Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Movember, and Facial Hair.

Karl Marx.  Political ideologies notwithstanding, the man had a remarkable beard.  Source.

It is halfway through the month of "Movember", where men raise awareness (and funds via sponsorship), for prostate cancer by starting November 1st clean shaven, and then growing a moustache for the rest of the month.  My understanding is that this practise started in Australia, and became somewhat of a viral phenomenon.  I must say that it is an interesting way of raising awareness of a male-specific problem in a way that only men can.  However, I have realised that I have very strong (and somewhat irrational) feelings regarding the practise.  I wish to write as much to elicit responses as explore my own feelings on the matter.


While I fully support raising funds and awareness for cancer research, I will say that my problem with this practise is that most men growing moustaches do so for the novelty of a moustache.  Very few men shave off a moustache or beard in order to participate, most are usually clean-shaven all the time.  In this way, the idea of facial hair is trivialised.  It is only to be paraded out when there is a need for it, whereas otherwise it is kept hidden and is considered a bother.

In the interest of full disclosure, I myself am a bearded-Canadian, and probably biased.  I decided after shaving my mutton chops three summers ago that:
1) I look silly and awkward without facial hair,
2) Not having facial hair when winter strikes is terrible, and
3) I would try my best to never be bald-faced again.
I will also note that my father has had a beard for the duration of my life and that my paternal grandfather would never be caught without a moustache.

Having said this, I have heard many a reason not to have a beard.  Men complain that a beard is itchy.  This is indeed true, but only for a period of roughly a week while growing a beard.  I personally call this the "itchy phase" (not academically verified, but universally supported when consulting with bearded men), and it is the reason that many men do not have a beard.  Women will also complain that a beard hurts their skin when kissing a partner.  Again this is true for shorter beard lengths, and is like any bodily hair in that short hairs are prickly/rigid, but longer hair is not.

Of course, my dearest monocled, non-spambot reader, you may wonder why women so frequently encounter stubble.  Psychology may have an answer, as outlined in Scientific American Mind on Sept. 23, 2011.  You see,  women are subconsciously drawn to men who can grow a beard.  The problem is that women also judge bearded men as aggressive, which is not a desirable quality in a child's caregiver.  Therefore, men with stubble are consistently rated as more desirable/attractive than their bearded and clean shaven brethren.  It would then logically follow that stubbly gentlemen are more likely to prickle women, and thus women are more averse to facial hair than is fair.

I will also state that in cold Canadian winters, a beard is of great utilitarian value.  Once the temperatures drop and the winds pick up, many people will wrap their face in a scarf.  Beards and other forms of facial hair accomplish the same thing without the need for external support.  My significant other noticed this phenomenon after touching my face when I had come inside after a very cold walk home.  Skin temperature is dramatically warmer under a beard than unprotected.

Paul Mara sporting a playoff beard with the New York Rangers.  Source.

Beards are also grown as "playoff beards" for fans of the sporting world.  A fan will grow a beard for the duration of a team's playoff run, and shave when the team either wins a title, or is eliminated from competition.  While reading an article on the practise (I cannot recall the name of the author), I read an interesting thesis.  The author claimed that the beard was the last bastion of masculinity in today's world, in that it was the only thing that a man could do that a woman could not.  While some women do indeed grow some facial hair, the growing of an entire beard by a woman is usually only accomplished after some sort of hormonal therapy after which the gender of the person in question is no longer technically female.

It is often speculated that the men of western civilisations are becoming neutered.  This is in fact the central premise of the television show "Man Up!", and is also the thesis of an increasing number of songs in popular culture.  I am not sure that it is a problem that men spend an increasing amount of money on cosmetics, or that they pay more attention to their appearance.  However, I feel that the discouragement of growing facial hair is roughly equivalent to demanding women bind their breasts so as to minimise the appearance of femininity.  It is a physical reality of the gender, and I do not think that significant effort should be expended in controlling either phenomena.

These things in mind, I keep a beard.  It is useful, and it is not something that all people, let alone all men can do.  To end this caffeine-fuelled case of mad typing, I will leave you with the attitude of my grandfather towards his moustache.  In the winter he kept a beard, but you would never see him without a moustache.  During the last hospitalisation of his life, my grandfather was kept in a coma.  In order to fit an oxygen mask properly on him, the nurses told him that they would be shaving his face.  When he heard this statement, he opened his eyes, and slowly and deliberately uttered the last words he would ever speak:

"Not the moustache."



Edit: -ed to include notes on psychology and stubble after the caffeine wore off.  I will also leave the following YouTube video for my bearded brothers:

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