What Did You Say About My Beard?

What Did You Say About My Beard?

At 11:23 pm, EST, on October 30, 2013, the Boston Red Sox won Major League Baseball’s World Series.

By 11:33 pm, EST, folks were tweeting, posting, and talking about how wonderful it would be for the team to (finally) shave.

Here’s what Stephan Hovnanian, himself a Bostonian, told his 26,000+ followers – and the world in general – via Google+ …

some men hate beards

Why should men be told to shave?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking Hovnanian; he is one of my favorite entrepreneurial gurus. From my (bearded) perspective, though, I wasn’t thinking Boston should shave – but that the Cardinals ought to grow beards!

However, most folks didn’t see it that way:

Women hate beards

And therein is the crux of the matter, isn’t it? Men should remain clean shaven, like the debonair Mr. Hovnanian, in order to please the women.

Other than me, just one person pitched in to champion the champions’ beards:

Ron likes beards

(You’re the man, Ron.)

And here’s my reply to that thread:

Don Sturgill is a beard champion

Do women really prefer their men to have faces soft as a baby’s butt?

I know, this could get nasty – a guy pretending to know what women want. Let’s set the record straight, right from the start: women are a mystery to me. Figuring out what they want is like trying to keep a fix on the weather.

It changes.

Let’s not even go there, then. Women readers can speak for themselves. Rather, let’s take a look at how the social attitude towards beards has changed over time.

If Shakespeare said it, then it must be true

I was reared by a woman who did NOT like beards. I don’t believe I ever heard my mother refer to facial hair without injecting the word “nasty” in front of it:

“Oh my goodness, just look at that nasty beard.”

Now, the “nasty” word has morphed some – and probably even means super-cool in someone’s circle, but my mother meant “nasty” in the traditional sense of the word: gross and disgusting.

A Shakespearean example

The first time I remember a woman speaking good about beards, I was at the movie theater watching “Much Ado About Nothing” with my high school humanities class.

“He that hath a beard is more than a youth,” declared Beatrice, “And he that hath no beard is less than a man.”

I was shocked. A woman who actually likes beards – who won’t even date a guy unless he has a beard? It was a revelation.

What Did You Say About My Beard?There was a time when a man without a beard was viewed with suspicion and pity

Why would Shakespeare have Beatrice say such a thing? Turns out, beards were once considered appropriate for men – even indispensable.

Other examples of beards in history

Biblical references present beards as signs of maturity and wisdom. Those who shaved were either grieving (Jeremiah 41:5), diseased (Leviticus 14:9), or humiliated (2 Samuel 10:4-5).

In ancient Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and India, beards were deemed to be dignified and desirable. Slaves were prohibited from growing beards (can any of you husbands and businessmen identify?) – in Egypt, especially, only the upper class were worthy of facial hair.

There is one class of individuals who seem to always have refused to shave: Philosophers have kept alive the connection between beards and wisdom.

Ivan the Terrible (Ivan IV), 16th century Tzar of Russia, was adamant in his defense of the beard, saying …

“To shave the beard is a sin that the blood of all the martyrs cannot cleanse. It is to deface the image of man created by God.”

For one glorious century, U.S. presidents wore beards

In America, five presidents have worn beards: Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, and Benjamin Harrison. All held office in the 19th century, and no president since has dared risk a beard.

Reports say that Grant’s beard was fierce during the height of his soldiering days. Settling into the comforts of the White House, however, his wife urged him to clean up his act … and come sleep in the big bed. No wonder Grant’s presidency was fraught with scandal and marked by an inability to get things done. Having fought courageously in battle, he offered his manhood at the altar of perfume and fluffy pillows.

William Henry Taft’s moustache (1909-1913) was the last sign of real grit seen in the Oval Office. For more than 100 years now, political leaders have succumbed to popular pressure, figuring it is better to shave daily than to offend voters with facial hair.

How did beards get such a bad rap in the 20th century?

Beards fell out of vogue, beginning in the early 1900’s. Look at photos of men circa 1880, and you will find full beards in style.

Look again, a generation later, and they are gone.

Sociologists have put forth a number of potential explanations; probably it was the combined influence of several disparate forces that changed beards from symbols of dignity and trust to signs of moral lapse and suspicion.

Suppositions about how beards fell from grace include:

  • Gas masks were critical to soldiers during WWI, but the mask would not seal properly over a beard. Men shaved for survival.
  • The development of better razors and indoor plumbing rendered shaving considerably easier to perform. Men wanted to shave for years. Technology made it possible.
  • With the advent of measures to make the world a more hygienic atmosphere, men shaved to rid themselves of lice and put forth a cleaner appearance.
  • The women’s suffrage movement gave power to the women – who then told the men, “Shave or sleep by yourself.” Razors quickly became must-have items.
  • The Industrial Revolution drew bearded men from the country to work-house factories in the cities. The bosses demanded they shave as a prerequisite of employment. That told the workers who God really is, and forced them to surrender a big part of their masculinity. If I can dictate what you wear and how you behave, you’re mine.

Choose your own favorite. The final two make the most sense to me. 

On the flipside, consider the late 1960’s and early 1970’s in the USA. The beatnik-turned-hippy movement had men growing wild beards again and asserting their freedom. Women joined in, letting their own hair grow – and not just hair on the head. Bras were burned. Love was in full and fresh bloom … then reality set in … the bosses stepped up, police battalions armed and anxious at their command, to remind the flower children that flowers cost money, and corporations don’t like beards.

Should men grow beards?

As a young man, I remember a fair-faced braggadocio pseudo-friend of mine commenting to the ladies that fellows who grew beards were simply cultivating on their faces something that grew wild on his ass.

What an idiot.

Beards grow wild. For men so disposed, all they have to do is stop shaving and a beard will soon appear.
For me, not needing to shave daily is a welcome reprieve. Truth is, I feel a bit silly scraping down my face so women and corporate executives will approve of my appearance. I daily remind myself that “What others think of me is none of my business.” The opinion that matters most is my own. Said Henry David Thoreau in Walden:

“What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines, or rather indicates, his fate.”

Shave if you wish. Don’t shave if you wish. But neither should you insinuate that my beard means I am must be lacking in self-esteem, sir. And don’t tell me, dear lady, that my beard makes me less appealing to your fair eyes. I’ve bearded companions aplenty, and women who appreciate evidence of testosterone in a man.

And if that doesn’t impress you, watch a replay of the 2013 World Series. It was beards versus baby butts … and the beards won the day.

What Did You Say About My Beard?Don Sturgill is a freelance writer living wild and free near Bend, Oregon – where men grow beards any time they want. Don’s home on the web is at donsturgill.com. The profile photo was taken during his final year chained to a corporate time clock (2013). He is now working on a beard of Gandolfian proportions.

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About Douglas Smythe

Wet Shaving Software/Hardware Developer. Podcaster, Blogger, Man About Town.

Comments

  1. Philip Turner says:

    I had a beard for 25 years. I used to work with a guy who said men with beards were hiding something. We all know that men have testosterone and I don't need t prove it by growing a beard (my bald head proves it if I cared about that). Young men grow beards to prove something, I no longer have anything to prove.

    Besides which beards are very difficult to keep clean. Having a cold with a moustache is awful!

    I have acne scars that I grew my beard to hide, now I don't care. I have a double chin that a beard would hide, now I am losing weight to get rid of it.

    Real men don't need to grow beards.

  2. Shannon Hutcheson says:

    I think beards can be attractive. If they are very well maintained. I prefer the more modern styles; a small soul patch, very short stubble-like, just the mustache and chin area, etc.

    My brother used to go firefighting in the bush every summer. When he came back I often told him it looked like something leaped out of the woods and latched onto his face. Yeah, it was that scruffy. Hence my aversion perhaps lol

  3. Ivana Zuber says:

    Hm… I like the looks of them, but I really don't like the feels of them – itchy, scratchy…
    But then again, a well maintained beard like Shannon said is waay better than the 4 day-old beard my husband tries to pull-off.

  4. It's funny, Shannon, how preferences differ. I'm always curious about why. That's hilarious: "Leaped out of the woods and onto his face."

  5. Thanks, Phil. Nothing wrong with a matching head and chin … that's for sure 🙂

  6. My father would give me "beard rubs" with his stubbled face, when I was a wee lad, Ivana. I remember the feeling. Ouch!

  7. I am laughing Don. There is nothing wrong with having beards. I heard a lady say it's a sign of maturity

  8. Thank you, Ikechi. It is a fun topic.I appreciate your support.

  9. Good point, Trevor. Love it.

  10. Thank you, Min. I appreciate your perspective.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Why should men be told to shave? Don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking Hovnanian; he is one of my favorite entrepreneurial gurus. From my (bearded) perspective, though, I wasn't thinking Boston should shave – but that the Cardinals ought to grow beards! However, most folks didn’t see it that way:  […]

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