I have been aboard my narrow boat, Miss Amelia, for nearly a month. I am safely moored, quite remotely tucked away in fact, somewhere on the Midlands canal system. I have stowed many of my belongings into the limited storage space I now have available and am beginning to organise things to my satisfaction. I do have rather a lot more ‘stuff’ in storage near at my previous home, which I cannot deal with due to the very unusual, and hopefully unique, situation we find ourselves in at present. One item I do not have to hand, however, is my beard trimmer! My facial growth is becoming distinctly unruly. Indeed, it was this, and the fact that I am currently compelled to spend a lot of time by myself, that led to the following contemplation.
Actually I am now eagerly awaiting a parcel, sent from my previous address. It contains items which I am increasingly finding, if not essential, certainly frustrating to be without. They include the charger for my camera batteries, my bluetooth headphones – and my beard trimmer.
I have sported a beard for many years, in fact right from the time I could be described as a young man. My facial growth has proceeded through several phases over that time, from completely natural (unkempt) to stylishly managed (regularly clipped and trimmed). Fairly recently, I was almost persuaded to radically re-fashion my image by shaving my beard off and having my hair cut, but managed to resist.
As I mentioned, my beard has had free rein since stepping aboard. I have executed (now there’s an apt word) a couple of trims just above the upper lip, in front of a mirror using kitchen scissors; this is akin to trimming a child’s fringe, the result is invariably crude and completely unprofessional. With regard to the moustache, which continues to increase in bulk and density, only the invasion of curling hairs advancing across the upper lip and into the mouth can be repelled. The only achievable result is an abrupt, uneven and slightly slanting ledge that can reasonably be compared to the eaves of a thatched cottage. Along with my moustache, the rest of my beard grows unchecked. I have reached the stage now of hairiness advancing towards the neckline of my t-shirts and sideburns which are beginning to tickle my ears. I can visually detect the bushy growth below my nose whenever I happen to glance down.
Why do I not have my beard trimmer – a grooming implement as basic and necessary as a hairbrush – with me? I don’t know – well actually I couldn’t find it and I thought I might soon return to gather more of my belongings either to store or sort out. Despite the present regime of social distancing and restricted travel, I have considered driving all the way from Warwickshire to West Sussex just to retrieve it, but feared I would be turned back half way down the M1 by a police officer who might not consider my journey essential!
But soon the weight of my beard will be shed and I will be able to look at myself in the mirror again without images of the Ancient Mariner or Rip Van Winkle springing to mind. And with that prospect on the near horizon, I have found myself contemplating why men grow beards at all. I have been fascinated by the recent fashion, particularly amongst young men, of growing beards and of grooming and styling them in a manner reminicent of Edwardian gentlemen. A whole array of clippers, brushes and lotions now accompanies the wearing of an acceptable and well-presented beard. I have to say that I do admire this rather distinguished hipster look. My beard-bearing was never motivated by a desire to achieve a certain fashionable look and I certainly could not devote more time than it takes to run a beard trimmer through my facial covering to tame its appearance and maintain its condition. This is an approach which is also apply to gardening – I simply run a flymo over the lawn, I was never one for the stripes!
What do we men think the beard will do for us? Do we perhaps consider that a beard enhances our sexuality and makes us more attractive to women? And indeed, are some gay men drawn to other men who have beards? Is it more masculine to sport a beard – ruggedness, physical strength, identifying with nature and naturalness? After all, many powerful wild animals are very hairy. And men journeying across wild terrain, for reasons of exploration, the prowess of fame and recognition or simply daring adventure, not only display bravado and resilience, but after just a few days, beards.
Or perhaps it is all to do with status. Beards are often thought to indicate maturity and wisdom. Are not tribal elders often depicted with long grey beards of considerable bushiness – well, established beards at least? And to realise the importance of beards in human society, we only need to look back to images of prominent Victorian politicians, artists, philanthropists and royalty…
This is surely not just down to the fashions of the times. Could there be a deeper, sub-conscious, class-conscious – even genetic or evolutionary – motivation that compels men to grow beards?
With regard to my life with a beard, I cannot say that I am remotely aware of anything more significant than a desire to not shave. Maybe that is the real male motivation for allowing facial hair to sprout – simple laziness. I know modern, electric shavers are the absolute epitome of speed and convenience, but they do not achieve the chinly perfection that fastidious clean-shaven men seem to demand. It can take as much endeavour and attention to detail maintaining a chiselled, clean cut image as it does to cultivate a elegant, well-manicured beard. But there we have two extremes, most men are content to cruise casually down the middle of the road. And that definitely goes for me!
Moving from considerations noble to those more ignoble, there is another side of the coin. Do beards enable men to hide, to cover up, to withdraw and avoid displaying their real identities? Or possibly beards are a cunning disguise and we should rightfully be accused of wilful deceit. Status – wisdom – masculinity – it is all pretence, mere bluff. In fact it may be a world wide conspiracy blatantly, but covertly, practised by all men everywhere. What is certain though, just as your clothes, hair style, hobbies and interests – and of course your car – indicate much about your character and personality, so does your choice of being clean shaven or allowing nature to takes its course. People do make assumptions about bearded men, as they do about those without. A beard is not something that you can keep private and to yourself, and whether you have one, or not, may be a requirement of the social or religious group you identify with, or it may be quite sub-conscious and not something you have ever taken the time to think about.
Last, but my no means least, and in the interests of equality and fairness, we should carefully consider the female perspective on beards. However, as a man, I am not qualified to comment in this area without risking justifiable criticism and backlash. Suffice it to say that any body hair is a most alien and undesirable personal physical attribute for most women, though many do find it attractive and beguiling upon men.
Of course, older members of the feminine fraternity may eventually have to come to terms with unwelcome facial hair growth. This still invites a degree of repulsion and carries a certain stigma, particularly amongst very young children who innocently and quite unabashfully study the facial features of their Grandmas in great detail. Thankfully repulsive to us, Victorian freak shows drew crowds of the curious, and often gullible, to peer and gawp at bearded ladies, along with giants, dwarfs, conjoined twins – and even mermaids!
But that could lead us on to any entirely different subject, and not having time to delve into further complexities of male and female psychologies, preferences and behaviours, and they are genuinely fascinating and worth exploring, I am going to check the post. Actually I am expecting a parcel…
PS – What is your take on this? Comments invited from the bearded and the beardless, beard fans and those who absolutely abhor them.
PPS – if you are interested in further contemplation, here are a couple of internet reference that I found very interesting and informative;
Why Women Prefer Men With Beards, According To Science
By Kristen Sollee – November 17, 2017
Your Beard Is Saying a Lot More Than You Think
blogger Luke O’Neils’ 2016 interview with Christopher Oldstone-Moore, author, Of Beards and Men