What’s in a beard?

So, I want to talk about something that causes a rift amongst human beings. A massive rift. Namely: are beards a good thing or not? Now, before women readers totally switch off at this popint, bear with me because this post is about so much more than the growth of facial hair.

I imagine in days of yore it wasn’t like there was much choice regarding beards for us men, as razors either hadn’t been invented or were too expensive for the common man to afford. For myself, I’ve experimented at various junctures in the past but, most recently, I decided to forgo the daily ritual of shaving. Why? To be honest, was getting sick of the time-consuming nature of it. It was just one more thing I had to do before I could get on with the day proper. You know, brush teeth, shower, get dressed etc. etc. I also got hooked with the notion that I’d like to see how long I could grow a beard. Could I get it as long as Patrick Rothfuss? Would I be able to stroke it sagely like he does, whilst expounding on deep and meaningful subjects? Would it have a grey-white streak down the middle?

Well, after about a month or so of abstaining from the razor, this is what it looks like:

Now, I can’t claim to be a ‘vision of loveliness,’ as my late father was so wont to say, but I’ve certainly saved a bit of time in the morning. What’s more, not shaving has helped the environment. I’m not consuming electricity or one-use plastic razors. So there is that – albeit to a small degree. But has it added anything to my wellbeing?

I wonder whether other authors went through similar musings. I soon discovered I was in good company. Here are some before and after shots of Stephen King, for example (or is that after and before?)

And what about Clive Barker?

Both authors have been massive influences on my writing. Might their examples have subliminally impressed themselves on my consciousness? But if you really want to see beards at their longest, you have to delve into the fantasy genre. Maybe it’s that such authors have a secret desire to be a sorcerer or wizard. Just take a look at Patrick Rothfuss and George R.R. Martin:

Like I said before, this rambling monologue has another layer. Do we look to change our features because we’re concerned about how we appear to ourselves – or to others? I like to think I’m not so vain as to worry about how others perceive me, but am I lying to myself? If so – to what extent?

Not all animals can immediately recognize themselves in a mirror. Great apes, dolphins, Asian elephants, and Eurasian magpies can all do this. Apparently, it is a key test of ‘sapience.’ In other words, how self-aware an animal is. The way this is tested involves placing a coloured, odourless mark on an animal where it can’t see it, usually the head or shoulder. If the animal looks in the mirror and spontaneously rubs the mark, it passes the exam. Successful species are said to understand the concept of “self” versus “other.”

There is much written today about pressures that society brings to bear on women to look wonderfully glamorous at all times and at all ages. Hell, whole industries are based on, and promote this notion – often with catastrophic consequences. It is claimed that men never have to bear the burden of worrying about staving off the ravages of age as their worth is not measured by society in terms of their looks. Clearly, this is not a good thing to my mind. In light of these vexing questions, should I even be getting so wrapped up in this topic? I’m certainly very privileged not to have to be massively worried about the consequences of my appearance. Maybe by wrestling with these questions, however, it helps inform my writing; to the extent that I can reflect, empathise, and hopefully paint realistic characters from the multifarious spectrum of genders/sexes.

I can’t claim to have all (or indeed any) of the answers, but I shall certainly keep asking the questions.

What do you think, Connoisseurs of Chaos? It would be interesting to hear your views, however you identify.

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