Bearded Is the New Black: Defending Facial Hair

Grizzly is as in as it was in 1884, but there’s a time, place, and face for it.

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Photo: pxhere

Six years ago, a reader of my old blog Theme for Great Cities called me out on Facebook for criticizing the male celebrities at the 2014 Academy Awards who didn’t shave before putting on their tuxes. His words:

“Facial hair on men is a natural feature and looks fine when properly groomed. Hatred of a natural feature of the male body is irrational, Jeremy.”

It was hard to argue with him then, and it’s even harder now. (Though I wonder where he stands on hatred of that natural feature on the female body.) In the years since I wrote my screed against facial hair, beards have become almost compulsory in and outside of the hipster crowd.

They also have gotten longer and bushier. Thankfully, goatees are still mostly out, and the moustache is gradually coming back around to “fashionable,” even in months that aren’t November.

How I feel about the evolution of beards depends on a lot of things: my mood, the setting, and, of course, the men wearing them. The looks of some guys actually improve with facial fuzz, which, for many of them, is the entire point. A five o’clock shadow might enhance their bone structure, or perhaps they wear a beard to hide a chin that slants rather than curves. That’s perfectly acceptable.

Some black men do it to cover up bumpy facial terrain that’s left that way by post-shave ingrown hairs. Before I discovered Tend Skin, the magic potion that helped me virtually conquer my own razor bumps, I tried the bearded look myself, sometimes for months at a time. Even now, if it weren’t for all the grey in my five o’clock shadow, I might contemplate going kind of bushy again.

Certain men may grow beards in order to make themselves appear more masculine. I have no hard proof of this, but I suspect this plays into the proliferation of furry-faced guys in the gay community after decades of metrosexual smoothness.

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Facial hair in 1884 (Photo: United States Library of Congress’s Prints & Photographs Division)

Beards are to the 2010s on what the moustache was to the 1970s Village People era, and what both beards and moustaches previously were to the late 1800s. Whether you love or loathe them is a matter of personal taste. I’ve always regarded the bearded look the way I do green: It’s not for everyone.

Regardless of the specifics behind why a man chooses to go bearded — to hide some facial flaw(s), to join the ever-growing trend, or because he just hates to shave — a little grooming goes a long way. A lot goes even farther. There is, after all, a difference between growing a beard and simply not shaving.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of “groom” that has nothing to do with weddings is 1) to clean and care for (an animal), 2) to make (someone) neat and attractive, 3) to make (something) neat, smooth, or attractive.”

By that very definition, the men I mentioned in that Oscars blog post would not have qualified as being particularly groomed as far as facial hair was concerned. I find fashion commentary to be boring and useless in general, and I loathe the red-carpet fashion police/style Nazis, but unless you have to stay hairy for a role, shaving for a formal event (or at least trimming up) says, “I cared enough to make an effort,” just as much as putting on a tuxedo does.

I’ve eased up on the grooming requirement since that blog post. Now I think unruly beards can be hot. Some guys even look better with them. In the end, it really depends on the guy underneath all the hair.

Love and beards

When I met my husband Jayden 10 years ago, he was more or less clean-shaven. Shortly afterwards, he started letting his facial hair grow out. The transition was so gradual, I didn’t even notice that he was doing it until a few months later, when he shaved it all off.

As he sat across the dining room table from me that night, explaining how his face felt naked and how he needed something to camouflage what he called his “weak” chin, I couldn’t believe how different he looked. He was still gorgeous as hell, but I secretly couldn’t wait for the hair to grow back.

The first time ever I saw his face, it was smooth, but I’d subconsciously gotten used to it being stubbly. Even though I’d met him without facial hair, I’d become so accustomed to it that when he was once again clean-shaven, it felt less like déjà vu and more like a first date.

Even though I’d met him without facial hair, I’d become so accustomed to him being stubbly that when he was once again clean-shaven, it felt less like déjà vu and more like a first date.

Eventually, the beard grew back, and for the next year or so, he kept it relatively short — a happy visual medium between stubbly and grizzly. After his eyes, eyebrows, and nose, it was my favorite feature on his face. We never went to the Oscars or to any other formal event, so there was never any occasion for him to consider shaving it off completely, or over-manicuring it old-school George Michael-style.

I didn’t see Jayden for nearly a year after we broke up the first time, and when we met again, he had put on several kilos worth of hair — on top of his head and all over his face. From the nose down, he was sporting a full forest. It may have been an acquired taste for some, but for me, those killer green eyes went with everything.

I wondered what the story was behind the complete metamorphosis but didn’t ask. Maybe he was trying to appear older than his then-24 years. Or perhaps he just couldn’t be bothered to shave. I assumed it had to be purely a fashion choice.

I was so smitten with him that I didn’t care anyway. I wasn’t any less attracted to him than I had been the day we met or the day we broke up. Had his beard been dragging on the floor, we probably would have stumbled back into our old pattern anyway, shagginess be damned. Alas, that first re-connection didn’t last long enough for me to get the story behind his hair evolution.

During the six years that I didn’t see Jayden before our 2019 re-connection, when I pictured him (which was pretty much every day), he was sometimes grizzly and sometimes cleaner-shaven. Either way, my stomach flipped and my heart skipped a few beats.

The man in the mirror

So no, I don’t have an “irrational” hatred of facial hair on men. It’s completely circumstantial, dependent on the guy and the grooming.

And we all know how arbitrary attraction and non-attraction can be. I once met a man from Zimbabwe who spent five minutes complaining about guys with unruly underarm hair. It felt a bit extreme to me, but to each his own, right?

If we all were perfectly willing to accept hair in all the places where it grows naturally, “manscaping” wouldn’t be a thing and neither would waxing, sugaring, electrolysis, laser removal, and even hair cuts. But does shaving one’s chest equal a hatred of body hair, or is it merely a way to display the results of a strict gym regimen without hair obstructing the view?

Does shaving one’s chest equal a hatred of body hair, or is it merely a way to display the results of a strict gym regimen without hair obstructing the view?

What about those who prefer a smooth hard body to a sexy naturally hairy one? Do they hate body hair, or do they just prefer one thing over another?

I’ve never taken the time to notice a man’s underarm hair, much less complain about it, but I shave my chest once a week. I do this for my own benefit. I like how it looks smooth, and I also like how it looks with hair growth of one week only covering it.

That, however, is not necessarily what I find attractive on others. I prefer my men a little on the tousled side (like Jayden), so in everyday life, unplucked isn’t a bad thing. Step away from the tweezers, please.

But I do stand by my 2014 Oscars observation, which in no way endorsed a hatred of facial fair or any other kind of body hair. There’s a time and a place to let it grow over the cheeks and under the chin, and it’s not when or where you’re wearing a tux.

Red-carpet and wedding photos are forever, and on February 9, when Brad Pitt heads to the podium to collect his best supporting actor Oscar for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, I want to see as much of his still-beautiful face as possible.

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa”

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