Beards and Masculinity: The Battle For Chins

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If you’re at work, take a moment. Look around you. Without being creepy about it, gaze upon the faces of your male compadres. Notice that? Where there were once freshly shorn chins there are now hair forests of varying density, otherwise known as beards.  In my office, I needn’t look further than the inch and a half goatee at the southern tip of my face for an example of the beard’s resurgence. That’s right – the beard is back, and it’s cool, hip, and safe for work.
Stephen Mihm, in an op-ed published in The New York Times, suggests we look to history to explain this Lumbersexual trend in the work place: “Historically, beards in the boardroom have been a barometer of the relative vitality of capitalism and its critics.  When capitalism has assumed a more swashbuckling, individualistic persona, hair has sprouted on the chins of entrepreneurs and speculators.  Certainly, the capitalist atmosphere in Silicon Valley can be poignantly described as “swashbuckling” and “individualistic.”  Simply look at tech rockstars Sergey Brin and Marc Benioff (short boxed beard), or Larry Ellison (anchor beard) for examples of bearded leaders within our “swashbuckling” wild west. Mihm goes on to brilliantly detail the moments in history the beard vacillates between being a sign of individualistic capitalism (think Carnegie or Vanderbilt) or a marker of those men who opposed the capitalist machine (Marx, Engels, or the hippies of the 60’s).  History indeed gives us a better idea as to why the beard is celebrated in the workplace again, but I wanted to know why individual men find the beard alluring.
Armed with curiosity and an itchy chin, I ran a two-question mobile video survey to do a deeper dive into what men find alluring about their beard.
After screening for bearded men from 22 to 40 yrs old who were employed in the United States, I asked participants two questions. The first probed them about the general background of their beard; the second inquired about how they perceived the beard affected their masculinity. In our small sample size of bearded men, they all agreed that their beard made them feel more masculine, and that they felt others viewed them as more masculine when they sported scruffy faces.
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Click on the picture above to see John’s response. “People with beards – you think of a lumberjack wearing a flannel and [an] ax and a toboggan. I feel like the guy on the Diet Dr. Pepper commercial eating the salmon and– to have a beard, to me, I feel like a man and I think other people see me with a beard and, ‘Wow, this guy’s grown up. He’s actually a man now,'” he declares.  This sentiment was mirrored by other respondents, including the idea that a beard elicits the image of a lumberjack.
Another theme gleaned from the mobile video survey was the idea that owning a beard helps men feel more manly than other men.  Jeremy from California explains, “I feel more masculine when I have my beard because it’s a feature that only a man can have. Only certain men can grow a full beard so I feel like it makes me somewhat more of a man, not to disrespect anyone who can’t grow a beard.” Come to think of it, I do feel a bit more masculine than my beardless coworkers, though it should be noted I only work with women. Other respondents postulate that their beard makes them “tougher” or more “intimidating.”
The responses suggested that men are growing beards to feel more manly in regards to other men.  I wondered if something happened that made men, myself included, feel the need to wear their manhood on their chin.  Upon doing a little research, I found that the state of man appears to be in flux. “The economic downturn disproportionately affected men, and it is clearer than ever that the single-breadwinner family is finally dead. The ‘traditional’ role of the man as the primary provider is now firmly out of reach for most Americans,” concludes Willa Brown in The Atlantic article Lumbersexuality and Its Discontents. She goes on to suggest that this discontent may be why men are demonstrating their manhood by recalling the romanticized Lumberjack image.
I’m unsure my small goatee recalls a Lumberjack, but Willa Brown may be on to something. Patrick from Atlanta certainly thinks so:
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After my research, I am confident that one of the reasons beards are making a comeback is because of how bearded men feel in regards to other seemingly less manly (read: hairy) men. Let’s hope that the state of man doesn’t destabilize too much more though. I’m not sure I’m ready for the mullet to make a comeback.