When it comes to growing of facial hair, not every man has the courage to appear in a different face. So, whether you spot a full blown beard, shape-up or a piece on the chin, it is a meticulous rite of choice for most men.
A beard-related study conducted by Behavioral Ecology Magazine found that of women with minimal pop culture exposure, the majority preferred men with full face of hair less attractive. However, this same group of women also perceived bearded men as commanding respect and being powerful than clean-shaven men.
A richer sense of the topic has been chronicled in a book: “Of Beard and Men,” which gives an amazing account between love and hate relationship with facial hair. The book authored by Christopher Oldstone-Moore, a historian at Wright State University in Ohio was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, January 28, 2016 Edition).
Those who chose to shave, or not to shave, are not simply opting for a look that pleases them, Mr. Oldstone-Moore writes. They are shaped by “seismic shifts dictated by deeper social forces that shape and reshape ideals of manliness.”
He presents a revelation of beard knowledge, way back to the dawn of humanity, when beards evolved “because our prehistoric female ancestors liked them.” A bushy face was also seen as a weapon to demoralize adversaries. He pointed to a divine mandate for beards in Leviticus and Deuteronomy in the Bible, as well as in ancient Greek where popular prejudice against clean-shaved men was considered effeminate.
A new era during the reign of Alexander the Great, with self-adoration, asserted that his shaved face presented “an otherworldly image of ageless perfection.” The author also stated the dignity associated with beards, so much that it was sometimes grafted on faces previously portrayed as hairless. He cited the image of “Jesus of Nazareth,” according to Mr. Oldstone-Moore, “even though the Good shepherd was initially portrayed with a bare face, the church fathers eventually adopted a positive view of facial hair as part of their assertion of a male-dominated gender order.”
He recalled the persecution of some bearded minorities in the medieval era. The University of Paris, Mr. Oldstone-Moore tells us, banned long-bearded men from lecture halls in 1533, and later the city’s chief court outlawed beards on judges and advocates. In the same spirit of the so-called Enlightenment, Peter the Great of Russia proclaimed a ban on his bearded subjects, whom he considered an impediment to modernization, and even levied a beard tax.
Mr. Oldstone-Moore also honors some unshaved eminences, such as Karl Max and Abraham Lincoln. The later was inspired to beard-up when 11-year old Grace Bedell informed him that women with bearded spouses “would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be president.”
While beards were popular in Lincoln’s day, there were critics, too, who called for beards to be forbidden by the police. A well known critic, philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer in 1851 argued that “beard is a sexual symbol in the middle of the face, and obscene: that is why it pleases women.” The author cited the medical magazine – Lancet – reports that “clean-shaven men were less likely to suffer from colds.” He also recounted that by 1915 the Los Angeles Police Department wouldn’t promote any man with a beard.
Mr. Oldstone-Moore even reflected on the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Kelly v. Johnson) upholding that “Americans do not have a legal right to grow beards or moustaches as they choose” if their employer demands a clean face.
He also added that, “scientific studies show that contemporary women prefer men with stubble, which signals the maturity and masculinity to grow a beard but allows the pretty face to shine through.” The best of both worlds!