Beards: Are they hot? (Sometimes.) Do they always make a guy better looking? (No.) Do women prefer them? (Some.) Are men with beards more likely to be sexist? (Yes.) Does having one signal to women your desire to commit and have a baby? (Yes.) Is there such a thing as beard privilege? (Definitely.) What happens when you confirm or suspect that a dude who’s attractive with facial hair isn’t hot without it? (Record scratch.)
Over at the Metro UK, Ellen Scott coins the term shaveducking to describe this phenomenon, what she calls “the lingering unease that emerges when you realize that you’re not quite sure if you’re attracted to a man, or just his facial hair.” The term is a bit weird (Brits, amirite?) but the concept is not only familiar, but apparently very common, especially given the greater proliferation of beards these days. Some men’s looks are absolutely elevated by a beard, which is probably why they have them, and once they shave that sucker off, they look weird, plain, boyish, chinless or chinful.
In response to a challenge to post pictures of a beard vs. no beard, many men submitted their own before and after on Instagram. (You can judge for yourself which is the superior visage.)
Back at the Metro UK, Scott writes:
You’re swiping through Tinder when you see him. He’s hot. You swipe right immediately. He swipes right too. You start chatting, you meet up, you flirt, and midway through you notice something. His eyes are a bit close together, aren’t they? His cheekbones are not as sharp, his jawline not as strong. Is this person actually attractive, or do they just have good facial hair?
It also happens in established relationships where all the sudden, dude decides to zip that thing off and now there’s a strange face you’re supposed to still like. Then all that’s left other than a sink full of hair are the confounded women, who experience serious turmoil, panic, confusion, guilt and sadness over the loss.
Search for “boyfriend shaved beard” and the results are all some variation on dang, now what?
“My boyfriend doesn’t have a very big beard,” a woman writes at Girls Ask Guys. “But it was just getting a little bushy and he goes and ‘accidentally’ shaves it. The problem is that he doesn’t look good without a beard…What should I do? I don’t want him to shave his beard again.” At Madame Noire a woman asks, “Is this petty? He shaved his beard and now I don’t feel as attracted to him.”
“My boyfriend shaved his beard and now I realize he’s not that cute,” another woman asks Quora. “What should I do?” Over at Slate, a woman writes into Dear Prudence that her fiancé shaved his goatee, revealing the face of a college freshman underneath what used to be a 30-year-old man. “I am just not finding him as attractive as I did before,” she writes. “Is it terrible to ask him to grow the beard back? Or do you think I’ll get over it?” In a piece on dealing with “post-beard trauma,” a woman recalls the experience of seeing her boyfriend shave his facial hair off as “shave shock.” She cries upon seeing the new (old?) him, then begins visiting the Reddit forum “Beard Porn” for solace.
Taken together, these anecdotes and the Metro UK piece signal the fact that yes, women are visual, have preferences, and can be just as shallow as men. But it also points to a seemingly new level of scrutiny for a man’s appearance (in an unprecedented era where men care more about it than ever before, too) that almost hits the level of the way we constantly evaluate women.
Almost. Men are apparently just as upset if not more deceived by seeing their girlfriends without makeup on for the first time. Some outright call their girlfriends ugly. They debate whether they are being “tricked” by women who wear makeup. One study found that more than half of men think women wear makeup expressly to pull one over on them. Of note, 47 percent of women agreed this was exactly the point, but said they had little choice given the immense Photoshopped pressure to appear flawless. Just 34 percent of women said beards are the same sort of trickery.
But as we’ve said before with disguising baldness, either all alterations to our appearances are subterfuge or none are. I stand firmly that none are. Men have as much right as women to play with or alter their appearances, whether it’s wearing lifts or butt implants or growing their hair out, wherever that hair may be, to be as enticing as possible, because that’s how it works.
Still, makeup is not a one-to-one corollary with beards. Women face far more pressure to doll themselves up than men do to grow a beard. There are professions in which women are required to wear makeup to meet a dress code enforced entirely around an arbitrary notion of what being female looks like. Not making any effort toward your appearance if you don’t want to is a privilege of masculinity women can hardly imagine, much less enjoy.
That said, it’s pretty easy for women to get their hands on some contouring and eyeliner to maintain flawless symmetry forever, but not every man can grow a beard even if he chooses. And even those who can grow one experience very different responses to it. In a piece on beard privilege, Joshua Virasami notes that he resents the fact that “growing a beard is an entirely different experience from race to race, from class to class and importantly from gender to gender, that there is nothing I can do to change that experience. Growing a beard with no qualms is a white male privilege.”
In other words, a white man’s beard is cultured and hip and sexy, while a black or Muslim man’s beard is suspicious and threatening. One man’s bearded Beckham is another man’s bearded Bin Laden. Not to mention the fact that some (not all) Asian and Native American men can’t grow beards. Or that some men who could grow them choose not to risk it because they’re associated with religious fanaticism.
Regardless of who’s got it worse on the grooming front (ahem, still women), the bigger issue here is that everyone is shallow in their own way, and part of the fun (horror) of being with people is figuring out just how shallow your partner is. So if a woman fell in love with you as Beardy McBearderton and hoped you stayed bearded forever, that doesn’t make her shallow. But if she can’t be with you anymore because she now knows the beard hides a bad chin situation? Then she probably wasn’t all that in love with much else about you. See also: people who stop wearing glasses and people who cut their long locks.
But this sort of preference and attempt to dictate another person’s appearance goes both ways. Some men have long insisted that their girlfriends and wives never cut their long hair. Some women have long insisted that their boyfriends and husbands never shave their beard or alternately, never grow a beard.
That’s all fine if they can both deal with that — what is any relationship except a series of negotiations? As for what to do when someone breaks the pact, the beard goes and the truth emerges, the advice seekers all pretty much say the same thing. Ask the dude to grow it back, but do not demand it. Get over it, or leave.
At the Metro UK, Scott suggests doing some preliminary research to find non-facial hair pics to find out what you’re really working with before you go too far down that road. But that’s easier said than done — what if he has no pics online of his clean-shaven face? Are you supposed to straight up ask for some?
Probably better to realize that people’s looks change over time, whether you want them to or not. The beard could go when the rest of the hair does; someone could go gray earlier than you and look too old. Some couples remain wonderfully attracted to each other throughout all the weight gain, health issues, hair loss, hair gain, and just getting older; others, put on 20 pounds and you’re dunzo. All any of us can hope for is that the latter types all find each other on Tinder tonight, self-eliminating for the rest of us.