A friend of mine once said, “Every man should experiment with his facial hair at least once in his life.” Although I’m not convinced he had the latest Instagram flower beard fad in mind (seriously, guys covering their chin bushes in blooms and posting pictures of the results on t’internet – It’s kind of sweet but WTF?), these are definitely words to live by. But this isn’t about some hipster trend. I think it’s nice that all those Brooklyn twenty-something boys have found yet another way to be self-consciously cool but most of us beardies were catching sandwich crumbs in our whiskers when all they were sporting was a Got Milk mustache.
Then there’s the other brand of social acceptability: the good cause. In this case, Movember. From Antipodean beginnings in 2004, the phenomenon of growing a mustache during November (“mustache” + “November” = “Movember”, get it?) as a way of raising awareness and funds for prostate and testicular cancer treatment has become a global event. The Movember Foundation is now rated as one of the top 100 NGOs in the world and a mighty fine cause it is too. But how sad that so many men can only summon up the courage to stop shaving by hiding behind the “it’s for charity” excuse.
Of course, by putting aside the razor any intrepid beardnaut is courting disapproval. After all, as one longstanding saying has it, never trust a man with a beard. Even Sigmund Freud believed that it signified the wearer had something to hide (wait, didn’t SF himself sport a full beard?) and certainly there is no shortage of people who find facial hair off-putting.
My own experience of people’s reactions has been somewhat mixed. I first let my chin sprout for a costume party (see? everybody needs an excuse to start…). I intended to rock the spaghetti western, Man With No Name look and for that I needed some heavy stubble. Once the party was over, I decided I liked the novelty and continued the growth. My first wife was not so enamoured of the bristly feel. The look, yes; the feel, no. At some point during the marital disintegration, I became clean-shaven again in the belief that it might help the relationship. It didn’t. But what was interesting was people’s reactions once the beard was gone: “Oh, I never liked it,” was the common response. Thanks for telling me, eh? Living alone and the beard was back, whatever friends and colleagues thought – it just felt more ‘me’. Second wife liked it (yay!) but preferred it neat and tidy (boo!) and took on trimming responsibilities so that she had some control over length and shape. Single again (nothing to do with the facial hair) and the growth became more luxuriant – a combination of short’n’shapely moustache and everything below the lips left to its own natural devices. Works for me and I’m past worrying about what other people think.
Other people and Freud aside, there are still some cultures in which the beard confers status. The same friend I mentioned earlier once traveled to North Africa with two women and a clean-shaven male friend (just for clarity’s sake, neither of the women were sporting beards either) and found that in every market, bar and restaurant, he was automatically treated as the leader of the party simply because of his whiskers.
But to return to the question, unequivocally I think everybody (of whatever gender) capable of a growth should try it at least once in life, if only to experience the different reality that comes from changing one’s appearance. If you don’t like it, shave it off. But at least you can say you tried it.
And as for the results of my own ongoing furry experiment… Happily, my current barely-controlled facial topiary also works for my new love. Independent I may be – and a beard is certainly a personal expression of freedom – but I have to admit, it’s nice to have at least one supporter!