If you think that men only grow a beard to avoid the hassle of shaving, think again. Several academics suggest that growing a beard—or a moustache—may be a way for men to assert their masculinity.
Following the economic collapse of 2008, there was a drastic increase in the number of men who grew beards and moustaches. A professor of psychology (Tamsin Saxton) investigated this trend. What she found was fascinating: the increase of unshaven men corresponded to periods in history when masculine identity had been threatened. 1
Saxton cited a study (ironically by a researcher named Nigel Barber) where facial hair fashions from 1842 to 1971 were analyzed. It appears that beards and moustaches were more fashionable in times when a greater proportion of single men were competing for fewer women. Interestingly, both men and women believe that men with beards are older, stronger, and more aggressive than other men.1
Self-identity can be fragile, especially when it is challenged by multiple factors. Currently, many people are out of work due to the global pandemic and have had their sense of who they are challenged. Men in particular, tend to value themselves based on their earnings. Self-esteem can be very much rooted in performance. Economically, men aren’t doing as well as they used to. In many circumstances women have surpassed men educationally and career-wise. This growing trend is thought to have possibly impacted the need for men to compete for “mates” in more physical and esthetic manners– including facial hair for manliness and attractiveness, and through perfecting their physiques for the same reasons. Many animal species have evolved to drive mating preference based on the male’s physical characteristics. The strongest, best-looking specimens get first pick of the mating pool. Maybe we are not so different.
Today, growing facial hair may be a man’s subconscious response to what one historian terms a “crisis of masculinity.”2 Men who are in crisis can reach out to support groups or licensed therapists, especially those who are familiar with men’s issues. Working with a professional to help figure out who they are, and what is important to them, can be life altering. Learning to rebuild self-esteem based on things other than achievements, is a valuable gift we can give ourselves, and then pass along to others.
1. Saxton, T. (2016, April 19). The real reason men grow beards. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160418-the-real-reason-men-grow-beards.
2. Green, D. (2016, January 16). There’s something surprising going on with our current obsession with beards, according to one historian. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/theres-something-surprising-going-on-with-our-current-obsession-with-bears-according-to-one-historian-2016-1.