I used to think there are just a few things left that only Men can do - pee standing up, front a metal-core band and grow a beard. After hearing of a friend's recent music festival experience, it seems it is only the beard that remains. The beard is truly the last bastion of masculine traits, one not equalized by females. The mighty beard. A strong, aggressive expression of testosterone worn like an apron of hair around one's jaw. An apron that seems to taunt "If you're thinking of coming into this kitchen, you better wear a hairnet amigo, 'cos its gonna get all kinds of beardy." I have been struck and inspired by just how many guys in my daily interactions are currently sprouting some face follicles. What started as an ironic hipster-trend has now morphed into something more. It's as if we've all reached into the cupboard of masculine expression and found beards, discarded like an old jacket left up the back between short shorts and utility belts.
Society has tried for many years to domesticate Men, caging us like lions. Anyone who's ever kept lions knows the second thing you do is trim their manes. The first is to check they aren't from Narnia or a licensed property of Disney. When a lion's mane is taken from him, so is his identity. Now the Lion doesn't know what he is. He's there thinking "Am I a cat? Am I a tiger? Am I a mortgage broker?" As soon as he is confused, he is ready to be tamed and remolded.
It is much like that for many men. Corporate puppies told by their masters to keep clean shaven. Why? Because with a beard comes power. The power of potential.There is a cultural tide turning back to the way of the beard. An undercurrent of Men are forgoing the razor, and letting stubble turn to growth. A growth, I believe, that is as much on the inside as it is on the outside.
It should be noted however, that a study by the University of New South Wales proved that women find some facial hair more attractive than none. Guys are meant to be hairy. Somewhere along the line grooming got out of whack and we started shaving everything (side-note- perhaps God intended pubic hair to be some sort of sexual velcro?). Marketers want us to be as smooth as boys, hair and care-free.
I look at my work. A couple of the managers have recently stopped shaving and cultivated some fun fuzz. I realised I started to feel more free to express my urges. I have never been a regular shaver (twice a week at best, with an almost constant state of stubble fit for an early 90's action star), I realise my reaction to my manager's highlights how much we buy into the social stigma of the beard. Men need to rebel. Like the Digital agency director I know, sporting a bushranger beard. Or the Life Insurance guy who's keeping his ginger mane long to entice his fiance. One of my best mates is, like me, not blessed with much on top. But he is once again able to embrace grooming via the hair on his chin'n'cheek construction. My father-in-law is so defined with his beard it has become a part of him. Family and friends wouldn't know him without it and he'd probably need to apply via deed poll to shave it.
In the 60's women burned bras. Freed from having their breasts under arrest, they were able to feel the potential of their physical identity as women. So could not the beard be this for men today? God knows we need it. Generation after generation of guys wandering lost and confused as to what it means to be a man. Walking out on children and marriages, hitting out through misguided aggression, faltering with true expression and imploding into depression. Could the simple act of cultivating, caring for, committing to and maintaining a beard start to redefine a new sense of Masculinity? A beard makes a much cooler path than the other option - a bonsai tree.
So maybe all these beards that are appearing are the outward expression of something growing inside alot of guys. Maybe it is the age I am at, when we stop being 'Guys' and start to become Men. But we shouldn't fear beards. They represent hope that good Men are still possible...and that shaving is for women's underarms and legs.