Wednesday, September 30, 2009

just a hair off

Wikipedia's beard page claims that William Howard Taft, a fellow Ohioan, was the last man to sport facial hair in the oval office. Unfortunately, it was a moustache.

Paul across the hall

The attorney who works across the hall, told me that he puts conditioner in his beard. When I asked why, he mumbled something about moisturizers and follicles, and also told me that a British anthropologist studied the relationship between hair growth and post-coital anticipation. Expect entries on this in the future.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Beard Envy

Freud was a few feet off the mark. Men, I do not begrudge you your lower appendage--but my beard envy is crippling. It hasn't been difficult to undermine most gender norms--I can wear a tuxedo, geek out over calculus, drink straight whiskey, fear commitment, and fully intend to bring home the bacon--but my two chin hairs will never blossom into a full beard.

And so, as Freud might have predicted, this has led to a full-blown fascination/fetishization. But I am not a creature to desire in vain, nor am I inclined to appreciate something at a mere surface level. I can't physically possess my own beard, and relying on a man to keep his on-hand his would impugn upon my independence. The best and most stable way for me to appreciate a beard is to apprehend it intellectually. To this end, and also, in order to interact with as many bearded dudes as possible, I've started interviewing men about their beards.

My original plan was to ask them three questions--how long have you had that beard? How long have you had a beard? Why did you grow it?--but, careless in my enthusiasm, I began interviewing men at a house party this weekend. It was an unprofessional start: no notebook, no pen, no digital voice recorder, and absolutely no objective distance.

I started the conversation by sharing my hypothesis--that men's relationship to their facial hair is analogous to a woman's relationship to long hair on her head. They stroked their stubble and pretended to humor me; I kept them engaged with an abundance of hand-gestures and a reference to Brazilian waxes. Then someone broke out a bottle of Jameson, and the conversation took on a three-drink-in level of earnestness.

A few insights:

  • Some men don't remember the first time they shaved, while others remember it vividly. Generally, though, they seem to consider it an overanticipated ritual. Paralllel, I think, to the beginning of menstruation.
  • None of the five men I interviewed put tiny pieces of toilet paper on their face when they cut themselves. They just wash their faces. Where in pop culture did I learn about the toilet paper? My dad doesn't do that, either.
  • It is possible to shave your face with head clippers, as long as you don't mind an even layer of stubble. This prevents you from nicking yourself.
  • Some men don't grow a beard because the have hairless spots on their faces, and they would look weird with the hairy spots filled in.
  • Long hair and beards are not analogous in that the latter is associated with pubescent males, and the former is associated with young girls.
A few comments I made that made sense:
  • Body hair is an external display of gender. "Femininity" means hairlessness until the base of the skull. "Masculinity" means hair-sprouting testosterone coursing through your veins.
  • There is a hideous stage that is part of the process of growing one's hair out and growing one's beard out.
  • Women with long hair and men with beards are projecting a 1970's nostalgia.
  • The beard or the long hair can be the result of a default setting. A modicum of maintenance can disguise this fact, and make an indecisive style look deliberate.
Future considerations:
  • What role does hair maintenence play in our perception of someone's sexual attractiveness? Sexual availability?
  • Why are so many men in my social group sporting the sophomore scraggle? If it's because they're underemployed, then is there a relationship between economic trends and facial hair growth across various demographics?
  • How frequently must a man have a beard before he identifies himself as a bearded man?
In short, an excellent house party. I spoke to a couple where a long-haired woman was encouraging her boyfriend to grow out his beard. I even found a guy who used his mother's razor the first time he shaved his face. It makes sense--contours and all--but he asked "Is that weird?"

Anything is weird if you lay into for more than a minute--just try repeating a word more than twenty times (I suggest the word "girl," while we're preoccupied with gender).

I crave iron.