Category Archives: Bodily Hair

“The Beard” As a Symbol

Besides being a fashionable asset to any face, “The Beard” is a statement, usually that “I am a man and can grow a beard, so deal with my stubbly insubordinate nature.” In some cases, growing facial hair has become the calling card for indie band members, Canadian lumberjacks, and brutally masculine movie stars (see: Sean Connery, Jeff Bridges, Mr. T). But can beards symbolize something other than masculinity and what implications can growing a beard have on a person’s psychology?

Those are both very intriguing questions that I doubt anyone could answer without first delving into weeks of research in an academic library. Because I’m rather short on time, I’ll rely on my flimsy conjectures and access to Wikipedia.

Well-known theologian of the second century Clement of Alexandria wrote extensively about the importance of facial hair. A Christian philosopher, he deemed beards man’s “natural and noble adornment.” In fact, an inactive user on a Puritan forum I found on the vast internet shared similar sentiments with the quotes he posted (thanks to anonymous Puritan guys researching ancient texts):

“How womanly it is for one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with a razor, for the sake of fine effect, and to arrange his hair at the mirror, shave his cheeks, pluck hairs out of them, and smooth them!…For God wished women to be smooth and to rejoice in their locks alone growing spontaneously, as a horse in his mane. But He adorned man like the lions, with a beard, and endowed him as an attribute of manhood, with a hairy chest–a sign of strength and rule.” 2.275

Not growing out your beard, Clement asserts, is womanly, which may come as quite an insult for bearded women.

“This, then, is the mark of the man, the beard. By this, he is seen to be a man. It is older than Eve. It is the token of the superior nature….It is therefore unholy to desecrate the symbol of manhood, hairiness.” 2.276

These quotes reflect that to shave one’s beard rebels against God himself, yet in today’s society not-shaving, not not-shaving, signifies an aptitude for rebellion. We view beards as belonging to badass transgressors and terrorist anarchists. Sometimes, then, beards can be seen as a sign of obedience and sometimes as a sign of rebellion. It’s strange that tufts of facial hair could signify two such disparate ideologies. Naturally, we associate not shaving with Amish identity as well as the religious identities of other factions (Jewish and Islamist faiths being two prime examples).

That is the epitome of manliness

Then what is a beard by any other name other than nothing more than what it is?

Hair. On your face.

A beard can symbolize whatever you want it to symbolize. A beard, like many other universal symbols, can be used to instruct unconsciously in a myriad of ways and therefore are meaningless as well as full of meaning. Then, when you grow your beards, you get to choose what it means. Sort of like a tattoo. Perhaps you want to seem manly, or want to seem rebellious, or like my friend Andy can’t not grow a beard because your manliness refuses to hide itself.

The reason I’m contemplating beards: November is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month. And to support awareness of a possibly awkward topic, men grow out their beards. Next time you shave, think about what you’re saying or not saying about yourself.

Shaving

Should probably shave, I thought, grazing the hair on my face that never resembled a beard, but instead some bedraggled cat holding on for dear life. No, the hairs on my face rarely sculpt me into a sexy, rather hipster-ish Ryan Gosling look-a-like, but instead an unshaven bum.

So I retreated to the bathroom with my Neutrogena shaving kit and disposable razor pack (CVS; $4.99). The sink encrusted with spittle-mixed-tooth-paste, the mirrors streaked with the same concoction in patterns reminiscent of some Jackson Pollock painting.

Shaving is men’s equivalent to dyeing his hair. We arise fresh, awoken, somehow new. Certainly, we look different, sometimes more childish, sometimes more handsome. Either way, we come out of the experience different and cleansed. The feeling fades just as does that familiar Sunday Morning vibe that fizzles out once we smack into Monday and decide, well, why not try meth?

I finished and put down the razor, inspecting myself. Sometimes, when you look in a mirror, it’s strange—you don’t recognize your own face because you hardly ever see it. So that’s it? That’s how people see me? Ah, well, it does look better shaven. Maybe I’ll feel a little different, a little new.

The Fall of Man

Man was once simple.

He stood in simple nakedness

with his simple, limp urinary tract extension

hanging between his simple legs

with a halo of wild hair

no one told him to shave, wax, or pluck.

 

He understood himself

even if not in a biological way.

But he understood that when his stomach hallowed

he could eat and feel better.

When his stomach felt ready to burst,

he could squat wherever he pleased

to expel his inner demons.

 

He understood the world too,

that he was the king of animals.

Even lions bent to his will

for Man had given them names.

When his body could no longer move,

he closed his eyes to return to Heaven.

When he woke alone in the Garden,

none of his stuff had been moved.

His pile of rocks stood as rocks.

His fig leaf collection remained scattered still.

 

Sometimes, Man even bathed

because the water felt good

on his body, but no one form him to.

It made his beard a sponge,

his beard no one ever asked to shave, wax, or pluck.

The Man, he was happy.

 

On the next day, God created Eve.

 

As a Writer, Do You or (How to Grow Writerly Chest Hair)

When I first started out, the advice I got the most was, “Write what you know.” This did not make much sense to me, since I was in fifth grade, and I wanted to write fantasy. And it’s a good thing I started out writing fantasy because it forces you to figure out the “rules” to your world, which, even if you’re writing a novel set in reality, you still must do.You still twist reality enough to constitute the need for rules. But here I was, 11, writing fantasy, yet people told me to “write what I knew.”

I thought that meant people wanted me to write about my life,which was boring. I might only be able to describe the highlight of my week as a Pokemon card game. Nothing major was happening in my life at the time, nothing I wanted to write about or felt comfortable writing, anyways. But now I see the purpose of the rule. It provides a sort of practice.

If how to describe something mundane, like a cookie or the scenery of a room, you’ll be better at expressing the minutiae of life. Which will make it much easier when you try to tackle larger ideas, you can write them better. When you conceived an immensely complicated but significant idea, you’ll know how to put that idea into words. But you have to start with describing the concrete before you can the abstract. From the concrete, you learn stylistic techniques that will help you in the long run.

The same rule goes for stories. If you begin writing stories about your day, your daily routine– how you bush your teeth and wait for your dog to poop in your neighbor’s lawn during your morning walk– it’s not a waste of time. Not many people many want to read such tedious chronicles of the most basic activities, but this will train you to be able to describe big-set scenes in the future.

Now, if you want to ever get published, you will one day have to write something someone will want to read. When writing without the intent of publication, however, you needn’t worry about the fickle tastes of the readers. Instead, do you. Write about whatever interests you, even if it’s butterflies. Spend pages describing a tin roof or the bark on a tree. In a published novel, this might not fly.

But the honest truth is, you’ll need to write thousands and thousands (hundreds of thousands) of words meant for fiction before writing anything “good.” This is not to demean you. It’s just a fact. Writers must write for a good long time before finding their voice. It’s a sort of writerly puberty, if you’d like to think of it like that. Sure, for a while, you’ll speak high-pitched, but then eventually you’ll get some hair on your chest. You know who had a lot of hair on his chest? Ernest Hemingway. No, seriosuly, he did.

So you spend a lot of time honing your craft, writing whatever you’d like. You must do this before attempting to write for the market or else you’ll start copying others’ styles and stories. You’ll be the writer writing paranormal romances and stories called The Boy with the Penguin Tattoo.

You have to find your voice before really delving into the selling part of writing. And that’s just if you want to get read. But if you’re just starting out, write for yourself, then focus on others. Write about the little things that worry you, then you’ll have practice to tackle the huge existential questions you might face in the future.

For the record, I would definitely read The Boy with the Penguin Tattoo.

Poem: Manly

I have no idea what it means

To really be a man

But if I can come up with some half-good

Answers for all my questions

I’d be halfway to the moon by now

And I guess I ain’t going soon

Because I don’t know anything

 

When I was ten I knew

What being a man was all about

You wore cowboy hats and drove a motorcycle

Or rode a horse in foreboding sunglasses

Or tats of naked women straddling eagles

Or snakes or dragons

And did whatever it takes to keep hold of your dignity

That sort of manliness is something I lack

I certainly don’t look like a buff, bearded lumberjack

 

But these days that idea of masculinity

Holds all the necessity of a bullet in my head

Which mind you, I don’t think I need

So I plead with you, know

That it’s not always men who go into fights

Who are manly

But instead the ones who spend their nights

At home with their families

Working two jobs just to have enough to send his little girl

To college one day

That place he never got to go

Because he’d throw a punch

Every single time his honor was questioned

But now he forgets about that

And instead says “I love you”

Every single chance he can

Because he knows now what it means

To be a man

Mustaches Win Elections

Fun With Poetry

Poem: Ode to the ‘Stache

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