Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Beardies of the world, unite! What’s so wrong with face fur, anyway?

The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon has written about our hatred of beards. Not a particularly fascinating subject to most of you – but it’s of more than passing interest to those of us who’ve sporting one, without interruption, for almost a quarter of a century. 

Apparently a BBC Breakfast presenter, Richard Westcott (no, neither have I) returned from holiday sporting one the other day, only to shave it off folloowing hundreds of viewer complaints (it was called everything from  “disgraceful” to “dirty”).

I haven’t the foggiest why anyone would react so strongly to a bearded TV presenter (news reporters and correspondents never wear them, either). And I have no idea why – as long as they’re trimmed – they’re considered “dirty”. Would complainers have felt the same way about George V or Edward VII?  As for politicians – has anyone since Labour Cabinet member, Frank Dobson, sported one? (When Donson ran for London Mayor, his advisers told him to get rid of it, as people found beards “untrustworthy” – whereas I’m pretty sure voters turned against him because they found his backer, clean-shaven Tony Blair, untrustworthy). 

Besides, what is untrustworthy about a beard, for goodness sake! 

(Maybe the fact that “Lord” Alan Sugar and “Sir” Richard Branson are both beardsters has made them so rampantly unfashionable - perhaps I should email them and ask them to shave.)

But I’m not sure it isn’t really the fault of Mrs. Thatcher, who loathed beards and declared them  persona non grata in her Cabinet(s). 

Now, I’ll admit that not all beards are acceptable. There’s something creepy about long, straggly, unkempt, bushy ones which hang way below the collar (think ZZ Top, Osama bin Laden or the Archbishop of Canterbury).   Goatees, or those ridiculously skinny sculpted ones favoured by the likes of George Michael, are equally irritating: these people spend too much time thinking about their appearance – and still manage to get it completely wrong. 

A beard without a moustache is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord – it makes you think “loony”, “dork” or “religious nutter” (with “raving bore” not far behind). And designer stubble is immensely annoying, because it’s meant to send a message about the wearer – I’m cool, carefree, relaxed, hip, now, happening, creative, unconventional and, know what? – a bit of rebel! And beards grown by people who can’t quite manage it yet (or ever) are distinctly unprepossessing – it makes one wonder how they’re faring elsewhere, i.e. are they in need of a merkin? And when people who aren’t redheads discover that their beards are red, they really should pause for a rethink (yes, I’m looking at you, Mark Thompson).

But your standard, minimally-sculpted, neatish, normal-coloured, non-statemental beard - well, what could possibly be wrong with that? If you have a face like a football, or you’re rapidly balding, or covered in ancient acne scars, or have a double chin or two, or just want to add a bit of definition – why not cover up in the way Nature intended? Many men look better with beards than without – why should we be denied this harmless method of making ourselves slightly less unattractive?

I began to grow a beard in my early twenties, after shaving began irritating my skin (in fact, after having managed to get through my teenage years without a single spot, I developed adult acne – Gee, thanks!). Luckily I managed a vaguely convincing growth (although my brother, who took about a week to cultivate the full “Werewolf”, maintained that it looked as though it had been stuck on with glue - jealous, I guess): it was about one step up from those pathetically whispy, bumfluff affairs sported by many young, fair-haired Nordics during the Hippie era. After a couple of years, mine settled down and began to look less like an afterthought. Not only did it halt my acne in its tracks, it also managed – without any form of shaping – to mask my face’s natural lunar outline.

I’ve never seen a reason to revisit my original decision to grow a beard – I don’t imagine it’s ever stopped me getting a job, or being promoted, or made me any less attractive to women than I already am. I don’t notice strangers eyeing my chin with disgust, or moving to another seat on the Tube to remove it from their eyeline, or hear them throwing up after they’ve passed me in the street. As I only have to trim it every two weeks or so, it takes a lot less time than daily shaving – and it used to leave  more time for reading the morning newspaper before heading for work. 

QI panellist Alan Davies once pointed out that everybody who now appears in online porn – men and women - has had all their body hair removed. Purely in the interests of research, I checked this out: he was right! Why? When did body hair become an impediment to sexual arousal? (Whatever, I’m keeping my beard – and everything else – so I guess I’ll just have to turn down all those offers of starring roles in “adult” pictures.)

I’ve long worried about my lack of victimhood status: but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Taking umbrage at Western society’s rampant beardism could prove my only real opportunity of joining the ranks of the oppressed. A victim at last!


  1. The difference between the photo at the top of the blog and the one of the youthfully barbellate Gronners shows impressive progress in the facial hair department over the years. Gadhaffi has been trying to grow a decent beard for over 30 years and still can't get there. The failure has evidently driven him mad.

    The worst beard of all is the one I call The Topiarist. You see them on metrosexual trendies - an ode to vanity, lovingly plucked and shaped, every line straight like a lawn mown by a geometry professor - who must take twice as long in front of the mirror each morning than I do shaving.
    Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 12:59 PM

  2. And as you ask, yes. I did once. At age 23 I spent most of the year in hospital and didn't shave. I ended up looking like a Romanov from central casting and friends didn't recognise me. I then fashioned it into a goatee and turned into a French Marxist, not the look I was aiming for. That left a moustache, which lasted until a camp barman in Gordon's Wine Bar said it made me look 'lovely like that Eddie Shoestring on the telly'.

    Since then, I have shaved every day.
    Thursday, March 17, 2011 - 01:20 PM

  3. Yes, it’s odd about Gaddafi – most of the Arabs I know can produce a full Werewolf between breakfast and lunch. We probably need Dr House and his team to identify the condition that results in a lush head of hair, an inability to grow a proper beard, chronic flatulence (according to John Simpson and his sound recordist), and mass slaughter. Perhaps his gonads are the size of processed peas. Mind you I once had a boss – mid-thirties - who admitted he only needed to shave every couple of weeks (“I could practically towel it off,” as he put it). Englishman, straight and averagely aggressive, so I’m pretty sure beard production levels have nothing to do with hormone levels.

    I think your “Topiarist” is the same as my “George Michael” – i.e. the kind only ever worn by chronic narcissists: it’s the ones who spend a lot of time shaping the triangle of hair immediately beneath the lower lip who really worry me.

    As you can obviously produce an effulgent growth at will, Ex-KCS, I bet you’re tempted to recreate a Romanov when you retire to Dun Roamin’.

    As for wearing a moustache on its own, even Chiswick’s large gay community appear to have eschewed that particular habit, along with leather jackets and walking hand in hand – all signs, I assume, of confidence that they no longer have to make a point about their sexuality.

    And, Crikey, you really have been through the health wars in your time – I will stop complaining about my petty problems!
    Saturday, March 19, 2011 - 05:30 PM

  4. Re facial hair, can I put in a word for Nietzsche's magnificent moustache and the eyebrows of Konstantinos Karamanlis and Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev
    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 - 11:48 AM