The Mystery of the Scraggly Beard

We have been watching the Stanley Cup playoffs these past couple of weeks and one of the ritual for players is the playoff beard. It’s understandable that athletes don’t want to change anything that seems to be working in their favour and one of those practices is allowing one’s facial hair to be left untouched and untended. I get it—the longer the beard, the longer the playoff run, until hopefully the ultimate prize is achieved.

When some players adopt this ritual, they probably don’t even realize that historically beards were deemed to be a sign of masculinity and dominance of other males. Sporting a beard, particularly a rather fearsome one, was a warrior symbol. And believe me, some of those hockey games look like war on ice! But what about after the battle is done, what then Joe Thornton? How about a little trim so you don’t frighten small children when you walk down the street in broad daylight?

Beards have been around throughout history. Scientific studies claim that men grow beards to attract women, especially when there are fewer females in the marriage pool. Middle Eastern and Indian cultures see beards as a sign of wisdom and power. (The image of a man stroking his beard always seems to suggest thoughtfulness, but it could be very much like hair twirling—just an absent-minded habit.) In early times, a man’s profession—such as bishop, judge, soldier, or even clown— could be denoted by the cut of his beard. The beard was also symbolic of the mountain man, but it was probably grown more for practical reasons than aesthetic ones. This is much like ranchers who often grow one to protect their face in winter from the harsh elements.

William Shakespeare wrote about beards in several of his plays. “He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man,” he wrote. But the bard also warned against “a beard neglected” and Beatrice in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing said, “Lord, I could not endure a husband with a beard on his face! I had rather lie in the woolen.”

Many famous figures have sported a beard. I can’t even imagine Ab Lincoln without his chin whiskers and Ernest Hemingway had a very sharp-looking beard in his twilight years. Country music artist Kenny Rogers has one of the most iconic beards in the business. Sean Connery (still my favourite James Bond character) has donned one of the sexiest beards around. And then there’s Santa Claus, that mythical figure with his perfect mythical beard.

With all of these wonderful role models, I am at a loss to explain why some men have decided to grow their beards to the point of looking like Tom Hanks in his role for Castaway. No doubt Duck Dynasty has had some influence on the current scraggly style that some men have adopted. But I’m here to tell you, gentlemen, that the burly, neglected look has very little appeal, particularly to women, and, frankly, has become rather boring. To the men out there with scraggly beards who think they’re being trendy—go to a barbershop and get a trim. Believe me, you’ll still turn heads, but in a good way.

I admire a nicely kept beard that suits the man, but whenever I see a scruffy, long mess of facial hair, all I can think of is a limerick by Edward Lear that I learned as a child.

There was an Old Man with a beard,

Who said, “It is just as I feared!

Two owls and a hen

Four larks and a wren

Have all built their nests in my beard.”


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