It’s an odd thing: it’s considered very impolite to criticize someone’s looks, or their personal style, or any of their fashion choices they’ve made. You’d never go up to someone and say, “You have a huge nose and you’re ugly,” or “Your grooming decisions sicken me.” That’s inappropriate, and most people don’t do that. (If you DO do that sort of thing, you should really stop, because it’s very impolite). And yet, if you’ve ever gone from unbearded to bearded, you’ve probably received a couple of odd comments from “beard haters” – people who (for one reason or another) hate beards.
Some may be mild—as in, “Why’d you grow a beard? You have such a nice face,” while some are much more pointed—as in, “Ugh, beards—gross; disgusting; no.”
I got a remark of the second type after I grew my first beard, and I did not like it. In fact, it really cheesed me, so much so, that I put my rage into action, and expressed that intense anger in the only way I know how: I sat down and wrote a blog post about it.
My name is Jonas, and this is my story about Beard Hatred.
I never thought I could grow a beard. I had wispy whiskers growing up and into my 20s, and now that I’m in my early 30s, I simply thought I wasn’t “facially prolific” enough to grow a beard that didn’t look embarrassing.
All that changed about a year ago, when a girlfriend and I went on a seven-day hiking trip, and we were in the BUSH—hundreds of miles from anyone else, sleeping underneath the stars, bathing in lakes, the whole “getting back to nature” thing. It was awesome.
After a week of living in the woods and not grooming, my girlfriend said, “You know, you haven’t shaved in about a week, and you look pretty awesome. Lumber-jacky. It’s pretty hot.”
I thought “lumberjack-y” was a pretty cute thing to say, and when we got back to civilization, I found the first mirror I could find, and—credit where credit is due—my girlfriend was totally right: I looked awesome. Not only was my beard pretty respectable, it had some wispy strands of grey and black in it, and it looked very exotic. I have blonde-ish hair on my head, so the technicolor aspect of my beard made my appearance kind of striking.
I was sold. I looked lumberjack-y and exotic, and determined then and there that I was going to have a beard for the rest of my life.
The following day, I went to a barber, had him shape it for me, and went to work on Monday.
At the time, I worked in a loft-type office. Lots of open space, lots of light, lots of people. And I got the usual sort of reactions when you do something dramatic to your appearance:
“You get a haircut or something? You look different.”
You know, the sort of thing you get from people you work with—people who are aware of you, but who may never have actually looked at you before. They notice a change, but never really looked at you in the first place, so all that know is that something about you is different.
There were some other comments—the normal sort of comments:
“Hey, a beard. Nice.”
“Look at you, with that beard! Looks great.”
…and my favorite, from one of the older grumpy guys who still works there:
“You, too? You young people and your beards.” I thought that was funny.
But the comment that revealed to me the ugly truth about Beard Hatred in the United States was from a woman I’d known for years, someone who I’m not necessarily close with, but have worked with on a number of projects. She pointed at my face when we passed in the hallway, and said:
“Ugh, no. NO. Gross. Disgusting. No.”
This is not very lumberjack-y of me—and I had thought about my new-found lumberjack-y status more than once—but I have to admit: that stung a little bit. Not her words—I’ve faced much worse criticism, for things that were actually true—but this woman looked genuinely disgusted when she was me, and I had a weird internal reaction to that. It bothered me.
Of course, I kept my external reaction as minimal as I could, shrugged my shoulders, smiled, said “So sorry you don’t like it,” and walked on.
Why Is It OK to Hate on Beards?
I was kind of surprised by that response. I was friendly with the woman who beard-shamed me (I’ll call her Beverly), and while I don’t really know Bev that well, I’ve never known her to be rude or mean. I’ve never know her to say anything snarky—so why was it so easy for her to insult my looks directly to my face? We like each other, but we haven’t yet reached a “criticize each other’s looks” sort of relationship.
I thought on it for a while, and part of the issue may be that having a beard is a CHOICE. It’s a decision you’ve made, and it’s impermanent. If you don’t like your beard, you can shave it off. It’s not a permanent part of you. It’s not personal, in other words. People can be critical of your facial hair, and because it’s easily removable, they think it’s totally OK to be critical. Just shave it off, and you’ll be your old attractive self again.
In other words, when someone makes a disparaging comment about your beard, it’s not really a criticism of you—instead, it’s a criticism of a decision you made.
It’s a small difference, but a significant one. Here’s an example of how that subtle difference that makes a big difference:
If someone came up to me and said, “You are an ugly, ugly man,” I would perhaps take offense to that.
But if someone came up to me and said, “The shirt you decided to wear is very, very ugly,” I don’t think I’d get too upset. In fact, I think I’d probably find it funny. And, actually, I may actually go up to some dude today and tell him that his shirt is very, very ugly, and see what happens. I expect big laughs.
So if having a beard is impersonal, why did I get so irked about it?
I think it’s because it’s a choice that you’ve made about your face. It may be a criticism of an impermanent feature of my face, but it’s still a criticism of my face, and your face is, arguably, the most personalized thing about your appearance. It IS your appearance, really.
Research, and Drinks
So I got to thinking: what are the other reasons people don’t like beards? In the time since I’d grown it, my girlfriend had let me know, in wonderful ways, that she really, really like the beard. So why did some other women hate on it?
I did some research with the female friends in my life (aka, my girlfriend and I had a party, got everybody liquored up, and started asking questions), and I got some honest feedback:
”I don’t like how it feels when I’m kissing a guy with a beard.” Can’t argue that, honestly. Some women don’t like the feel of beards, and that’s that, I guess.
”Some guys don’t take care of their beards, and that’s gross.” That’s also legit. It takes a little while to learn how to properly care for a beard, and if it’s unevenly shaved, full of whatever you ate last, and smells bad because it hasn’t been washed properly, that can be very unpleasant to experience. Fair enough.
”I like beards, but I don’t like the ‘I might be homeless’-guy beard.” While perhaps being a little callous to the actual homeless, that’s another real answer, and I can respect that. A well-groomed beard is attractive and can make you manly / distinguished / savage / whatever you want, but let’s be honest here—a poorly groomed beard can make you look destitute. Something to avoid, if you can.
So what did I learn from this? With great beard comes great responsibility.
In other words, I didn’t learn much. Women—the women that my girlfriend and I party with, anyway—like (or at least don’t mind) beards, as long as they’re maintained and kept clean.
So why was it that this woman at the office had such a strong reaction?
As Always, Ignore the Trolls
If answer is, “Why did that woman have such a strong reaction?” the answer I came to was: “Who cares?”
Honestly, after a little while, I realized how ridiculous my reaction was. There’s always going to be haters. There will always be people in your life, in your inner circle or in concentric circles expanding outward, who will be snarky and weird and negative and lame. What can you do? Dismiss and move on. Ignore the trolls and Beard Haters. If you love the way you look, look the way you want to, and enjoy it.
My reaction was noteworthy, because things like that usually don’t bother me. I’ve had plenty of people say negative things about me, to me, and about me to others, and 9 times out of 10, it rolls off my back. I think that reaction of disgust—something I hadn’t really experienced before—really surprised me, especially because I felt like I looked so good. It stuck.
So ultimately, it was a good thing. I had to actually do some work to let it go. I had to explore why it bothered me, and release it.
And here’s the nice thing: that woman at my office, Bev, the one who pointed at my face and said, “No…” wasn’t the only woman at the office who had a reaction when she saw me. Later that day, another woman—in her 30s, very cute, very nice—passed me in the hallway and said, “Oh, YES.” Totally real, totally genuine, and deeply flattering. I’ll take it.
And that’s the message: for whatever Beard Hatred there is out there, there is a LOT of love for beards, perhaps more now than ever before. And I think—from the reaction that I’ve seen from people in my life—the number of positive reactions to it far outweighs the number of negative reactions.
Consider these articles from women’s mags:
From Cosmopolitan, “Study: Unshaven Faces Majorly Turn Us On“
Another from Cosmopolitan, “Men with Beards are Better Relationship Material“
From Daily Mail, “Why Women Can’t Resist Men Sporting Bushy Beards“
From Bustle, “11 Benefits of Having a Beard, Because, Seriously, Every Man Should Grow One at Some Point“
So if you experience beard negativity, let it go, man. It’s out there, and you can ignore it, because there’s plenty of Beard Love out there.
So feel it! Experience it! Embrace it!
Michael Morris is the head writer here at Rough and Tumble Gentleman. He's got a ducktail beard and loves Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He's married to the woman of his dreams and lives in Brooklyn, NY.