Men and Their Beards

Man with long hair and a beard
Photo: Shutterstock
Men love their beards and women love men with beards. Really? A study published in the Oxford Journal of Psychology confirms what we already knew deep inside: Women prefer a clean, baby-smoothly shaven face. So why do men do it?
 
According to said study as well as others, beards evolved to send a message to other males about status and the level of aggressiveness. Over the centuries, fashions came and went; with them came numerous shapes for facial hair, from full-bodied hirsuteness to finely drawn mustaches and goatees. Facial hair became a fashion item and comes in as many varieties as hairstyles for men.
 
Men usually show much loyalty to their favorite style of beard and once they find it, they stick with it. Some would perhaps rather shave off the hair on their head than their facial hair. Are men more vain than they admit? Too often it seems that the boyfriends in our lives do not pay as much attention to their appearance as women may wish, but when it comes to their facial hair all the defenses come out.
 
When my friend Sarah gently mentioned to her husband that the small pieces of food left in his "pride and joy" full beard were rather disturbing to her and that she would prefer him with a bit less growth on his face, he looked as if she had told him he could never ever see another football game in his life. Panic struck him and after some digging into his strong reaction to her suggestion, he mentioned a narrow upper lip that he wants to cover up with his beard. Eventually he agreed to reduce it to a mustache and another marriage was shaved, or let's better say saved.
 
Besides hiding physical attributes that they are not happy with, what other reasons exist for men to adorn themselves with the growth of hair on their faces?
 
Rite of Passion
 
Some of the love affair between men and beards begins as soon as the testosterone makes itself visible with little tender fuzz along the cheeks. It is a huge step between childhood and adulthood and one of the most visible signs of maturity.
 
Teenage boys often can't wait to start shaving regularly and compare themselves to classmates who might have more or less hairgrowth on their faces. This eager anticipation makes each little follicle so precious and the emotional attachment often never ceases.
 
Jake Gyllenhaal and his beard
Jake Gyllenhaal - Photo: lev radin/Shutterstock
Full Beards as Expression of Virility and Maturity
 
Men use beards, especially full beards, to signal their virility and superiority over others. A certain type of full beard is often found in academic circles. Usually well-groomed, but thick, bushy, and covering most of the face. A stereotype is the chess-playing, pipe or cigar-smoking professor or wannabe intellectual. And as with many clich├ęs, there is some truth to it, and it seems that men with this attribute are instantly regarded with more respect. They still have to live up to it later, but they get a head start.
 
In fact, the academic beard is still so in vogue that entire websites are dedicated to it, decoding its meaning and celebrating the look. The style spans centuries and connects Galileo Galilei with modern men who like to dwell in the world of knowledge and show it with this distinctive look. However, a beard does not make a philosopher, and you out there, yes, you know who you are, don't think women still fall for it.
 
Another version of the full-bearded face is that of nature men, the outdoor heroes of today who can fell a tree without hurting themselves or others and know how to keep you safe and fed in the wilderness. The Paul Bunyan look is one to stay as long as there are checkered shirts and lumber in the world.
 
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