Wednesday, October 13, 2010

It's more than a beard

I'm about two weeks in and I'm digging the beginnings of my beard and for more than the appearance. It seems the beard on men has a long, but often sporadic, history. It's been linked to intellectuals and crazies, sometimes they are the same person. It has been used as a phrase for disguising oneself, either one's sexuality or an affair. But, my intentions are no disguise at all. If anything what began as a unity gesture with my favorite baseball team has evolved into a deeper societal message.

 In the 1960's the hippies re-introduced the beard. It had been hiding from society from the early 1900's, through the roaring 20's, our depressed 30's, our World War II fighting 40's, and finally through our "I Love Lucy and My Three Sons" 1950's. It was a revolution after all: Down with the man. The man being society, the corporations, and the government that was initiating Vietnam. It was the culture, free-spirited, marijuana smoking, enlightened, fighting against perceived injustices. There was free love, Woodstock, and iconic music as social policies were being pushed by demonstrations and collective voices for singular causes. It became synonymous with outsider and hippies. Eventually mainstream musicians and actors supportive of those views began their own beard growing as well, but if you look before 1960 you'll be looking for a while.

The first president to sport the beard was Abraham Lincoln, and it was during that time that the beard became linked to intelligence again. Many intellectuals of the time began growing beards. It no longer was rustic though Lincoln had started growing his beard only in 1960 at the request of an 11-year old girl Grace Bedell who wrote to him telling him his face was too thin and that he would win the Presidency if he grew one. Lincoln who had always been clean shaven won the White House and then obliged. His elaborate words and eloquence was added a dose of ruggedness and rural appeal that he had lacked before. Now his image is linked forever to his beard even though he only wore it the last three years of his life in office.

Before Lincoln you would have to go back even further. The most famous beard before Lincoln belonged to one of the world's most menacing pirates Blackbeard in the late 1600's and early 1700's. Before Blackbeard you would have to go back to the Middle Ages and even further to ancient Greece. There the beard was a symbol of the greatest ancient minds: Socrates and Plato. In the movie 300 about Sparta and the men who fought against the Persian Empire in the Battle of Thermopylae some of the men in the film wore beards, including King Leonidas, and yet some did not. But in fact all of the soldiers then would have likely worn beards, as punishment for cowardice the Spartans would shave a man's beard.

King Leonidas in 300
Nowadays we only see beards on television during the playoffs. The San Francisco Giants Brian Wilson's dark beard has brought forth the catch phrase "Fear the Beard". And with his crazy eyes and personality Wilson carries the persona well. I started growing my beard in the same spirit of the playoffs. Then as I walked around the Ashland SOU campus and saw the same counter-culture from the late 1960's and early 70's I realized my beard served a higher purpose. It isn't going to be grown in solidarity with a sports team (well..maybe a little), nor am I going to grow it to fight "the man" i.e. corporations, though that would be a valid fight. Nope, I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about women and relationships, about men and society.

I've noticed a lot more women on my Facebook, on television, and everywhere that are no longer into men exclusively or in some cases at all. Some of them are younger and some are not, but it made me think about the way our society has been in the last twenty, thirty years. I don't fault anyone for their sexual preference, and truthfully when given a choice between an emasculated feminized male and a female I understand why women would go with the female version. It's the true version. We've lived in a pretty boy society for the last twenty years. Men have become metro-sexual. Men are more in touch with their feelings. Men are taking more care of their hair and their attire. Some men get manicures. Men are more concerned with their six-pack then ever. They aspire to be the "Situation" or Zack Efron instead of themselves. They've become too concerned with being beautiful themselves then actually appreciating how incredibly beautiful women are. It's no wonder we see more women going bi, or saying bye-bye to men. Men have been making that trip from themselves for the last couple of decades.

I am going to grow my beard because society says that it is not attractive. Because society says it is not polished, that I should look more smooth, more shaven, more feminine. I'm not in competition with women. They will always win based on looks, and I'm grateful for it. It's not about the appearance, it's more than that. I promise that I will not shave it for appearance reasons, but it can be kind of uncomfortable and I'm really only in week two. I imagine it's gonna get worse, but I'll persevere. Of course if a beautiful woman pops into my life and tells me to shave..all bets are off.


  1. A really awesome read that I just so happened to stumble upon.
    I have to say Jon, I am proud of you. I'm a big fan of those who challenge society and what it deems to be "acceptable." I just so happen to be a big fan of beards and I am in fact a woman.
    So cheers to you Jon and your beard growing adventures. May the beautiful woman that "pops" into your life appreciate your beard for it's aid to your manliness and may she be proud of the stance you are taking against this "norm."

    Take care. And thanks for your wonderful post.

  2. Ummmm, I think beards are totally sexy. Where did you get from society that beards are not attractive?