During the many coronavirus lockdowns many men gave up on grooming, stopped shaving, and grew out their beards. Among these were Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, fashion designer Harald Glööckler, and perhaps most famously, actor Jim Carrey. Carrey was even known for keeping his ongoing beard diary. “Day 5 of my wild and untamed face. Please don’t put your hands near the cage,” reads one entry.
Freelance writer Jacqueline Detwiler has described some possible rationale for the quarantine beard. First, she suggests that extreme times may call for extreme grooming decisions. Secondly, she likens the beard to a calendar, measuring time like placing tick marks on the wall of a prison cell. Finally, she proposes that perhaps men should grow these beards because they are cozy and warm and don’t require a lot of effort — they’re the sweatpants of the face. Wearing a facemask over a beard has to be uncomfortable, so there are hidden drawbacks to considered this year.
Wright State University historian Christopher Oldstone-Moore related the quarantine beard to the historical phenomenon known as the “quest beard.” He says that “… soldiers and explorers once grew them as a way to bond over common purpose.”
Along similar lines, growing beards and facial hair has long been associated with sporting activities such major league baseball, Stanley Cup playoffs and Wimbledon. Sports psychologist Stuart Vyse from Connecticut College says the beard phenomena in team sports is related to a number of factors such the high susceptibility athletes have to superstition, the opportunity for team bonding and cohesion, and the tapping of the so-called Sampson Factor, which is cultural archetype associating hair with strength and masculinity.
On the plus side, beards get noticed and are a ready symbol of male dominance, associated with wisdom, wealth, social standing and being cool. Beards also provide 90-95% protection from harmful UV rays and keep the face moisturized and more free from bacteria.
It typically takes, however, two to six months to achieve full beard growth; average growth is only about ½ inch per month. A little less than a quarter of all men say they cannot grow a beard. Clean-shaven employees typically climb the career ladder faster in large corporations and men with beards can appear 5-8 years older, more aggressive, and less trustworthy
We are currently well into that month of the year when seasonal facial hair growth had already evolved into a ritual of male solidarity. November is the month when many men make changes to their facial hair to support charitable causes related to men’s health issues. The two most popular of these fall movements are Movember and No-Shave November. To be an official participant you need to register at the websites of the not-for-profit organizations that organize these events. These groups also track the funds that are raised.
Movember began one November about 17 years ago by a group of men from Australia. Their conversation about moustaches turned into a competition of sorts and within a year, it became an annual event raising funds for Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia. It is now an autumn rite that reaches around the globe in 1,200 projects in more than 20 countries. This movement has raised untold millions for causes such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer and men’s suicide.
The Movember website lists only a few basic rules; these are that you 1) officially register at movember.com, 2) start the month with a clean face, 3) then grow a mustache, (4) use the moustache to start conversations about men’s health issues and in the process 5) hopefully raise some money.
The “Mo” in Movember comes the word “moustache,” but if you are up to growing a full beards, then No-Shave November may the event for you. The goal of No-Shave November is to increase cancer awareness. Participants are asked to donate the money they would have typically spent on shaving and grooming to cancer education, prevention and treatment.
Moustaches and beards are on the upswing in America with some estimates finding that over 60% of men now sport facial hair. Heavy stubble is quite popular.
In the distant past, facial hair provided humans with some additional warmth and protection against the harsh environment. While hair has lost its direct survival advantage, it remains as a fashion statement and still may be related to what is called genetic fitness. This is the relative ability of an individual to produce offspring that survive and reproduce. Men with facial hair are generally judged to have higher social status and better parenting skills, although facial hair is also seen negatively and associated with aggressiveness and dominance.
Recently, evolutionary psychologists from Poland found that women’s preferences for male facial hair were not very uniform. In some cases women seemed to like it, while in other cases they didn’t. Men, on the other hand, consistently preferred facial hair for themselves, but not for other males. The researchers believed that the men’s preference was related to the role that facial hair plays in signaling to others in competitive social situations. In such settings facial hair might frighten off enemies, while declaring greater masculinity or higher social position.
Women’s preference for clean-shaven faces vs. stubble vs. full beards varies by time and country. For example currently, Polish women prefer clean-shaven faces, while women from the United Kingdom prefer light stubble. The facial hair worn by male romantic leads in films like Hallmark romance movies tends to vary over time and season. Overall, the Polish research indicates that women care a lot less about men’s facial hair than men think they do. Facial hair is mostly a masculine concern it seems.
I’ve never tried growing a moustache or beard and while growing up, I never had much contact with people who wore moustaches, much less beards. My best friend’s father and the mayor of our town both had moustaches. They were known for their service in the war and I wondered if that military connection with moustaches was still a factor back then. The priest at the local Polish Catholic Church and an old man who was a friend of my father’s, referred to only as “The Baker,” were the only two adults I knew who always wore beards. My father briefly grew a beard for a few months in the late 1960s, when our town was celebrating its centennial. He unwisely decided to shave his head at the same time. I think he believed that it would grow back in darker and thicker —a nother theory disproven, like the theory that growing a beard will make you lose your hair.
If you have grown a quarantine beard this year or are participating in Movember or No-Shave November, I hope it all goes well for you. If my father had known that Guinness drinkers with moustaches waste an estimated 162,719 pints a year just from trapping beer in their facial hair, he would never have attempted it.