Beard Science

A Weekly public-service announcement

The 1990s' facial banner of (first) introspective rebels and (second) Dockers-wearing cubicle jockeys, the goatee is finally, utterly dead, thank God, gone the way of all facial hair past—such as three-day-old growth (1980s: Miami Viceand George Michael) and sideburns (1970s: Southern rock and any Elvis impersonator). The full beard is slated to take its place.

As a public service, I have grown one myself, learning most things by trial and error, there being few resources anywhere on this crucial topic. The Internet is an absolute bald patch; the few sites devoted to beards and other facial hair are dedicated almost exclusively to hirsute men seeking other hirsute men. Online searches consistently pull up only one book on the subject.** My friends are hairless, and the few older guys I know just let their beards grow without any thought as to how it looks (homeless). I therefore present the following eight-point program to get you started on your way to well-groomed manliness.

RULE NO. 1: BE PATIENT. Unless you have the facial-hair follicle density of Grizzly Adams, it will take two to three months before the beard starts looking presentable—and stops itching—and from four to six months to fill in completely. If anyone tells you different, they're lying. The younger you are, the longer it will take. Period. RULE NO. 2: HAVE MORE SEX.French researchers recently found that the facial hair of men isolated on desert islands (i.e., in a state of forced celibacy) grew at a slower rate than the facial hair of their happily laid countrymen. If you want your beard to grow faster, get it as often as you can. The researchers found that your right hand doesn't count. RULE NO. 3: DON'T PAY TOO MUCH ATTENTION TO THE MIRROR. There will be days, days when you feel you look like hell, even when you don't. As in all things—work, love and women's hair—there are good days and there are bad days, and you are going to have to power through them all. Refer back to Rule Nos. 1 and 2 for moral support. RULE NO. 4: IGNORE THE OPINIONS OF OTHERS. Attitudes will change, but even in 2002, many people regard beards as belonging only on mediocre 19th century U.S. presidents (Grant, Hayes and Arthur, to name a few) or on Middle Eastern terrorists bent on destroying the beardless American way of life. Ignore them all; they are still stuck in the '90s. (Note: If you are going on job interviews, let your potential employer know that you are willing to shave if it makes a difference. Or don't. How badly do you want that job anyway?) RULE NO. 5: DECIDE EARLY ON BEARD STYLE. There are official names for the various styles, but I'll be damned if I've been able to find out what most of them are. So here are my categories:

•The Patriarch (a.k.a. the Cathedral): the full beard and moustache of any length. Charlton Heston had it in The Ten Commandments, and it's still popular among monks in the Orthodox Church and many college professors. Believed to demonstrate virility and/or sanctity. I wouldn't know about either.

•The King John: Remember the bad guy in the movies, usually dressed in black, who was always trying to kill Robin Hood? King John had the beard that was shaved to the jaw line, connected to a thinly shaved moustache and soul patch (that vertical section that grows down from below the lower lip). I don't recommend this one as it still looks evil and people will think you are a Satanist.

•The Amish (a.k.a. the Sea Captain, a.k.a. the Chin Curtain): the beard without the moustache and soul patch. Gives the wearer a gentle, philosophical look. Few women like it, unless they're from Pennsylvania and have an aversion to electrical appliances.

•The Vandyke: a moustache and goatee grown long off the chin to a point. Dated and sure to make you look like a snob.

•Mutton Chops (a.k.a. the Franz Josef): sideburns on steroids, these please no one. They can be as long as a beard, but end suddenly—inexplicably—on the cheek or chin, sometimes connected to a moustache. They were passé by 1890 and favored only by our country's worst presidents.

•The Jihad: similar to the Amish (see above), but with a moustache. If you are swarthily complected and ever wear anything on your head, this is absolutely not recommended unless you are skilled in self-defense techniques, have an attorney on retainer, and never, ever travel by air.

RULE NO. 6: SPEND $20 FOR A DECENT BEARD TRIMMER.This tool is absolutely necessary for maintaining consistent beard length and shape over the tortured landscape that is your face. Plus, these have neat little attachments that do all kinds of weird shit—your mornings will be filled with the thrill of discovery. RULE NO. 7: SHAMPOO YOUR BEARD ALMOST AS OFTEN AS YOU WASH YOUR HAIR.It will keep your beard shiny, healthy and free of yesterday's frozen yogurt. It also keeps the zits down. If you're really vain, invest in wax pomade to help keep your beard neat, but use it sparingly. RULE NO. 8: IF INGROWN HAIRS ARE A PROBLEM, SEE A DOCTOR.No one wants to see this.

There you have it. Everything you'll need to get a beard started. Remember: to stop shaving is mere laziness. Cultivating a true beard requires perseverance, humility and self-reliance. But we know you've got what it takes—and more.

**If you want more information, check out beards.org or members.aol.com/beardguy/beard036.htm, but don't expect much. At bookfinder.com, you can purchase the trade paperbackOne Thousand Beards by Alan Peterkin for as little as $10. It's funny and provides more beard history and growing tips than you'll ever need.
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