I'm sure it's no surprise to anyone who's ever spoken to me when I profess my love of beards. I love beards.
That may seem like an odd admission (or maybe not), but it's true. I've worn one for the entirety of my adult life and always admired other men that have the fortitude to stand apart from the clean-shaven metrosexual masses and decline to scrape a part of their face off every day. It's part fashion statement, part declaration of personal independence and part expression of manliness.
So why are beards so awesome? For me there are a few things that a beard does/can represent. As a secondary male sexual characteristic it is by nature a masculine trait. That's not to say that it is a requirement of masculinity - I know a couple of guys who can't grow a decent beard who are indisputably manly - but it is an inherently manly thing. It is counter-cultural, the vast majority of men go clean-shaven and despite the fashionable resurgence of a particular style every now and again this trend does not waver in recent times. Beards are however ubiquitous in a number of subcultures, for example 'metal' music or the stereotypical biker. Whatever way you paint it, a man with a beard is a man who has elected to portray an image that defies the norm. It is also indicative of sexual identity, particularly amongst gay men where subcultures are often quite distinct and often near-exclusive. A gay man will assume the image of those things he admires in a partner - something largely impossible between heterosexual lovers.
The picture I currently use for my avatar here is a relatively old photo. It's from sometime around March if my memory serves. I carved the 'friendly mutton chops' in mid january to a wholly positive reception among my circle of friends and work colleagues. I have to say I was expecting a more mixed reaction or at least a few jibes. I was pleasantly surprised. It's a style I had wanted to try for longer than I can remember (along with the horseshoe moustache) and had never really had the courage for previously.
I was fairly shy and reserved as a teenager and even into my twenties. I stuck to 'safe' styles such as the circle beard (often mistakenly termed a goatee) or a short full beard. It's only in recent years that I've felt confident enough in myself to be a little more adventurous. The people around me all attribute beardedness to part of my identity, and now I'm comfortable with that, rather than it being something I chose to do that I would prefer other people to accept without really acknowledging it. I guess that in some ways I've always been unconcerned if people disapprove, but had difficulty addressing that particular social confrontation, so I stuck with those things less likely to garner attention.
None the less, beardedness seems to divide society somewhat. I've encountered few people who occupy a neutral middle ground. We seem to really like them, or vehemently dislike them. Even among those men who are appreciative of beards, few actually sport one. I suspect that this is due to a consensus judgement that women are predominantly pro-shaving, and that being bearded narrows a man's potential interest to a much smaller set of potential partners.
I think it's a bit of a shame. Faces would be more interesting with a bit more variety. There are only so many things we can do to our bodies (legally and with so much ease) that allow us to express ourselves so clearly to the world. More of you guys should try it, you might find you like it more than you expected. More to the point, you might find that the people around you like it more than you expected. What do you really have to lose?