My beard isn’t that much fun to play with down under, I’ve come to learn — and I’m not talking about the South Pacific. I’m talking about my chin and below. It’s a wiry, tangled mess. It tugs at my skin when I try to comb my fingers through its knots. Uneven strands stick out at odd angles. Even so, the growing has been fun. No time wasted shaving, no razor burn, no need for sunscreen on the lower extremities of my face. Plus, it’s an effective way to conserve bits of meals to enjoy later.
There are all these positives, and yet I feel like the odd man out.
I’ve been letting it grow for the better part of four months, and people ask me why. Sometimes I tell them the real reason — that I’m entering my final academic semester after 10.5 years as an undergrad and I need a symbolic shearing at the end of it all — but more often than not, I simply say I’m exploring my manness. Just like that. My manness. What that means, exactly, I’m not sure. But it feels right.
Either way, my answer usually evokes understanding and, often, a chuckle. So why, I ask, if so many are interested and entertained, don’t more men grow a beard? For some, the answer is simple: adversity.
I understand this. I do. My girlfriend tosses me a towel each night before bed so I can dry off the disdain she showers upon me throughout the day: “It’s too bushy,” “It smells like last night’s stir-fry,” or “Tyler, it looks like you have road kill on your face.”
Fine. Maybe it is a bit bushy. Maybe it does carry the fragrance of previously eaten food. Perhaps it does look like I strapped the pelt of some small, unkempt rodent to my face.
But riddle me this — who am I to tell my body no? My body’s biological process is clearly to cultivate facial hair. And when biology screams “beard!”, I humbly acquiesce. After all, I wouldn’t try to stop my bowels from moving. Why should I prevent my jaw fur from growing? And why does societal pressure push me to do so? Our whisker-wearing forebears would be chin-scratching in their graves if they saw our current state of baby-facedness.
Last weekend, I met the group of U-16 boys I’ll be coaching this year in soccer. One of them asked if I play rugby. Another complimented my beard’s girth. Yet another said, slightly in awe, “Whoa, wicked beard.” I replied, “If you want it bad enough, you can have one too. Just don’t stop trying.” He thought about it for a second, then shook his head, a bashful grin on his lips.
“Absolutely,” I assured. “With enough hard work and determination, I guarantee you can make it.” And in a voice that was half full of wonder and half full of gratitude, the boy said, “Thanks, man!” It is my job to coach these kids, after all.
But if these young ’uns are that enthralled by my unruly, four-month effort, does that mean a generation of beard-growers lies on the horizon? Justin Peters quoted author Edwin Valentine Mitchell in his Slate.com article on beards and politicians. Mitchell wrote in his 1930 monograph Concerning Beards: “The fortunes of the beard have always fluctuated through the ages. It flourishes for a time in full splendor, then diminishes in size, and finally disappears altogether, only to burst forth once more in all its former glory.”
Could the time for bursting be now?
Movember is a start, I’ll give it that, and an admirable cause to boot. But if someone tries to grow a ’stache within four months either side of November, people question the intention. “Missed the boat,” they quip. “Aren’t you a couple months early?” they might ask. What the eff?
If I want to grow a ’stache, ugly though it may be, I’m going to. It’s time for a man to be a man. And men, I say rise up. Beat back the anti-beard-archy that governs our daily lives. For you students, you have nothing to lose. No one can tell you a damn thing about how to look. You’re paying top dollar to be where you’re at, so why not Chia your cheeks? For those of you looking for jobs or concerned you might lose the ones you have, you do know that firing or not hiring based on facial hair is discrimination, right? Stand up and be heard, my beardos. It’s time to go back to our roots, allow our bodies to do what they’re meant to do, and sprout.