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The Bearded Lady Project; Remove the Stereotype!

Dr. Ellen Currano

In 2014, Lexi Jamieson Marsh returned from filming a commercial, where she faced challenges from men on the set. She recalls: “The men found me distracting, problematic, and out of place on set. They snickered over what I would look like if I ever ‘cleaned up.’ On that same set, a male superior informed me that women ‘always say they want to direct, but when given the opportunity, they realize it’s just not for them.’”

“The Bearded Lady Project: Challenging the Face of Science.”

Lexi met her friend Dr. Ellen Currano for dinner and told her about the frustrating photoshoot. Ellen told Lexi that she frustrated with “being able to count on one hand how many other women are in the room at various professional gatherings, of not seeing female scientists featured in the media, of being the only woman on a field crew, of fellow geoscientists telling me how much they appreciate their students interacting with a ‘successful female scientist like you.’” Lexi was crushed. She wondered how such an accomplished woman could be disrespected at her job. When Ellen joked: “If I just put a beard on, then maybe they would listen to what I have to say,” Lexi laughed.

That night, Lexi woke up at 2 a.m. and emailed Ellen: “Would you seriously wear a beard?” That was the start of The Bearded Lady Project: Challenging the Face of Science,” a project "about challenging the negative stereotypes in science, but its foundations are friendship, love, and support. It thrives on women supporting women.”

“If I just put a beard on, then maybe they would listen to what I have to say.”

Lexi traveled across the United States and the United Kingdom to interview and film woman paleontologists and to photograph them wearing beards, mocking the large grizzled male paleontologists of the Victorian Age. In 2018, the film was an official selection of the LA Femme International Film Festival, and a traveling exhibit was featured at museums across the country. In 2020, Lexi published The Bearded Lady Project, a collection of essays and photographs about the project.

In the book, Amy Guenther explains that:

The woman paleontologists who participated in the project joined a long history of women accused of possessing too many ‘masculine’ traits such as an education, a desire for independence, and the pursuit of non-heteronormative gender roles.

Guenther notes that by “demonstrating the ridiculousness of associating expertise, authority, and virility with male facial hair, The Bearded Lady Project seeks to empower women in traditionally male-dominated fields as well as the hyperfeminized standard of beauty still portrayed in the media.”

Historian Kimberly Hamlin notes that since the 19th century, beards, science, and sex have been linked in a negative way:

Scientists have argued that men were the only ones capable of scientific research and that in some way this scientific acumen was linked to an inherent quality of manliness, often represented historically by a beard.

The Bearded Lady Project stands this illogical thinking on its head: “Women have responded by helping to create the scientific method, by discrediting biological determinism, and by challenging the cultural significance of beards on both men and women.” Hamlin notes that although people tend to “associate bearded ladies with nineteenth-century circuses and sideshows," women wore beards much earlier in history. Some women wore beards to deter rapists, to avoid marriage, or to hide gender identity.

You can make a donation to the project here.

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