when she was 15 until she was 31 because "society doesn't exactly foster keeping it."
After moving to Seattle, however, she decided to let it grow and allow herself to have a true fresh start.
Though she had shaved her beard for over 15 years, Schwarz didn't receive a diagnosis for PCOS until she was 32. By that time, however, she had already begun to let it grow, and had begun performing publicly with a sideshow called Wreckless Freeks.
"The diagnosis might have saved me some pain when I was young and insecure and wondering what was 'wrong' with me," she says, but by then, she mostly just wanted to confirm that her beard wasn't a sign of a more serious health issue — which doctors assured her that it wasn't.
Though Schwarz hasn't always hated Halloween (she used to dress up for it as a child, though she's now too busy performing on most Halloween nights to be in costume), she now associates it with feeling "harassed or like a laughing stock."
"It was after I grew my beard and began receiving comments like 'nice costume' and 'wtf are you supposed to be' that an ugly realization reared its head: that Halloween is the one time people can get off scot-free looking as kooky as they like, but I cannot, on any of the 365 days of the year, go into public, with my ACTUAL face, without some level of safety breach," she says.
She knows that as a performer, she profits from her "strangeness" — but, she says, "on MY planet, one can recognize that a system is both the hand that feeds them short term, AND deeply problematic long term. And my long term goal has always been to put myself out of business."
It may take more than a Facebook post to make it so that some day, women like her can walk around without feeling shamed for their existence, but Schwarz is here to keep speaking out.
"That day is not today," she wrote. "It probably won't be next Halloween either. That's ok. I am taking one, small, un-costumed step at a time."