A woman has told how a rare condition made her grow a huge beard and caused people to mistake her for a man.
Allyson Gormley, 46, began to sprout hair on her face and body when she hit puberty aged nine, but was so upset by its appearance that she spent years shaving and waxing it off.
The widowed housewife finally plucked up the courage to stop shaving in November 2014, and says the decision has dramatically improved her physical health, as well as her self-esteem.
In her first ever interview, Allyson, who lives a nomadic existence driving across America in her van, told Metro US: Ive always had facial hair ever since I was a kid.
As soon as I hit puberty the hair started to grow, because I have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The insulin resistance caused by PCOS makes me produce more testosterone than a typical woman, hence the hair.
I had to shave every day and if I was going out for dinner in the evenings I had to shave in the middle of the day too, ever since I was about nine years old.
Five o clock shadow is something I had to fight with my whole life.
It was really upsetting when I was growing up.
Allyson finally plucked up the courage to ditch the razor in 2014, after being encouraged to do so by her late husband Dave.
The couple were watching a Nascar commercial at their old home in La Pine, Oregon, when bearded driver Jimmie Johnson jokingly implored fans – both male and female – to grow their facial hair out as a way of supporting him.
She recalled: My husband looked at me and said “You could do that.”
I said “Yeah, but you wouldnt want to be seen in public with me?” and he said: “I would be fine with it.”
I always wondered how long it would grow if I didnt do anything with it, so I decided to just let it go and see what happened.
It was kind of intriguing at first. It took me about a month to get above an inch. Once it hit about five or six inches it kind of settled out.
I really havent ever done anything with it as far as grooming. There is a world record for bearded women, and I expected to hit it, but the drawback is that the more I keep the beard, the healthier I get, the more it breaks off and slows down.
Allyson has entered one beard-growing competition, alongside male competitors, in 2018. She had hoped to beat the current world record holder for the longest female beard, Vivian Wheeler from Illinois. But natural breakage has kept her beard around four inches off Viviens impressive 10 inch tufts.
Allyson says the high levels of testosterone which once flowed freely around her body and caused various health conditions have been regulated since she began growing her beard and provided an outlet for those hormones.
The bearded nomad, who knows of 11 other bearded ladies living in the United States, no longer has to take insulin for her diabetes and has seen the symptoms of her asthma almost disappear, while her weight has dropped from 310lbs to 190lbs.
Her once-worrying cholesterol and triglyceride (body fat) levels have also plummeted, despite Allyson not making any major changes to her lifestyle.
She added: It was amazing to me that growing my beard actually changed my health a lot.
I had all the medical conditions of a diabetic 50 year-old man. I was diabetic to the point of being on insulin when I started growing it. My triglycerides were over 300, my cholesterol was out of the park.
I had a receding hairline, beer belly, weight gain. Four years later Im off all my medication.
Ive dropped the weight. I can walk a mile for fun and not break a sweat – I used to be able to not walk down the driveway to get the mail without catching my breath.
My asthma is very rare and even my allergies have calmed down. It amazed me the difference that it made. Im not on any medications at all except vitamins.
The testosterone that I normally have in my system seems to be going into my beard intead of flowing free around my body, and ruining my health.
Allyson and Dave struggled to conceive while married, because her testosterone levels were so high. She could go for five years without having a period, and had to take drugs to regulate her menstrual cycle.
And now Allysons decision to grow a beard has dramatically boosted her fertility levels, regulated her periods and means she could potentially conceive a child naturally into her early 50s.
She explained: The other thing that changed after I began growing the beard is that I started menstruating again.