To beard, or not to beard?

Yes, you are still a man if you can't grow facial hair

18th October 2018

Clearly, beards haven’t just appeared from nowhere in the last decade. History tells us that they have constantly been falling in and out of fashion, moving from style to style as the centuries have passed.

Today, you only have to walk down a busy high street to see that modern society has given beards a social revamp, and since early 2013, there seems to have seen a surge in the number of people growing a beard. Go on most clothing retailers’ websites and you’ll see many of the male models have some kind of facial hair. Whether it be a Bandholz (a beard as long as is physically possible to grow), a Garibaldi (bit shorter than a Bandholz, but still in need of trimming every so often) or even just half an inch of stubble (most men can achieve this), having a solid beard seems to give men a few extra points on the scale of attraction.

Celebrities have definitely played a part in facial hair’s rise to stardom. Beard expert Dr Alun Withey says George Clooney caused the most recent rise when he attended the 2013 Academy Awards with facial hair. That’s how it works, after all; famous icon does something fashionably different, the world copies and it becomes A Thing. You only have to look at Jennifer Aniston’s famous hairstyle “The Rachel” in the first few series of Friends for proof. That led to what seemed like half the women on the planet rushing to the nearest hairdressers and getting it done for themselves. (Ironically, Jen herself later came out and said she actually hated that hairstyle). The bottom line is that Dr Withey has a point.

For some people, a beard’s a beard. Merely a by-product of male testosterone and that’s all there is to it. A common response would be something like: “Don’t be ridiculous, of course I don’t do it because it’s fashionable or ‘cool’. I just don’t care about it. It’s there and I can’t be bothered to shave.” Some would call that laziness, some would call that lying and some would just call it realising that there’s more important things in the world than something so trivial.

Footballers, actors, people from Love Island, Jeremy Corbyn, various depictions of Jesus — they’re all sporting beards

But many of the bearded nation live in a world where a clean-shaven face is pretty much unthinkable. How can you pluck up the courage to talk to a stranger in a bar if you’ve shaved and now look no older than 12? It’s also generally seen as a symbol of masculinity, and according to Brett and Kate Mckay in The Art of Manliness, means people associate you with things like aggression, dominance and maturity. As much as we’d prefer not to admit it, most men want to assert that Neanderthal-esque power both in general life and when heading out for a night on the town. Having a beard seems to be one way of doing that.

Impressionability is a crucial reason, like the Clooney and Aniston examples. Footballers, actors, people from Love Island, Jeremy Corbyn, various depictions of Jesus — they’re all sporting beards. Maybe if Clooney had gone to the Academy Awards as a clean-shaven man, we’d be living in a largely beardless society. It’s like the domino effect; when the first piece falls over you know what’s coming.

If you don’t have a beard, or genuinely can’t grow one, then you’re part of a much larger group than you probably think

There’s charity too, of course. Movember is now one of the biggest fundraising events in world, and since its birth in Melbourne in 2004, it has gone on to raise hundreds of millions for issues like prostate cancer and men’s suicide; last year $80m was raised across 21 different countries. And Decembeard, which raises awareness for bowel cancer, has been backed by Tom Hardy among others. Anyone that raises money for such good causes deserves a huge pat on the back. Kudos to those guys.

Not everyone is an advocate for beards, though. If you don’t have a beard, genuinely can’t grow one or just can’t understand why this trend has grown into its current state, then you’re part of a much larger group than you probably think. Here are some opposing reasons why they aren’t the be(ard)-all and end-all.

Going against the trend is kinda cool

The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

While the male population tries to get on board with the beard craze, those who buck the trend should not be branded unfashionable or “behind”, but rather mavericks and renegades. Stand out from the crowd; embrace bare-face!

It’s uncomfortable

Sometimes beards can get really scratchy and itchy during that middle stage of growth. Why would you voluntarily put yourself through that kind of discomfort? Maybe the mindset is that it’s a means to an end when you’re really set on growing it out, but those problems can be gone in ten minutes with a razor. And, when you really think about it, isn’t it a failure in personal hygiene? Even if you’re not a particularly messy eater, a beard is essentially just a big furry receptacle for all the crumbs you miss.

It’s not just anecdotal either — beards tend to contain more bacteria than a cleanly shaven face, as many studies have shown. Some beards are more akin to a toilet than someone’s face.

The fad will eventually end

Every fashion fad has its day and then disappears into thin air. Sometimes it returns, but that usually takes a pretty long time and returns in a completely new era. If you look at the aforementioned “Rachel”, the people that adopt that hairstyle today almost draw more attention because it’s rare, whereas 20 years ago, a woman with that style wouldn’t have stood out in a crowd.

beard
We can’t all be this cool

A fad has to start somewhere. George Clooney might have inspired this generation, but someone else is going to have to start the next one. What if the next one is the huge sideburns of the 1800s? What if Zac Efron turns up to the 2019 Oscars with a huge moustache? Everything could change in the blink of a red-carpet actor’s eye. Overnight, your lovingly maintained beard, the one that took months to grow and has seen you fork out hard-earned cash for all kinds of oils and special brushes, might well become a big fashion faux-pas.

Partner-preference

Even if you’ve had a beard since those first furtive strands emerged from the side of your face during GCSEs, the moment you get a partner who doesn’t like it, it’s probably going to have to go. Amy*, 23, insists her boyfriend Jordan* is mostly clean-shaven or has very fine stubble, purely because she can’t abide it if he grows his beard out.

“I can deal with it. I don’t always tell him off if he says he wants to grow it, but he knows I prefer it when he’s clean shaven. I need to make him realise that he looks so much better without one. I’m not saying it looks bad, and personally, I’ve got nothing against people with big beards because they can often look nice. But put it this way, if we get married I don’t want him walking down the aisle with a beard.”

Pogonophobia

Pogonophobia is the fear of beards (yes, it actually exists). As far as unusual fears go, this seems high on the list. Comedian Paul Foot claimed he had a form of pogonophobia when he appeared on panel show Would I Lie to You? saying he hated beards, and then when he was forced to touch co-panellist David Mitchell’s beard as a ploy to test his reactions, he winced and looked genuinely petrified. It turned out to be true, so that suggests some people do suffer from pogonophobia.

Jeremy Paxman even claimed the entirety of the BBC was pogonophobic, after he was criticised for sporting a beard on national television. I suppose those people with pogonophobia would argue that being in the presence of their fear every day makes life that little bit more difficult.

Today’s society seems pretty intent on making sure that millennials need a beard to be a part of the “now”. If you look for it, you’ll find beard propaganda all over the place. Retailers like the London Beard Company are thriving and are likely to keep growing. C-list celebrities are getting beard transplants and broadcasting their results to their abundance of followers on social media. At the end of the day, having a beard doesn’t harm anyone (except for pognophobes), and everyone is, of course, entitled to take as much care over theirs as they like.

But, for those without, the key is to not feel pressured. Remember what Emerson said: being yourself is the “greatest accomplishment”. If being yourself is not having a beard, take it in your stride and embrace it.

18th October 2018