Friends, Romans, countrymen: I’m a pretty hairy guy. I know that. Do you think you need to come up with euphemisms in order to make that observation in a sensitive and considerate manner? Because you don’t — really! I have hair on my arms, I have hair on my legs, I have hair under my armpits and on my chest and stomach and even one little stray bastard that keeps popping up just above my sternum. More importantly, I usually have a pretty thick covering of the stuff on my cheeks, chin, neck and upper lip area.
Maybe I should make myself plain (or “pull back the razor blade,” if you will, ha ha). I’ll often be at a social gathering (I’m very popular, you know) at which, in the middle of a conversation that clearly isn’t going anywhere, or apropos of nothing while passing by, a friend or an acquaintance or even a stranger will say something like, “Oh, you’re growing your beard out!”
The sentiment in itself isn’t shocking. What is hair-raising (okay, last one — I promise) is the tone in which it’s usually delivered. In my copious experience, it’s most frequently said in the same way you’d say, “Hey, you’ve been working out!”
But here’s the thing: as much as I love compliments on my appearance, deserved or otherwise, cultivating facial hair is not equivalent to doing lat pulldowns. It’s not hard. In fact, there are really only two necessary preconditions for “growing one’s beard out”:
the ability to grow a beard
the ability not to shave for a while.
So when you say, “Oh, you’re growing your beard out!” what you’re really saying is, “Oh, you’re relatively hairy AND too lazy to wake up five minutes earlier in the morning to take a trimmer to that bad boy.”
Food for thought.
I bring this up because at the moment, we, as a nation, seem pretty divided on the issue of beardliness. I’m not talking about whether you prefer your faceplant partner fuzzy or smooth; that’s just a matter of comfort. I’m talking about the broader issue of whether beards are things on our faces or things that exist outside of our faces. Case in point: the vaguely embarrassing phenomenon of the beard holiday. In case you’re not familiar, there are designated periods of the year — some seasonal (a “winter beard,” a “summer beard”), some monthly (Octobeard, Novembeard, Decembeard, Manuary, Manly March) — during which certain men capable of follicular development band together and agree not to trim or alter their facegardens in any way.
I understand that the experience is meant to be at least a little tongue-in-cheek. But I am convinced that all of this so-called “ironic masculinity,” at the root (sorry, I can’t help myself), is really just a screen to obscure a genuine generational insecurity about (of all the arbitrary shit) the ability to sprout “filamentous biomaterial” out of our faces. It’s a … well, it’s a beard, one we’ve grown to protect our rosy, vulnerable little cheeks from the sting of scrutiny and the possibility that we may not like what we find underneath.
As someone who gets a five o’clock shadow at, like, 9 a.m., I can say that the genetic predisposition toward beardliness does not offer you any benefits, aside from maybe making you look slightly older, maybe. In fact, I had the crappy fortune of being one of the first boys in my class to hit puberty in middle school, a hormonal shift which resulted in a wispy ’stache I found positively mortifying at best and socially ostracizing at worst. What I would’ve given to be hair-free in those days!
Evolutionary advantages notwithstanding, facial hair is really just another accessory. You can grow it out for a few weeks and then shave it into weird shapes, but I promise you there are way cooler ways to get attention at a party. Like literally any magic trick, for instance. Not only is magic more entertaining, but it also require much less investment than the time and care it takes to grow a beard and shave it into a pair of funny mutton chops right before a rager.
I don’t know who’s behind this (my current theory is that somebody’s got a vendetta against Gillette), but it would be great if it he or she would stop. It’s not a skill, folks. It’s not a hobby. I’m not a hero, though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t kind of like being treated like one.
So let’s stop beating around the beard. Some people can grow it; some people can’t. But isn’t the acceptance of those benign differences what makes America so great?
Yeah, I didn’t think this would go there either; just let it happen.