You’ve probably noticed the latest fad of growing facial hair, especially now that we are in the midst of “Movember”. More men are proudly sprouting beards and mustaches and, as far as I’m concerned, the world is a better place because of it. Although some cultures still require a man to grow a beard, it was only until quite recently that more men than not have been given the choice.
Throughout human history, the love and purpose of a beard has not only waxed and waned, but its role in society has changed. Rulers as far back as the Ancient Egyptians, who went as far as creating false beards of metal that were worn by kings and queens alike as a show of Supreme Power, have very often held strong opinions on the growing and roles of beards.
Alexander the Great forbid his soldiers to grow beards, lest the hairs be grabbed by the enemy in combat. After the advent of Christianity in the 7th Century, Anglo-Saxon clergy were required by law to shave. Princes of England that had once worn mustaches, by a law decreed by King William the First, were suddenly required to shave so they might better fit in to Norman fashions trends.
England’s King Henry VIII and Elizabeth I along with Russia’s Peter the Great all imposed beard taxes. Bearded men in 18th century Russia were even required to carry a token as proof they had paid their beard tax. In the Orthodox Muslim faith, the greatest oath one can swear is ‘on the beard of the Prophet’ and in similar fashion, Orthodox Jews wear long beards because they are seen as something God given to clearly distinguish a man from a woman and one should never questions the workings of the Almighty.
The initial aversion to beards in America was mainly due to the high population of Puritans, who were known insultingly as “Roundheads” by the Quakers. By cutting their hair short and shaving their faces, the Puritans made their heads ‘unnaturally round’, or so said the Quakers. You may note that not a single signer of the Declaration of Independence was bearded. Oddly, the first European men to discover and settle the New World were all almost all bearded.
It was not until our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, that we had a bearded man in our highest ranking government office, though Martin Van Buren did have some serious Mutton Chops going on back in 1840. After Lincoln, every president starting with Grant in 1869 through Taft in 1913, has sported some form of facial hair with the exception of McKinley. All presidents since Woodrow Wilson, who left office in 1921, have been clean shaven.
Thankfully, today’s modern man, outside of religious reasons, has a choice To Beard or Not To Beard without the fear of taxation should he choose to let the facial hair flow. For many, the growing of facial hair has become a masculine Rite of Passage. Shakespeare wrote in Much Ado About Nothing, “He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man.”
How many men reading this today did not stare into the mirror as little boys, eagerly awaiting the appearance of that first little whisker that told him he was growing up and becoming a man? In an effort to find out what trends there are today on the topic, I searched for and chose random samplings of different surveys done on facial hair preference that span the past six years.
A survey done by psychologists at Northumbria University in the UK in June 2008 was the earliest. The results were published in the journal “Personality and Individual Differences” and included 76 British women between 18 and 44 years of age. They were asked to rank the men on a variety of factors including, but not limited to, social maturity, aggression, age and masculinity. This relatively small sampling brought researchers to conclude that there was a, “female preference for male faces with stubble… with clean-shaven and fully bearded faces being the least preferred.”
Over 10,000 women responded to a 2010 “Esquire” magazine survey. Question #46 asked, “In terms of facial hair, which do you prefer?” 47% of the women preferred Clean-Shaven, 45% went for Stubble and a mere 8% wanted their man to have a Full Beard.
“Behavioral Ecology”, published by Oxford University, the official journal of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology, conducted a 2012 survey of over 200 Canadian and New Zealand women. This study concluded that although there are more and more bearded celebrities showing up on the red carpet, and that the trend in modeling agencies is for full beards, women found clean-shaven men much more attractive than those sporting a more natural, bearded look.
Only two years later, the preference for a full beard seems to be gaining ground. Researchers at the University of New South Wales found that women wanted their men to step away from that razor. Their research, published in the journal of “Evolution and Human Behavior,” indicated that stubble was out, but a beard growth of ten days scored the highest in terms of attractiveness as surveyed by 351 women and 177 heterosexual men. Light stubble scored at the bottom in almost all categories amongst both genders.
But also in 2014, eBay Fashion asked 1000 people what their preference was in beards. 75% of the men who responded liked beards while only 55% of the women felt the same. 60% of the men wanted there to be more beards in the world and only 48% of the women agreed. This same survey also found an increase in Google searches for “beards” increased between 2011 and 2013 with the peak hitting in November.
Ah, November, or for those who prefer, “Movember”, an annual event where men are encouraged to grow their facial hair to raise awareness of men’s health issues, such as prostate cancer. The Movember Foundation and the “Mo Bros” who participate are trying to encourage their fellow men to take part in early cancer detection, diagnosis and effective treatments in the hopes of reducing preventable deaths.
Outside of Movember, what’s a man to do? Grow it or shave it? I must admit, I do love a man with a beard! Every sexual partner I’ve ever had has sported a beard, or at the very least a mustache. When I kiss a man, I want to KNOW I’m kissing a man. With such conflicting surveys, I’m not sure if I’m in the minority now or not, and frankly, I don’t care. There’s got to be more to a man, and a relationship, then whether he’s bearded or not.
My advice, forget the surveys and do what suits you and your personality. It’s a very shallow sort who would base and judge a person solely on such a narrow topic as facial hair. None of this, “I love you, but you have GOT to shave that thing off your face.” Or “You’d be so much more attractive to me if you’d grow a beard.” No. Don’t change, guys, unless that’s what you want to do. Just be yourself.
Beards will continue to go in and out of favor just as they have since before the Ancient Egyptians. Whether you prefer smooth as a babies bottom or that good old Mountain Man look and feel, the choice comes down to you and the type of person you want to present to the world and the type of partner you want to attract. Do what makes you happy. Personally, I think a happy person who is comfortable with their looks is also the most attractive and enjoyable to be around, bearded or not.
Photo: Flickr/Bosc d’Anjou