SEÁN MON­CRIEFF

Beard- wear­ers have far too much time on their hands

The Irish Times Magazine - - SOUND OFF -

For some years, style jour­nal­ists have been spec­u­lat­ing that that the beard is fin­ished. Fads like this usu­ally last a year or two, and given that the fash­ion for face fur has been around for a decade, it’s bound to die off sooner or later.

Not so far though.

The same jour­nal­ists, by the way, have all penned ar­ti­cles along the lines of “what’s re­ally be­hind the beard craze”, which sin­gu­larly fail to ex­plain what’s re­ally be­hind the beard craze.

All they can say is that it started with hip­sters and seems to be of a piece with wear­ing tweed and lis­ten­ing to vinyl. If the look is pulled off cor­rectly, it projects the vague im­pres­sion that the wearer is a poet or some­thing cre­ative; that they es­chew ma­te­ri­al­ism and spend a lot of time hug­ging trees; even though they would be manly enough to chop them down.

When it doesn’t work, it’s of­ten be­cause the hair doesn’t grow evenly around the chin. It re­sem­bles a fun­gal in­fec­tion. Or it’s un­ruly, mak­ing it look like the grower is just back from an Is­lamic State train­ing camp or is a mem­ber of a Dublin­ers trib­ute band. Or they look like a

12- year- old try­ing to grow a beard.

Full dis­clo­sure: never had a beard. Never wanted one. On oc­ca­sion, out of lazi­ness, I have ne­glected to shave for long pe­ri­ods of time. But this seems to make me look trou­bled or ill. When I’m un­shaven peo­ple keep ask­ing me: “what’s wrong?”

I did do the Movem­ber thing once and it was hor­ri­ble. It felt like I had sand­pa­per welded to my up­per lip, while I also dis­cov­ered that my beard hair is gin­ger. It looked like a bad dis­guise.

Peo­ple kept point­ing at me and say­ing: “I know it’s you un­der that! What’s wrong?”

Hav­ing a beard seems to in­volve a lot of has­sle for rel­a­tively lit­tle pay- off. It makes me sus­pect that beard- wear­ers have far too much time on their hands – es­pe­cially the ones with the twirly mous­taches who look like bad­dies from the old Bat­man TV se­ries. Or they are hid­ing some­thing.

They of­ten are. Pro- beard pro­pa­ganda web­sites claim a beard will con­ceal a weak chin, poor skin and ex­ces­sive youth, that it will pro­tect against gum dis­ease; coun­ter­in­tu­itive, given the huge pos­si­bil­ity for crumb re­ten­tion. You could have a dis­as­sem­bled pizza stuck in your fa­cial hair for months.

But the num­ber one rea­son given is that the beard is loved by the “Lay­deez”. Ap­par­ently you girlies go wild for bear- wrestling mas­culin­ity that fa­cial hair im­plies. Be­ing kissed by men with beards may be another mat­ter. I have no re­search on this, other than anec­dotes, and I’m told it’s like snog­ging a yard brush.

But it would be re­duc­tive and un­fair to say men grow beards just to boost their mat­ing chances. Like any other gen­der, they do it to feel good about them­selves. But this need may grow or shrink de­pend­ing on the tenor of the times.

Some stud­ies claim a link be­tween the rise of the beard and the eco­nomic crash of 2008.

‘‘

I have ne­glected to shave for long pe­ri­ods of time. But this makes me look trou­bled or ill

Fi­nan­cially emas­cu­lated men grew beards to com­pen­sate. Sim­i­larly, stud­ies in Bri­tain have found an in­ter­est­ing cor­re­la­tion in his­toric beard growth. Beards were sig­nif­i­cantly more pop­u­lar dur­ing the reigns of Queen El­iz­a­beth I, Queen Vic­to­ria and Queen El­iz­a­beth II: all women.

Beards came back into fash­ion dur­ing the suf­fragette move­ment, again dur­ing the sex­ual revo­lu­tion of the 1960s and they re­main pop­u­lar in the era of # MeToo. Per­haps the beard is hid­ing a lit­tle male ner­vous­ness.

Okay, calm down. This doesn’t mean men with beards are au­to­mat­i­cally in­se­cure or sex­ist ( though one US study claimed ex­actly that) or that in some fu­ture fem­i­nist dystopia, the beard will be banned. It could hap­pen. You could have un­shaven men protest­ing, chant­ing My Body, My Choice.

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