I wrote some time ago about some of the nuances of bearded life. It's definitely a bit of an esoteric subject, and I'm sure a lot of people don't give it much thought, or really understand why anyone would. It seems pretty incidental, right? Some guys have beards, get over it. This simply glosses over some of the experiences, and effects that choosing to keep a beard will undoubtedly have on a man's daily interactions. In an odd way, because of this and coupled with a growing fashion for beards, something of a quiet pride movement has been born. The readiness for bearded men to associate and support each other through clubs and on social media speaks to a microcosm of the often prejudiced manner in which we make assumptions about each other and broadcast our own views and also the comeraderie of a shared form of personal expression.
There have been groups on the internet for bearded guys for as long as I can recall (or have had interest sufficient to notice). Because not all beards are the same, chaps have needed somewhere to ask questions and look for reassurance or advice. It seems a little silly, right? But stop and think about the way we treat people who present themselves in ways we are not comfortable with. Is it growing right? Can I get an opinion I can trust? Am I normal? There are clubs and competitions too, for those that are so inclined (I don't get competitive about anything much at all myself, but I have been asked many times to compete). When you make the decision to physically change something so important as your own face, it's good to have people with whom to consult for reassurance. Twitter in particular of late is alive with fashionably bearded guys, and bigger beards are definitely the in-thing. This has attracted a lot of negative comments for being a transient fad, especially from guys that were doing it before it was cool, but I think this attitude is particularly myopic. If we take some measure of pride in our own face-fuzz (and if you have a beard, you do) then shouldn't we foster an attitude in ourselves that promotes that same sense of self-worth in other men?
The idea that somehow styling your hair according to image or fashion is less valid is of course ridiculous. It's simply the universal truth of the matter, and despite the opposed fashion for disparaging so called 'hipsters' or (and I appologise) 'lumbersexuals', their choice to go hairy or shaven is qualitatively identical to your own. As a group and a society we would do well to recognise this behaviour as being detrimental; of course this applies on much broader social terms, but given how often I've seen 'the hipster beard' maligned in recent months I think it bears a mention. We can of course thank this fashion, however persistent it proves to be, for favourably altering attitudes towards bearded men. It is not so long ago that a hairy chin was uncommon in the workplace and now they're everywhere. While this popularity may fade in time it has definitely improved attitudes and promoted acceptance; particularly amongst more corporate cultures.
Every gentleman deserves to give his beard a chance, and so I reached out to some hairy-faced friends for their experiences and opinions. I hope this will inspire some of you to give growing a try, or if you aren't the owner of a potential beard yourself, maybe you'll be inspired to show support to the men in your life if they want to give it a try.
Becoming a bearded man
I don't know anyone who keeps a beard for whom it isn't personally important and didn't involve a certain amount of deliberation. Employers are often hostile. Family members are often hostile. Friends are often a little bit cruel. The reasons for wanting a beard are pretty diverse, but always deeply personal, so criticism can feel pretty harsh and a lot of guys will continue shaving to avoid it even when it's something they really want to do for themselves. As always, the pressure to conform can be overwhelmingly strong. Obviously in most cases the desire to affect one's appearance, in a specifically 'masculine' or 'mature' way (and I use these terms with reservation) is a significant or the significant factor. Sometimes to look older, sometimes to emulate someone that we appreciate or look up to.
For some it happens more organically, and then never really goes away.
Getting to the point where you are confident wearing a beard can also be something of an arduous journey. Self doubt is the most difficult to get over and if you havent found your confidence yet then other people's negative opinions can feed into that. It's not dissimilar from being made fun of due to being overweight, except that you can escape by shaving. I got a lot more responses from guys who met little resistance to their beards from friends and families, but know (at least anecdotally) that pressure from those around you is really intense for a lot of men who would otherwise go bearded. I think this speaks to the reality and influence that peer and family pressure can apply. But even in friends that I know have excellent beards that look great, there's always a little doubt.
Picking a style
One of the things I think is particularly great about having a beard is it's personality. Where you might not feel as free to chop and change the cut of your hair (or indeed have enough to chop) it can be easier or at least equivalent to pick a style for your mane. There are more than enough options and some definitely require more commitment than others. Some styles are common enough that nobody really takes a lot of notice while others will stand out immediately. I've worn everything from the short full beard, to a circle beard, through friendly mutton-chops, and my current big wooly monster. All beards are different, and this means some guys have to make the most of what they have, and choosing the right style can make a less-full beard look flawless.
Style can be subcultural, and it's probably more personal than a lot of unbearded folks realise. It can also be somewhat misleading, and people's reactions and prejudices, and their willingness to share them uninvited is sometimes unpleasant.
Take some advice
From those that have gone before you, there is often some wisdom to be gained. If you're deliberating, then every guy you've read from here so far has been in your situation. Another thing to consider is age; beards keep developing through most of your life, and will continue to fill out long after adolescence.
It's also important to keep some perspective on who you're growing this for, and how quickly you can expect to see the results you want.
Knowing what to expect when you finally achieve that goal is equally important…