Dakota the Bearded Lady is a 24 year old sideshow performer working with the Venice Beach Freakshow. When she’s not educating people about the incredible creatures at the freakshow she’s learning new sideshow acts such as the Human Blockhead and Glass walking.
She spent her formative years in New Orleans before moving back to the place of her birth, Southern California. She spends her free time reading, writing, and trying to get rid of her gag reflex so she can learn to swallow a sword.
How long have you performed as a bearded lady?
My first performance was in May of this year. And then I got hired at the Venice Beach Freakshow in July, maybe? July or August.
How did you get into performing, exactly?
One of my best friends, whom I’ve known since I was two years old—so, 21 years now—she works at the Venice Beach Freakshow as the fire eater. Her name is Miss Sunshine. She’s amazing. And she was the first person who really encouraged me to start growing out my beard. So when I did, she and I were going to yoga class together, and she said, “You know I could teach you whatever you wanted to learn.” And I was thinking, “Wow, really? Okay.” So I started learning, and I got an offer from someone to do a performance at their store. And so I said yes, and that’s how I got into performing.
Where and with whom do you perform?
I perform at the Venice Beach Freak Show.
Can you describe your act?
I actually don’t have an act. I’m more of a–I work behind the counter. I sell t-shirts. I talk about our two-headed snake, Medusa. She’s a two-headed albino Honduran milk snake. She’s actually the rarest snake in the world. She’s really pretty. And I talk about her, and then when the show is going on I actually go outside and I sit on the steps with some of the other performers, and we’re saying “Come into the freak show! Check us out!” kind of thing. It’s traditionally called the bally act.
Tell me about what happened when you first started to grow a beard.
When I first started to grow my beard, I was very nervous—are we talking when I first started growing it out, or when I first started growing it all together?
Let’s talk about both.
Okay, well when I first started growing it all together, I don’t remember being too concerned about it. I remember thinking “Hm, that’s weird.” But my stepdad—his friend pointed it out and said, “Hey, what’s going on with Dakota? She’s got about as much facial hair as I did when I was in high school.” And so my stepdad took me to a hair stylist and had them wax it off. And that was the first time that I really realized, Hey, that’s not normal.
Then when you started actually growing it out later—
So fast-forward ten years, when I first started growing it out. I ran into Sunshine at a party and we started talking about how she’s working in Venice, and I was sort of joking around, and I said, “Hey maybe I could grow my beard out and we could work together.” She thought I was joking, and she was like “Oh ha ha, whatever.” And I was like, “No really, I can grow a beard.” And she was like, “Um—why don’t you?!” And it was like, What?! No one had ever responded like that. You know? I mean, it’s not like I ever really talk about it—or talked about it, at the time. I was really, really averse about talking about it, and just what people thought of me. So I started growing it out, and it was oddly freeing.
Tell me about some of the reactions that you get from people, just going about your life.
One of my favorite reactions was–Sunshine and I were just sitting outside of the gym having a post-yoga smoke, because we’re counter-productive that way. [Laughs] And, we’re sitting, and the gym is in this big shopping center, you know? And they have those cement trashcans. We’re sitting against the wall, and this guy was turning right, and he was staring at us, and he actually didn’t turn his car’s wheel enough and he almost ran into this cement trashcan, and we’re just sitting there like, Dude, dude, there’s trash can right there, and as soon as he realized, he over-corrected, hit the curb, and then rolled over the curb and sped off. It was hilarious.
The other day, I had a guy at the gas station stop me—he was an employee there. And he was like, “Hey is that real?” And he started saying how impressive it was that a girl can grow a beard, and how cool that is and everything, and he can’t even grow his beard out completely. And so that was really cool. It’s really mixed. I get a lot of inappropriate questions. I was sitting outside of work one time. It was before we opened up. And a guy was asking questions and—excuse me for being inappropriate, but he said, “So do you have a dick or a pussy?” And I was just like, “That’s inappropriate!” which completely stunned him. Like, Oh I didn’t know that asking about your genitalia is inappropriate, random stranger I see sitting here having a cigarette.
If you could, would you be “normal?”
I had a relative offer to buy me plastic surgery, recently, to get rid of it—or laser. It’s actually interesting: I had a gift certificate for laser hair removal a couple years ago, and I had the appointment, but my car broke down. So I didn’t end up going.
How has becoming a becoming a performing bearded lady affected your self-image?
That’s a good question. Throughout my life I’ve suffered from self-image issues. You know, being bigger, and not looking like a lot of people expect women to look, you know? Like society’s standards of women and everything. And it actually has helped, like a lot, because—I went through a period where I was slowly starting to discover self-acceptance. This was before I grew my beard out.
And I remember there was a point where I—swimming is one of my favorite things to do. I love to swim. I hadn’t swam in like three years, because I didn’t like the way I looked in a swimsuit. And I—it’s kind of a weird thing, but the book Dances With Wolves really helped me at that point. There’s this part in it where they’re talking about Stands With Fist, the white woman that lived with the Native Americans. They say that she had given birth to two children, but she still had the figure of a white woman.
My cultural background is Ute and Kiowa on my dad’s side, so I have the Native American build. I remember going and spending some time on the Crow reservation when I was a kid, and I remember being around all these people that I actually looked like. It was really interesting for me, because my mom is Italian. She’s this little tiny Italian woman, and so is my grandma. My aunt has a similar build to me, but she’s also short, and I’m like this tall linebacker girl, you know. So, I remember reading that and I remember feeling better about myself, but it took another year or two before growing out my beard. I felt good about myself but I didn’t feel great. I wasn’t happy. But now, since growing my beard out, I’m happy. And I’m happy about who I am and what I look like. It’s really empowering.
Are there any historic bearded ladies in particular that you admire?
Annie Jones. I really admire Annie Jones. She had a beard from the time that she was born. That’s just totally incredible to not know anything else in life, you know?
What would you say to other young women who find themselves growing facial hair?
I would say that even if you don’t choose to grow it out right now, even if you don’t choose to grow it out ever, that isn’t a choice anyone should ever push on you. That’s a choice that you should make yourself. You should choose yourself if you want to grow it out or if you want to keep is shaved or waxed or do hair removal. I know that laser hair removal doesn’t work all the time for bearded ladies.
I have a friend, Annalisa, who had laser done when she was a teenager, and it grew back. So I wouldn’t say look for a quick fix or a fix like that, because it isn’t necessarily going to work. I would just say—the advice that I gave myself when I first started doing this was, “Grow it for a week and see what you think.” And then, after a week, I thought, “Okay, grow it out for another week and see what you think.” So I grew it out for another week. And so far it’s been eleven months of me saying, “Grow it out for another week and see what you think.”
Do you see a shift in attitude, in general, about women with facial hair?
That’s interesting. Sometimes I think that I do. I think that this generation is becoming more accepting in some ways, and I think that in other ways it’s still having a hard time with things. And then the older generation still has a little bit of a hard time with things like accepting girls with beards, you know? I think it really just depends on the person and I really hope—my goal is acceptance through education. I really hope that if people have any questions that they would come up and ask me about it. And I want there to be a change. I definitely want there to be a change.
Do you consider female facial hair to be a medical condition or just a variation?
I don’t think that it’s a condition. I think that it’s a side effect of an existing condition. Personally, I have adrenal glandular disorder. My adrenal gland produces too much adrenaline, which makes my brain produce too much testosterone, which causes hair growth. And I know a lot of bearded ladies have it because of polycystic ovary syndrome–you know, severe cases of PCOS. I wouldn’t say that I would consider it to be a medical condition. I just think that it’s something pointing to a different sort of issue that’s going on. I know that my issue isn’t something that’s life threatening, so I don’t feel the need to try and address it anymore.
Thank you for sharing, Dakota!
To find out more about Dakota, check out her Facebook Page: Dakota the Bearded Lady
To find out more about the Venice Beach Freakshow, check out their Instagram and Facebook Page