What I Learned From Growing A Beard

What I Learned From Growing A Beard

When I decided on a whim to start growing a beard for the first time in more than 20 years, I figured that I’d learn how to tolerate itchy skin and heighten my resemblance to Benny from ABBA. Instead, I discovered that some people are intolerant, unimaginative and scared of facial hair for stupid reasons.

My facial hair: a brief history

I’ve been shaving more or less regularly since I was 16. During that time, while I’ve often slacked off for a few days, I’ve never actually tried to grow a beard. The one exception was for six weeks when I travelled to Europe to visit family as a 17-year old, and simply couldn’t be bothered with shaving. (I also took up eating a whole block of chocolate for breakfast every day; I’m not going to pretend it was the healthiest or most disciplined phase of my life.) The whiskery result, as you can see below, was not impressive.

What I Learned From Growing A Beard

Full-blown beards were not in fashion in the 1980s, though there was a trend for designer stubble (think Miami Vice or George Michael). I knew I didn’t have the patience or the cheekbones to pull that look off, so staying clean-shaven was an easy habit to get into, and one that stuck with me for the next two decades. Weekends would often be a battle between “I want to be lazy and shave” and “this stubble is itchy”. The latter invariably won by Monday.

What I Learned From Growing A Beard

Genetically, the odds were in my favour if I did decide to go the face furniture route. My father has sported some particularly impressive beards during his life (check the photo at the right), while my brother Alex regularly alternates between beard and no beard.

But it was only a month or so ago, after hitting the fifth day of not shaving because of general over-activity in the mornings, that I though “stuff this”. This was no big grand plan, beyond enjoying the prospect of people being surprised and not recognising me. I just thought I’d see how long I could not shave and whether it looked and felt OK.

After 10 days or so, the extreme itchiness stopped. It was also around that point that it become clear to everyone that I really was growing a beard, and I started getting compliments. On the whole, most people seem to be in favour, which was pleasing to my ego. But amongst those who weren’t — or who didn’t know me to recognise that there was difference — a less pleasing trend soon emerged.

“Don’t go to the city. People will think you’re a rioter.”

Yes, a taxi driver actually said that to me last Monday. It was a half-joking comment, but it was one I’ve heard variations on several times over the past few weeks. There’s a clear and stupid trend here: if you have a relatively full beard (not a goatee or another hipster variant), then quite a lot of people will consider it acceptable to make jokes about how you must be a Muslim. Worse, quite a lot of those will also figure that it’s OK to suggest that all Muslims are terrorists/rioters/troublemakers, and that as such it’s a look to be avoided.

This is depressing for two reasons. First and foremost, it underlines that there’s still a judgemental and ignorant streak about the Muslim community that’s not even remotely pretending to hide below the surface in Australian society. Facial hair alone becomes an excuse to make a disparaging and over-generalised comment about someone’s religion. I don’t think any of these “jokers” are assuming I’m actually a Muslim. What they are assuming is that I’ll happily go along with the disparaging comments that follow. I won’t.

What I Learned From Growing A Beard

The second reason it’s depressing is that it suggests that despite living in an age where we can access information at the drop of a mobile phone, our world view is actually narrowing. When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, there were lots of potential reference points for bearded men. The most obvious meme was probably hippies, with the bearded look persisting amongst counter-cultural types throughout that period and being emulated by many musicians.

Sticking with the religious theme, a clear historical counterpoint was Jesus: you don’t see a lot of Christian imagery suggesting the man was clean-shaven. Wizards would invariably be portrayed as bearded. (There’s a smattering of grey in my beard, but no-one has tried to call me Gandalf, I might note.)

I could get branded as Grizzly Adams or a bear or Getafix or Harry Butler or a Nazarene carpenter or George Michael or or Rasputin or Crazy Dave from Plants Vs. Zombies. But I don’t. I attract cheap anti-Muslim slurs. That’s not going to make me shave my beard off, but it doesn’t entirely fill me with hope for humanity.


    • I don’t understand how people associate beards with muslims only. That’s just weird man.
      I had a full beard and looked like a viking. Felt like a god.
      Beards just aren’t for everyone I guess.

    • A joke that completely admits that you’re stereotyping people with a certain skin color and/or a robust beard as terrorists is unacceptable. The only way that it isn’t is if you know that the person has properly researched why what they’re saying is wrong and/or you have that type of humor within the context of your friendship.

  • i guess you learn to take the bad with the good.
    im young-ish, but obsessed with the ‘boardwalk empire’ look, and generally how men in those days used to actually know how to dress…
    i get a lot of compliments on taking effort with my attire, though at the same time i get labelled a ‘try-hard’, and a ‘grandpa’ etc… you take the good with th e bad.

    that said, i completely relate. it wont make me stop doing something which makes me feel great, but it also doesn’t fill me with much faith in humanity…

    …especially when the context is anti-individuality.

  • I’ve begun shaving twice a day, ever since I heard this bit in Lolita 1962

    Lolita Haze: “Do you always have to shave twice a day?”
    Humbert Humbert: “Yes, of course, because all the best people shave twice a day.”

    I wish it was on youtube, because nobody could say it the way James Mason did

  • i don’t think i’ve ever had any negative comments in regards to my facial hair. i’ve had a longish goatee and often the full beard on and off for a few years now

  • I don’t know whether they think I look like a Terrorist or a Bikie, but I’ve had a full beard for a few years now and I get stopped for the “random” explosives test at the airport every single time…

    • Dave, the same thing happens to me – called aside every single time, including once for ‘random’ (and pretty full on) questioning arriving in Sweden. Pre-beard I never had that issue. My wife and I used to bet on whether I’d get pulled up, but now it’s just a sure thing.

      • Me three, I have long hair and I’ve been seriously growing a beard for the first time in my life since the start of February. I too, am chosen for every conceivable additional security check at the airport. Living in Melbourne, most people seem pretty cool with it but it’s definitely noticeable when I travel elsewhere – people give me evil eyes constantly, and the longer it gets the more I notice it happening.

  • I love my heard. As does most people. They’re great to grab and tug on while thinking and excellent for keeping my face warm and bits of spare food nearby.

    My girlfriend however does not.

    I miss my beard.

    • I’m sorry but I can’t help reading that as “I love my herd” and imagining your from NZ. I know it’s stereotypical but seriously made me laugh out loud.

  • I guess, it’s not so much the beard but actually the way you specifically look with a beard, not to be mean but i could see your beard look being translated into some type of preacher/priest look…. I run a beard i never get those types of comments.

  • Beards make you clever. Many of the great philosophers boasted luxuriant facial hair and all the pictures I’ve seen of God depict him as follicly well endowed.

  • The most memorable stupid question I have ever gotten while I had a full beard rather than the goatee I wear now was “Hey are you Amish?” Which was hilarious as I was fixing the dudes computer at the time.

  • Sported a goatee for over 10 years – my kids have only seen my chin when I cut a merv hughes (handlebar moustache) as a joke at xmas.
    When my beard & hair was longer (usually crewcut) I got checked by the explosive checkers at the airports about 90% of the time (out of at least a dozen flights). Got it cut neat – never been picked since

  • I haven’t shaved since 1985. I don’t believe in facial mutilation. (Gives me the shivers just thinking about shaving). Fortunately my wike likes the beard. Never had a racial slur about it, but I must admit I get more than my fair share of explosive swabs at airports.
    I’d definately go for the hippy look if I could grow my hair.

  • Having grown many beards the last few years I have had a few run ins, at one point I was flying to and from Melbourne and Brisbane , every time I would be pulled aside bomb residue scanned, patted down and gruffly released, at the time I was 20, pale, and have a reddish brown beard, nothing like your typical stereotype Muslim, once I shaved my beard I never got touched again, grew it back this year and the same thing happened again… Weird coincidence or not people generally find facial hair intimidating

  • After having decent beard on and off for a few years and can say that they are amazing anti-female camouflage. And the few women that liked my beard were even stranger than I am… 🙂

  • I can’t stand facial hair and worst of all I loose lots of time on shaving in the morning
    that I could be sleeping in instead.
    Not enough that I have hair on my rear, I have to have it on my face?!
    This proves God is a woman and she played a joke on males.

  • Humans are not infinite computers, the more options we have the more sterotype like filters are in play to quickley categorise the things around us. its our design, and we are not designing our world for our design, due to being under the wrong impression that we as humans are infinite lol.

    Your look overall is what is getting the evil doer commentary, thining hair, and bushy beard, that might be unkept, as apposed to a trimmed and brushed beard, whith a neat haircut is what is doing it.

    People that look like effort went in, regardless of beard haircut choice (exception might be the charle chaplin) gets you the evil doer commentary.

    After all Jewish guys with beards dont seem to be getting called muslims and terrorists, so i dare say, its what goes with the beard thats creating the crim vibe.

  • Also my first beard in 40yrs. It’s funny I just asked a friend yesterday if I looked like a Muslim since after all the riots lately I would’nt want to be associated.
    Anyway thinking a beard is not the best look you want to have as an IT consultant. Will have to come off soon I think 🙁

  • Beards make you look older… also women tend to hate them, they’re very uncomfortable in the heat of summer, and food gets in them: reasons why I finally shaved mine off.

    Anyway, people concerned about being in IT with a beard? It’s pretty much expected really. It’s the hardcore side of nerdy. Only thing nerdier is a ponytail.

    • I don’t think women tend to hate them, its down to taste,my dad has had a beard that my mum preferred him with for 40 years, my aunt goes for bearded broad shouldered guys,my wife is disappointed every time I shave mine off to regrow (starts off dark,gets gradually lighter and looks weird).. totally down to personal taste , of course some face shapes work better with some types of beards and some people have the wrong type of hair for it (too curly,too thin, follicles too spaced out etc)

  • Angus – Without wishing to be overly unkind, it’s the combination of beard and god-awful shirt. It’s either screaming 70’s school teacher or Muslim cleric and as it’s 2012, people assume the latter. Our reptile brains are largely visual and always scouting for potential danger. The solution is painless – you can easily shift yourself over to ‘hippy’, ‘Grizzly Adams’, ‘Rasputin’ or JC with a nice cotton shirt, sans ‘stay prest’ collar.

  • I sense from your conclusion that you are contemplating a wizard’s hat and robes.

    I for one have often wondered how much more efficient I’d be with a one-piece outfit. I’d… love to hear how that turns out!?

  • i’ve had a beard since high school and the only people who have given me negative comments are guys who can’t grow a beard. as the great aussie band ‘The Beards ‘ noted “if your dad doesn’t have a beard you’ve got two mums”

  • It is wrong but I chuckled at the Muslim joke. Seriously though, this crap over the past week has seriously been big time Shit. They gotta get over it. The US has put out travel warnings for its citizens in Sydney and Melb. Wtf?!

  • Try having a beard and being a professional in the USA and see how you go. Yep, even before 11/9/01 I mean. I was amazed at the flat out rude responses I had while there (considering moving there at the time and speaking to work contacts).


    (Having now had facial hair for 25+ years on and off of various types and probably won’t go bare faced again)

  • I grew a decent sized beard, admittedly it was thin and red (i’m not a redhead). However, I got nothing but back-handed compliments. There’s nothing more disparaging than when more people compliment you on how good you chin looked without a beard. It was honestly worse than being called Amish, hobo/homeless, orang-utan, or jesus.

  • Those getting tested for explosives, if you’re strategic and time putting your laptop/keys/spare change away after the x-ray scan you’ll almost never get checked. True story.

  • My fiancé once shaved his beard off (he keeps it a beautiful inch long normally), when he came out of the bathroom with a blank face I screamed and couldn’t kiss him. It just wasn’t right. He had to grow some stubble before it felt normal to kiss him again. VIVA la Beardies 🙂

  • I work in a public library and I’ve alternated between goatee & clean shaven for years and I find I get positive comments from those who like facial hair and negative ones from those who don’t, but the funniest comment I ever had when I grew a full beard for the first time was from a 90+ lady who said to me “you know kissing a man without a beard is like eating an egg without salt” I said I’d take her word for it.

  • Had a “beards” photo taken a couple of months back at my partner’s cousin’s wedding (yes, it was a rather unconventional wedding).

    “Hold the man next to you’s beard”

    “Funny beard poses now” etc etc.

    The only shit I cop for my beard is it’s quite a light brown compared to my dark brown hair, so in the sunlight it can look kinda…ginger :s

    Oh semi-related – I’ve had sideburns (verging on mutton chops at times) since I was 15 even though my school was fiercely against it.


  • I don’t shave daily because it takes ages to do, and I have eczema/sensitive/dry/flakey skin. I’ve had a full grown beard at least twice in my life. No real maintenance, aside from trimming the moustache, I suppose you could call it a bushman’s beard (similar in appearance to Angus’ dad). Mine is thick black and wiry.

    I’ve had problems through uni placements because of stubble. Mentors commenting on how I should go about my shaving routine, and to even go so far as to give me advice (one of them female). They presume to know about my skin and what I have to go through every morning. I found it insulting.

    I’ve had the Muslim and terrorist comments, and I’ve also had great praise and reverence. It’s a two way street. The negative comments have affected me – I’ve gone so far as to consider permanent hair reduction. But at the same time – I’d like to keep it.

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