Thursday, July 10, 2008

Pogonophobics, look away now

Let's talk beards.

I have a beard. I'm actually very happy with my beard. But it is amazing just how many people try to persuade me to shave it off. And all of them are women. 'You'll look so much younger!' they cry. But they're so, so wrong. If I were to shave it off I'd just look like a 46 year old man without a beard. In fact, on the odd occasions I have shaved it off, my partner insisted that I grow it back straight away. How did she describe me?

'You look like some obscene man-sized mutant baby. Or David Mellor.'

So the beard remains. But, as I say, I'm happy with that. The beard is much maligned, and unfairly so.

I like to think of it as my mane; my badge of masculinity. After all, it's the one thing I can grow that most women can't. You ladies have your distinguishing growths (and lovely they are too) and I have mine. My beard marks me as a man. And in non-Western society, that's exactly how beards are viewed; as token of manhood. Some religious observances even insist that the hair must never be cut. Even within British society, the chin warmer was always seen as something to be proud of and nurtured. Shakespeare had one. Dickens had one. Darwin had one. W G Grace had one. Almost every man of historical note and worthiness sported a beard right up until the turn of the century.

But then things changed. Some say that it was the advent of The Great War that led to the beard's decline. Long hair too. Muddy Flanders trenches are not the most hygienic of places, especially when they are half-full of stagnant water and you are surrounded by the dead and the dying. And what could be worse than catching your chin-fleece in the breech of a gun as you reload? There was barely time between World Wars for beards to regain their fashionable status and so the 1940s and 1950s are notable for the lack of beardiness in men (National Service no doubt helped the razor blade industry too). The 1960s and 70s saw a brief resurgence of interest, but the shallow and pretty-boy 1980s soon put a stop to that (apart from the ridiculousness that was 'designer stubble') and the beard has never really recovered.

I was at Waterloo Station this morning waiting to meet a friend. And as I waited I took a quick mental tally. I counted 100 men walk past. Of them, only 14 had beards. Half of them were North Asian (Indian, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Pakistani etc.). Four were obviously students as they had those attempted beards which consist of several components - sideburns, moustache and chinstrap - that haven't yet joined together; like they haven't been introduced. Or they'd been attacked by a very particular beard moth. The remaining three were a middle-aged man, a white-haired geriatric and a chap with a fierce set of whiskers that quite took my breath away. Strawberry blond with waxed moustache tips, it surrounded his face and neck like an Elizabethan ruff. Oddly, his beard looked like it had been stuck on. Perhaps it was? All I know is that I suddenly felt like I was part of some kind of a minority. Why were there so few beardy men?

Maybe it's because there are so few beardy role models these days. Name a famous person who has a beard who isn't (a) an academic, (b) in disguise, or (c) mad? There are very few. How many beardy male models do you see in commercials? There's never been a beardy James Bond, or a beardy Doctor Who. Beards tend to be worn by younger men wanting to look older, or older men wanting to look distinguished or professorial. Or, like me, to avoid being compared to David Mellor. I asked several of my regularly shaven mates today why they bothered to shave. And they all gave the same answer: 'My wife/girlfriend hates me with a beard.' And when I asked if they'd consider growing one, most said, 'I wouldn't mind. Shaving is a pain. But celibacy is worse.'

I guess I can understand this to a degree. It can't be pleasant having your chin sandpapered every time you cop a snog from a beardy bloke. Especially if any remnants of dinner are hanging around. It explains the origin of the silliest beard of all - the so-called Soul Tag; that Hitler/Mugabe moustache that's slipped down to lurk under the lower lip. Less hair, less friction.
Or is it more sinister than mere snoggery issues? Is this desire to see us all emasculated and clean-shaven a revenge thing? Is this part of some world-wide secret pact among the female population to make us pay for what they have to go through; for all of those years of sore armpits and scraped legs and waxing those areas that shall go unmentioned? Is it?

I think we should be told.

There's nothing like stirring up a bit of controversy is there?


The Factory said...

Do you count a few days stubble as a beard, because if so then I am one of your minority, but only until it gets too itchy to live with.

I've been told that this growth improves my face, but that may be because it obscures it more.

Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

No no no, its not a revenge thing. It's a simple fact that women like the feel of smooth versus the feel of rough and scraggly. Our chins are delicate and beards scrape them.

I think most people have very decided opinions on beards.

willow said...

These pictures are hilarious! The last one has to be called the "roller coaster" style! How many cans of hairspray or wax do these take? More time and trouble than shaving!

Actually, I am partial to bearded men. WT has had a beard for 25 of the 31 years we've been married, although it is now shortened to a stylish goatee.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

My husband has a beard. I like beards. Do not shave your beard. Just, please, don't curl it.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Lavinia, Willow, Pamela - I'm encouraged (and suitably chastised) ... it must just be the women I know. I do gravitate between the goatee and the full beard depending on how lazy I feel.

Me said...

Having seen the beard I cant imagine you without it. You lip would look weird without its mirkin top coat I feel....

Stevyn Colgan said...

Awwww ... thanks Me. Not sure if I'm being complimented or insulted here ... a pubic wig top coat!?!

Blog Princess G said...

Depends on the beard too, doesn't it? The texture of it. Also, when it's growing in, a man's beard can feel very rough, but once it's fully in, then it can be very nice.