The Bearded Lady Project

. August 1, 2018.
Lexi Jamieson Marsh in Wyoming.
Lexi Jamieson Marsh in Wyoming. Photo Credit: Draper White.

Paleontologists challenge stereotypes by donning facial hair

The field of paleontology has a long track record of being a boys’ club that, like many professions, did not allow much of a place for women. Most pictures likely to be found in science textbooks are of a bearded “white man with a pickax,” according to Lexi Jamieson Marsh, director of The Bearded Lady Project: Challenging the Face of Science. The project includes a documentary and photography exhibit, with portraits of scientists, who happen to be women, doing their field work and wearing beards and mustaches as a “tongue-in-cheek discussion” of women in science.

The mustache is part of the uniform

“It first came about as a joke over dinner with Ellen Currano (lead subject and scientific consultant on the project),” Marsh said. “She was the first real paleontologist I had ever met. I loved hearing about her fieldwork in Ethiopia. I thought, ‘Man, such a badass woman, living her dream, doing amazing work.’ I was telling her how proud of her I was and she said, ‘You know, I have to stop you right there because I know how you see me. I don’t see myself that way.’ It was a jarring moment.”

Dr. Currano explained to Marsh that she just wanted to do her job, but she felt that she had to be “the ideal representation” of a female in science “while simultaneously going to a faculty meeting and being spoken over and ignored.” Marsh recalls Currano joking that she wished she could just put a beard on her face so she could do her job. They laughed, but that conversation sparked an idea that Marsh couldn’t let go. A few months later, Currano and Marsh began working on The Bearded Lady Project.

The project

The project began with a five-minute YouTube video; that led to a short documentary and a traveling tour during which Marsh interviewed scientists from all over the U.S. and the U.K. The concept developed into a photography exhibit when fine art photographer Kelsey Vance began doing black and white portraits of the scientists wearing mustaches and beards.

One of the scientists interviewed had actually done what Dr. Currano had jokingly referred to—she wore a mustache while doing fieldwork in the Outback. Dr. Carol Hickman of UC Berkeley told Marsh that “while she worked in the field, people would see a lone woman and assume that she must be in danger or need help. After a while, she just slapped a mustache on her face and no one bothered her.”

Dr. Catherine Badgley from University of Michigan poses next to her bearded portrait.

Dr. Catherine Badgley from University of Michigan poses next to her bearded portrait. Photo Credit: Ramon Keys.

One reaction that stood out for Marsh came from a male faculty member at a Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting where the exhibit was being shown. He told Marsh that he was aware of the issues the exhibit was highlighting, “but the number of women that he knew personally who felt the need to participate in this was heartbreaking. That was eye-opening for him,” Marsh said.

Dr. Katharine Loughney from University of Michigan poses next to her bearded portrait.

Dr. Katharine Loughney from University of Michigan poses next to her bearded portrait. Photo Credit: Ramon Keys.

The exhibit

While the full, feature-length documentary portion of the project will be finished this fall, the photography exhibit is now on display at American Frame until September 26th. American Frame has donated all the frames for the exhibition.

“This project is about women supporting women, and that has been done ten times over with American Frame,” Marsh said. There are also guest speakers and showings of the short documentary at the store.

On view through September 26.
8:30am-5:30pm, Monday-Wednesday & Friday.
8:30am-6:30pm, Thursday.

American Frame Showroom | 400 Tomahawk Dr, Maumee
419-887-8030 | americanframe.com/showroom.aspx

For more information on The Bearded Lady Project, visit facebook.com/beardedladyproj.