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.

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.

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.

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.


Comments

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    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.

    The most epic beard ever, Costa http://youtu.be/0D2iy2yDSPo

    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 :(

    Time to start a beard revolution!
    http://youtu.be/cvqcoLK-rHI

    You had hope for humanity before the beard/Muslim bigotry?

    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)

    I wish I could grow a beard :(

    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!?

    Getting called a Muslim must be a Sydney thing.

    In Adelaide you just get high fives for having a beard.

    Girls like clean shaven, so that's how I roll

    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?!

    P.s your dad's beard = awesome

    Like mine had his until he shaved it off 15+ years ago

    When I saw you on The Project the other day I seriously thought OMG THERE GANDALF!!!

    Jokes aside: That's a pretty decent beard you're growing there Angus, and it suits you. I'd seriously consider keeping it.

    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).

    Amazing.

    (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.

    Angus, you're starting to look like that American fellow on Sunrise who shares Hollywood gossip every morning.

    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.

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