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Beards: The Mask of Masculinity

In recent times, it has become more than noticeable that facial hair has crept its way ‘back into fashion.’ This is not to say that having facial hair was ever considered bad, but rather that more & more men nowadays seem to be abandoning the fresh-faced, clean-shaven look and growing a solid beard.

This category of people can comprise of colleagues from your workplace to big celebrities such as David Beckham, George Clooney and Leonardo Di Caprio. However, as to why this trend is back has left everyone puzzled but there might be a possible explanation to this phenomenon.

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This trend, however, is not necessarily a modern one. Men used to be virtually clean-shaven in the 18th century and “The face of the enlightened gentleman was smooth, his face youthful and his countenance clear, suggesting a mind that was also open,” says Alan Withey, a historian at the University of Exeter. He then further explains that towards the 1890’s beards became incredibly popular as Indian and other Asian cultures considered beards to symbolize wisdom & power.

But nowadays wisdom and power are not the associations that men seek beards for. For instance, Lynx conducted a survey recently that looked to assess men’s attitudes towards beards, and 73% of the men asserted that they thought it made them appear more ‘manly,’ aggressive and attractive.

The sudden urge to grow a beard may even be rationalized through Darwinian selection. According to a study published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, it is suggested that the more beards that there are, the less attractive they become and visa versa. The experiment where both men and women were requested to rate different faces that had four levels of beardedness seemed to reveal one clear justification. It revealed that having a beard or clean-shaven face was more appealing when they used to be rare.

So in that sense, as beards started to become a rarity, more and more men desired to “stand out” from the crowd. This is reflective of evolutionary phenomenon also known as “negative frequency-dependent sexual selection.” Or in other words of how the researchers explained this, “an advantage to rare traits.” There are some individuals out there who lack the genes to grow a beard are actually willing to spend $14000 on beard transplants. Yes, beard transplants actually exist. According to recent reports, the procedure of getting beard transplants has increased six-fold in the last five years.

Furthermore, if we look more in-depth at evolutionary science, intersexual selection may be taking place. Darwin referred to intersexual selection as ‘female choice’ as they tend to be more selective of their mate choices than their counter parts. To them, facial features can be viewed as characteristics that advertise health and fertility. An important factor that females take into consideration while rating male faces is sexual dimorphism, which in other words, is the degree of masculinity expressed through various facial features. More masculinized facial features are associated as being an honest indicator of good genes for females. Hence, ratings of attractiveness also seem to correlate with the sense of masculinity that they feel a male is giving off.

According to a study conducted by Neave & Shields, established psychologists, they set out to unravel the perceptions of females after systematic alterations of a male’s face with facial hair were created. These alterations consisted of five levels; clean-shaven, light stubble, heavy stubble, light beard and full beard that were all constructed through FACES software. 15 faces were presented to 60 women and were requested to rate them on various attributes.

Light stubble was considered to be the most attractive on males and was also preferred for short- and long-term relationships. To no surprise, male faces displaying a solid beard were considered the most masculine, aggressive, and socially mature whereas those with a light beard were regarded as most dominant. It is safe to stay that beards appear to symbolize something to the female eye, which perhaps explains why today beards are being seen more often than not.

As these studies have demonstrated, beards are largely associated with being more masculine, mature, dominant, and aggressive, which are social perceptions that may lead to men with beards to be more readily willing to adopt the attitudes that exemplify these associations. For instance, men with beards in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, were interviewed and when asked, “why did you decide to grow a beard?” they gave such responses, “it makes me feel more dominant. I play a lot of contact sports such as rugby, and having a beard can be used a tool for intimidation, because you know, it makes you look more aggressive and as a rugby player that is a perception that you want to give off to the other team.” Another said, “It gives me sense of maturity. I remember as a kid I had a tough time to grow any facial hair, but as an adult I am able to and see it as something that displays maturity.”

Beards have made a comeback and this is mostly because more and more people seem to understand the associations that are made with beards. Quite simply, the associations that are made in modern society with beards are the reason why it’s coming back in style.

In an environment where almost any profession seems to be competitive in today’s society, having a beard gives some people the feeling of being dominant, aggressive, masculine, and in charge, which is an understandable reason to grow a beard.

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Beards are like putting on a mask of masculinity.

By Yashendra

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