I Heart Beards
An ironic facial hair manifesto
The evolution of one man's beard
illustration by Mark Weber
My wife has never seen my face.
Not once in five years of marriage or 10 years of knowing me. She’s seen pictures of it, sure. There’s the one of me, age 6, at the sink with my dad, pretending to shave. Then me, young, fresh faced and smirking in that way only high school boys can smirk. Then the last sighting of my smooth, hairless cheeks – my university ID. In that one, I’m sporting the precursor to what would soon become the manliest of fashion accessories – my beard.
In that college ID I’m 18 and I have what I then believed to be the ultimate in beards – not one, but two goatees sprouting from either side of my chin, a soul patch bridge between the two. It was unusual; it was a magnet, a conversation starter. It was dumb. In the matter of a couple of months, I realized that it was silly and shaved it off to start again, this time going for the Full Monty. I’ve never looked back.
Now, it seems that everyone is wearing a beard or an ironic mustache or throwback sideburns or a pencil-thin chinstrap beard. Most of the facial hair I see has been preened so meticulously only John Waters, the king of the ironic facial hair, could do better. What’s with this new cultural fascination with facial hair? Is it that we’re back to the 80s and everyone wants a Tom Selleck upper-lip masterpiece or a Hulk Hogan Fu Manchu or that Jerry Garcia windblown-beard look?
I’m not sure, but I know when I see the likes of television’s Ashton Kutcher or Ryan Gosling or Johnny Depp sporting some fuzz on their cheeks, I shake my head. Why are these men, and so many of their ‘stach devotees, wearing a beard? Is it just youthful rebellion? (Well, not in the case of Johnny Depp.) Or, are they making fun of the bearded among us?
I’m no beard elitist. I’m glad to see so many of my brethren wearing facial hair. Call it an ironic mustache (but, as an English major, I ask you, where is the irony in your mustache unless you cannot or should not have one?) or Rockabilly sideburns or a face-swallowing Grizzly-Adams-possibly-inspired-by-your’s-truly beard? Just wear it proudly and, when you’re tired of it or your face starts to itch just a little too much, shave.
But don’t look for me there, I won’t be joining you in the smooth-cheeked future. To paraphrase one of my favorite Grateful Dead songs (yes, Jerry’s beard is one I aspire to) I let it grow, wild and free.
Ask my wife, the woman who’s never seen my face. When we met, my beard rested on my chest, my mustache covered my lips – it was like ZZ Top in training – and it was awesome. But inject some good sense and the influence of a good woman and slowly but surely it was tamed.
Now I trim it every week or so, keeping it fairly closely cropped. I have a beard and my wife loves it. And though my fantasy is to grow a beard so powerful that the Sons of Anarchy would quake in its presence, I’m a business owner and I can’t look like an acid-test-house-band-ringleader or an outlaw biker or a pioneer, so I keep it in check.
Bio: Jason Frye owns Teakettle Junction Productions and has proudly worn a full beard for the last 15 years. He writes for Our State, the North Carolina Travel Guide and VisitNC.com