I never imagined I’d find myself siding with Big Razor, but then, we are living in very strange times.
As CNN recently reported, Gillette is facing financial woes due to the trend for a furrier face. Now that it’s no longer considered shabby to show up to work/a date/your life with stubble, and beards are so common that we wouldn’t recognize half the population without them, there is less urgency to be equipped with daily shaving tools.
I sympathize with Gillette. By and large, and there are exceptions, I am not keen on beards. I am well aware that after this admission, many people may become substantially less keen on me, and I totally understand. I am happy to own my hypocrisy. If a dude (or anyone) criticized my hairstyle, I’d say it was none of their damn business. I fully appreciate that my opinions on this, like an optimistic teen’s cack-handed five o’clock shadow, are flimsy and borne of limited experience. Disclaimer done, let the alienation begin in earnest.
It’s tempting to think of the beard as a kind of “return to our ancestral roots” (ironic), but it’s not quite as simple as that. Don’t kid yourself, hairy paleo diet dude who just can’t squeeze a shave between CrossFit sessions. Cavemen plucked their beards with clam shells, Little Mermaid-style, exhibiting a degree of care and attention that so many men today seem happy to dismiss. Men throughout the ages have oscillated between beard-having and not-having, from Alexander the Great’s shaven soldiers, to the bushy-chinned Victorians.
If the men in my life are anything to go by, there are several stages to a man’s beard-having. The first is Beard Anticipation. “I think,” he says, caressing his chin thoughtfully, “I might grow a beard.” To be honest, I reckon this is actually the second stage. He’s already decided to do it, and now he’s canvassing opinion.
In every instance, I respond with sensitivity (mine): “Please don’t grow an effing beard.”
The second is the Ignoring Me – sorry, the Growth phase. “My beard is actually coming along quite well I think,” he says, exfoliating his palm against the ragged stubble that has now appeared unevenly across his jaw.
The third stage is the It’s For A Movie phase. Because that is how anyone with taste would explain away the mess gradually obscuring any indication of bone structure beneath.
The fourth is the I’ve Forgotten What Your Face Looks Like phase. “It’s so great having a beard,” he says, stroking his chin again and again, as though a beloved cat had curled up upon it.
I nod, as the world moves around us, unconcerned. I know when I am defeated.
Many people have theories about beards’ renewed popularity in recent times. Some have suggested the trend, which has exploded over the last decade, has been a response to the financial crisis of 2007/08, which heightened competition among men (brilliant). Others have proposed a more primal explanation: that men with beards are perceived as older, stronger and more threatening, and thus more intimidating to rival suitors.
Tellingly, the emphasis here is less on being attractive to potential mates and more about dominance over other males, and their less-lustrous brush. Don’t be fooled folks, those Movember fundraisers couldn’t care less about charity. They’re in it purely for the *cough* beard-measuring contest.
In lieu of any more academic research of my own, I asked an incredibly biased, nonrepresentative group of men (my friends) why they like their beards. I received a range of responses, but two in particular came up time and again. The first of these was: “I look really young without a beard.”
I find this curious. Mostly this answer came from men in their thirties who – no offense, lads – I suspect would not be asked for ID were they to present themselves clean-shaven at a bar. It does, however, tally with the suggestion that on some level, their beard subconsciously lends them a King of the Forest-esque air of maturity. It isn’t enough simply not to look young. The goal is to look “established,” like you’ve been around the block and know what’s up. I get how, at work for example, this might provide a psychological boost, if it’s the difference between showing up like a green intern or a seasoned stag.
The second answer was, essentially, “Because I can.” As a deeply self-indulgent person, I find this difficult to argue. I get the gratification that must arise from seeing your body comfortably execute something it was (says through gritted teeth) built to do. The path of least resistance is tempting on rushed mornings before work, and if a lot of guys would rather steal a few minutes more in bed in the morning than shave, I’d struggle to find a compelling counterpoint.
If I were being generous with myself, I might attribute my aversion to beards to some formative early experience. Roald Dahl’s “The Twits,” for example, with its marvelously gruesome depiction of Mr. Twit’s generous facial hair, a fetid bush bursting with old cornflakes and bits of sardines. But realistically, the answer is more superficial: I don’t like your beard because I really like your face, and I want an uninterrupted view of it.
It’s not only that too many guys approach beards either with a cheerful disregard for styling, or an excessive enthusiasm for it. It’s that it takes up too much damn space, both physical and psychological. So take pity on Gillette. Or, if you’re dating a person with a hairy face, at the very least get yourself a guy who touches you like he touches his beard.