"...the male beard communicates an heroic image of the independent, sturdy, and resourceful pioneer, ready, willing and able to do manly things."
Psychologist Robert J. Pellegrini reported in Psychology, 1973
OK….I’ll concede that we have this idea that beards somehow mysteriously impart some sort of manliness and virility on the wearers. It’s an image. It’s perpetuated by advertising, reality TV, and now social media. We can almost smell the testosterone when we see a man with a full beard. Many of us also may even believe that bearded men have bulging biceps and hairy chests and tattoos…all theirs by default. As a man, it may be easy for me to fall into this illogical ideology. I do, after all, like most males, have about 7-8 times more testosterone coursing through my system than most females, and that alone can be the basis (or blame) for much of my cognitive behavior.
Like everyone, it seems, men also need validation from time to time. We need to know that others know we’re men, that we have manly characteristics; that we can bring home the bacon, tote the barge, lift the bale. The female of the species has a similar need…but with different criteria, expression, etc. While I may feel an overwhelming need to grow facial hair, my wife’s intense focus may be on having a body perm in her hair. She may feel ‘prettier’ wearing lacy underthings from Victoria’s Secret, while I may feel more masculine wearing no underthings at all. (TMI?)
For many years, my ‘default’ look has been a shaved head and a goatee and moustache. It’s easy, neat, and I’ve just come to like the way it looks back at me from the mirror. A couple times a year, however, I ‘get a wild hair’ as my dad would have said, and decide to grow out my full beard. Now, you can blame testosterone, or vanity, or whatever, and honestly, I’d be hard-pressed to argue either point. But in my own mind, I think I do it to see what color it is! I’ve always had a rather mousy non-descript hair color: somewhere between blonde and brown. As if that isn’t bad enough, nature started many years ago throwing a fairly unattractive gray into the mix as well. That combination of hues may work in a tweed jacket, or a painting of a mountainside, but on my face, well, not so much. I keep hoping, though, that one day, when I grow out my beard, it will have begun magically transform into a more uniform, clean white!
Recently I started seeing lots of beards around me, giving me that ‘itch’ to try once again to grow mine out. Well, after a couple of weeks, my beard was indeed long, and sadly, still a very unattractive mix of browns and grays. Oddly, though, I was getting lots of compliments! Cool, I thought…somebody thinks my beard looks good! Maybe I will leave it long for a while, I thought. Those thoughts didn’t last long. I have just managed to lose about 40 lbs, yet when I look in the mirror, my face looked a bit ‘fatter’ because of the beard. Now I had a dilemma. Go with the compliments, the validation and admiration of others, or shave it off in the name of my own vanity. OK, sure…either way it can be considered vanity, can’t it? So the decision really came down to: Do I go with that THEY like? Or do I return to my moustache and goatee, which is what I like? Easy decision. Took me about 30 seconds. I used the clippers and clipped off most of the whiskers close to my skin, leaving the longer goatee and moustache, then put on the blade guard…a #4, and trimmed back the remainder. I then jumped in the shower and lathered up and shaved the close-cropped areas, again, leaving my goatee and moustache. After my shower, once the steam cleared from the mirror, staring back at me once again was the face that I have come to accept most easily. Cool. I looked thinner again, and maybe even younger! BONUS!
You know what? No one really noticed. Oddly, for the next few days, not a single person even mentioned it. I did get some of those, “are you wearing different glasses?” and “are you losing weight?” questions, but not a single person mentioned my having shaved off most of my facial hair. And it didn’t matter. I don’t really care whether any noticed or not, because, you see, validation from someone else, at least in this case, was not what I was seeking when I changed. What I wanted was to feel good about myself. What I wanted was to look in the mirror and feel comfortable with the guy looking back at me. So, is that vanity? I don’t think so. I kind of think it’s simply making myself content; gratified; happy with myself. It’s one of the few times I allow myself to think about myself FIRST. If I am happy with me, with my appearance, I can then go through my day with more confidence. Self-confidence, but with a large helping of humility. That’s exactly what I’m looking for!