Up until I graduated college, I had never grown much of a beard. It was not for lack of ability, my Mediterranean roots more than obliging there, but rather practice. Time in the Scouts and state guard made me view smoothness and professionalism as superior virtues. To get anywhere beyond a light facial shadow was highly unacceptable. Perhaps a slightly moral or elitist edge was tied to such inclinations, like the contrast between Cromwellian purity and the floppy disarray of the cavaliers. At least I have heard that historically Protestants and Catholics traded beard-wearing to distinguish themselves on a social level.
Following matriculation I allowed a neat scruff to form, at various times cutting it down to the Walter White goatee. My retired military friend suggested I looked like an “Allahu Kind Bar” with the former, while the latter was largely unnoticed, except by this French chick who claimed I was sporting it to look advanced in years. Why not?
Once I entered into a more serious relationship, the general specter of female influence caused me to keep it shaved for the most part. Was this a reflection of the Beverly Crusher fixation on removing the mystery (or manhood) of her male companions, who could grow a beard she was incapable of? Then again, women shave a great deal (thankfully), and the style for men has been pushed by not only the aforementioned Oliver, but Peter the Great as well. Hence it is difficult to forge an entirely proto-feminist claim about the concept, even if the cutting of men extends far past regenerating face follicles, often with open womanly approval.
No, I figure there is something else to the dynamic. Beards are not remanded to some obscure masculine trait that females desire to stamp out, and facial dysfunction guys find enraging; at the most basic level, they represent a certain autonomy of the self. Though exceptions no doubt exist, shavers are usually doing so to meet the prescriptions of a particular environment or social circle, such as the office, military service, or church. They recognize that the phalanx of bare faces will react with distrust or even sanctions if someone flaunts popular cohesion, and thus elect to not draw attention. Only those with a special health or religious exemption shall be permitted to fall through the cracks, and for certain folks the mere act of getting special consideration is dishonorable. So they continue to glide across sandpaper.
In contrast, the fellows more resigned to their life and existence care less about what society thinks, even if it may be correct in making particular judgments. Sure, they could be a lot of grubby armchair rebels with just enough passion to vote Libertarian at the next election, but that’s something. Better than peeling off layers of skin for the good of the Man and a paycheck, potentially.
As of right now my beard is coming on strong, but I’m still conflicted. The sensation can be irritable when compared with a cool 24-hour shadow, but not far beyond that. You’ve also got the threads that hang over each lip, drying them out and becoming a distraction. And yet, I can’t help but feel authentic, so it stays for now.