Friday, June 29, 2018

By a Hair: Bearded Lady Project Challenges Stereotypes

There are a few things you notice about Dr. Ellen Currano right away.

She has a youthful, makeup-free face, a soft, lilting voice, and absolutely no facial hair.

And that sets her apart from most of her paleontology colleagues.

“If you go and you open up a popular science magazine, you flip on the T.V., and there’s a paleontology show, most of the time, what you’re gonna see is someone who’s pretty large, pretty scruffy looking, pretty dirty, and totally male,” Currano said. “And that’s not me.”

Currano, a paleontologist at the University of Wyoming, is one of just 16 percent of U.S. college geoscience faculty members who are female. Female PhDs in the field make an average of $10,000 less per year than their male counterparts. And the media is saturated with images of scientists who are burly, rugged, and decidedly male.

Once, when talking shop with a few of her female co-workers, Currano blurted out a possible solution to the pressures that come with being a woman in a male-dominated field: maybe it would be easier if she came to work with a beard.

That accidental revelation launched a larger idea: The Bearded Lady Project. The photo series and documentary were produced by Currano, director Lexi Jamieson Marsh, and fine-art photographer Kelsey Vance. They feature top geoscientists who happen to be women, sporting faux facial hair to fit the common misconception of how a scientist should look.

When we’re being blasted with very negative portrayals of female scientists or no portrayals at all of female scientists having these photos to come back to, I think is going to be very important,” Currano said.

The Bearded Lady Project: Challenging the Face of Science demonstrates the competencies and obstacles of female paleontologists and how gendered stereotypes about the field can be diminished with some well-placed facial hair. It follows women who dedicate their lives to uncovering the history of life on Earth. And it takes viewers on digs, behind microscopes, and into the inequalities of a world most of us don’t get to see for ourselves.

Along with a photography collection of bewhiskered women in labs and the field, the documentary will be featured at American Frame July 5th to September 26th.

American Frame President Laura Jajko said she was drawn to the project because of its novelty and its underlying message of female empowerment.

“It’s funny, it’s beautiful, and it sparks a conversation,” Jajko said. “And to me, that is the power of art.”

Proceeds from the film and portrait collection will start a scholarship fund for future female scientists.

“There’s no reason physically or chemically why women can’t be good at science,” Currano said. “Why wouldn’t a woman make a good paleontologist?”

No reason we can find.
See the film and photo collection at American Frame’s showroom July 5th to September 26th. An opening reception will take place Thursday, July 12th from 6 to 7:30 PM.


  1. What a great show!

  2. I need more details on this project. I can tell you about plot structure meanwhile. Okay?

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