Long, long before beards were either returned to fashionability or considered the topic for memes and manias of any modern sort, there were many cycles of similarly obsessive and extensive motivations for—and against—facial hair. Formidable schoolmistresses, pretend feminine mates for closeted men, and prickly maiden aunts notwithstanding, the majority of these trends applied generally only the male of the human hominids. It’s amazing, no matter what era one would choose to examine in this regard (excepting, perhaps, the days before shaving was discovered), how much political, religious, tactical, emotional, social, and spiritual power facial hair—its shape and size and location—has, for good or ill.
I’m not necessarily fixed in one camp or another about beards, mustaches, or sideburns. Since they have no moral value in my life, my critique of facial hair has to do with strictly logistical matters, like how much of a day is devoted to grooming and admiring one’s own set of whiskers, or possibly to hygienic matters, like how much of a person’s lunch enters into and remains attached to the hair, regardless of where on the head it is located. And I’m definitely prejudiced with regard to matters of my personal taste, if pressed to choose. Unless I know of or can guess at some imperative guiding a man’s choice in the whether, why, and how, like his subscribing to a religious orthodoxy that dictates it, I am inclined to regard facial hair as a fashion statement, and therefore to be liked or disliked on the basis of whether it seems to me to suit the fellow’s appearance.
Johannes Brahms’s luxuriant beard would undoubtedly look odd, if not weirdly wrong, to me on some younger celebrities of the present time, just as Jamie Foxx’s sleekly tailored goatee would hardly have suited a big, wild-haired guy like Herr Brahms, even if it’d been fashionable in his day. I am attracted mostly to people who look thoughtfully and well put-together, from their hairstyles to their dress and deportment, but perhaps even more so to people who look like their ‘look’ really suits them. So while I was not, shall we say, a huge fan of my late great-aunt’s bristling brows or prominent mustache, which though they were not as impressive as, say, Mark Twain’s, did remind me of him at times, I knew that not only did I actually admire those accoutrements on said author, but accepted that, given her life and unselfconsciously plain attitudes, they pretty much suited Tante Anna as well.
Still, I am biased by physiological expectations enough to prefer heavier facial hair to be located on male specimens, and even then, generally to have a certain sense of purpose and care attached to them. My spouse sported a cleanly shaped mustache and goatee when we were first together and for some years thereafter, and since it didn’t in any way affect his handsomeness, let alone his kissing skills, I had no objection either to the days of his sporting that look or to the time when he shaved not only those off but his entire head of hair as well. It turned out, in his case, that his facial hair was already so light-colored that in fact very few people noticed when he shaved it all off, and if they saw any effect they were inclined to comment that he seemed to look younger to them lately, for some reason. Which says to me that if it took any greater effort to maintain the grooming of the facial hair than it did to shave it off daily, he was better served by saving the time and labor. It also happened that I found him just as attractive, if not even more so, when he went for the all-shaven look, so there’s that.
But I didn’t entirely share my little sisters’ horror of beards to the degree that when Dad showed up sporting one after a canoeing trip with colleagues in our youth, one ran crying from the room and wouldn’t come back to greet the returning pater, and the other gravely announced that if Dad died before he shaved the offending item off his face, she wouldn’t attend his funeral. He was amused, but in a very short time reappeared with the beard gone. I think he kept the mustache for some time without incurring such severe filial censure, but most of the rest of his life he’s remained a clean-shaven man. As for others, I can take or leave the beards. I’m not insistent on them being worn, or even necessarily tidily trimmed, as long as they seem right on their respective faces. And I’m not convinced that the wearing of them is necessary, either, for the winning of sporting events, luring of mates, intimidation of un-bearded persons, or any other purpose except perhaps keeping an otherwise not fur-bearing creature from freezing in lieu of borrowing another creature’s pelt in the Arctic. But that’s another day’s post entirely, I suspect.