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'Your beard makes you look like a film star... or homeless'

We've been scrubbed, shaved, plucked and waxed within an inch of our lives. We have been told we should look more like choirboys than Hell's Angels. Our masculinity has been drowned in a tidal wave of metrosexual conformity.

But now we are fighting back. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, David Beckham and a growing number of men are going in pursuit of the hirsute and proudly declaring -- the beard is back, baby.

This backlash against the feminisation of modern man is popping up everywhere.

From boardrooms to bars, men are rushing to reclaim their masculinity. But it would appear the jury is still out when it comes to the question -- to beard or not to beard?

A whopping 75% of men say sporting facial hair makes them "feel" more masculine and vibrant to the ladies, according to a US study by Strategic Research. It also found 60% of women thought men with facial hair have much more sex appeal than their cleaner-cut counterparts.

However, a poll by dating website Gorgeous Networks found that beards and moustaches were the top two in women's list of turn-offs (followed by pierced ears, cowboy boots and combovers).

So, there was only one way to find out the truth. It was time to hang up my razor blade and ditch the shaving foam, and let nature take its course.

Growing a beard requires commitment. The first few days are easy. Thanks to the era of designer stubble and George Michael, a few days' growth is still considered cool. But after five days you suddenly realise the seriousness of the journey you've embarked upon.

As your hair follicles sprout they physically change the feel, texture and sensitivity of your face. To lean your chin on your hand becomes an uncomfortable experience.

Then there's the itching (worst between the first and second week). And no one told me my face would transform into Velcro. Several times a day I had to detach the hairs of my pet dog Benji and pet cat Josie from my rapidly exploding face fuzz.

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But while the physical dimensions take some getting used to, it is people's reactions that persuade most men to soon crumble and once again reach for the razor blade.

Everyone had an opinion on my beard-growing endeavours and offered up that opinion without fail. I quickly learnt there are two firm camps when it comes to a blossoming beard -- the lovers and the haters. Most were not supportive of my decision.

After almost two weeks of itching and general public disapproval, I took out the trimmer. Yes, I have to admit I almost faltered. I cut back my growing face forest and shaved the upper reaches of my cheek and lower reaches of my neckline to make myself more presentable.

With my somewhat neater appearance I vowed not to stray and continue with my experiment.

Despite the initial social stigma, growing your beard is an interesting experience. It amazes me, as I rapidly close in on my 40th year, that my beard can spurt out hair like there's no tomorrow while the hair on my head waves the white flag and retreats in defeat.

I was also shocked at the large patches and flecks of white -- another sign my 30s are almost at an end.

The surprising thing, however, was the effect growing a beard had on how I felt about myself. As I stroked my hairy chops, I felt more melancholic and weary with the world.

While I generally lounge about the house in jeans, T-shirts or hoodies, I found myself wearing shirts and sprucing myself up.

I turned to my girlfriend Liat for an assessment of the beard situation and, even though she tried to put a positive spin on it, she only fuelled my insecurities.

"When you wear a shirt or dress up you look like a movie star, but mostly you look like you're homeless," she said.

Another 'friend' told me I looked like a child molester, while someone else quipped the Planet Of The Apes had just called and wanted their hair back. In fact, I was constantly urged, mostly by men, to shave.

After three weeks I succumbed. Yes, I decided I'm just not a beard guy. I like the idea of having a beard, but the touch and feel of a face rug is just not something I enjoyed. But my experience did fill me with admiration for those who sport full beards in the face of general public disapproval.

So when it comes to growing a beard, I would urge all men to give it a lash. And if the lady in your life is a little uneasy, just remind her of the encouraging words of comedian Minnie Pearl: "Kissing a man with a beard is a lot like going to a picnic. You don't mind going through a little bush to get there."


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