Culture

The beard is ‘hair’ to stay - for now

Plus: The Old Testament guide to beard styling

Seems the beard trend will continue, with increasing numbers of men embracing their inner hipster, throwing out the razor and setting their whiskers free.

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This furry fad has hit the razor industry hard, with maker of Gillette razors, Procter & Gamble, reporting a fourth-quarter $US8 billion ($11.8bn) loss. In part, they attribute this to the popularity of beards.

“Growing a beard is the only way a man can publicly display his manhood.” – Alun Withey

Even the evidence of beardy bacteria has not deterred menfolk. Swiss scientists released findings in April that beards were dirtier than dogs but this has not seemed to stop the facial hair phenomenon. This year will mark the fifth anniversary of World Beard Day, held on the first Saturday in September (putting it in direct competition with Father’s Day).

So what’s beneath the beard’s comeback? According to British historian and author of the study “Do Beards Matter?”, Alun Withey (who, ironically, is clean-shaven), it’s because of a crisis in masculinity.

“There is a relatively clear pattern of beards coming in and out of fashion, and this tends to correspond with periods in history when the masculine identity as a whole is threatened,” Withey told The Telegraph.

He continued: “Growing a beard is the only way a man can publicly display his manhood, without getting thrown in jail for indecent exposure!”

Alongside the need to assert masculinity, Withey identifies another culprit for the beard revival in recent years: George Clooney. “The most recent rise of beards, which began several years ago, was most likely triggered when George Clooney, among others, arrived at the 2013 Baftas and Oscars with facial hair.

“We saw a huge rise in beards in the months following those ceremonies.”

Yet, as Bible readers know, long before Clooney, beards were on trend. There’s even grooming tips within the first laws God gave to his people through his leader Moses: “You are not to cut off the hair at the sides of your head or mar the edge of your beard.” (Leviticus 19:27)

Samson is saying there is more to his strength than just hair.

Consensus based on culture and tradition – and movies! – suggest key biblical blokes were bearded, such as Abraham, Moses, Esau, King David, Job, Elijah, Jeremiah, Paul (most likely) and, of course, even Jesus.

Long before modern psychological analysis, the Bible also made a link between hairiness and masculine strength. The most notable example is Samson, who eventually shares the “secret of his great strength” with his wife Delilah in Judges 16: “So he told her everything.’No razor has ever been used on my head,’ he said, ‘because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.'”

To clarify, Samson is saying there is more to his strength than just hair. His explanation that “I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb” reveals the real reason behind his superhuman abilities: it is his relationship with God, rather than his hair, that provides Samson’s strength.

His hair is an outward display of his inward vow to stay dedicated to God. So it is no coincidence that when Samson’s “strength leaves him” (as Delilah cuts his hair in Judges 16:19), so too “the Lord had left him” (Judges 16:20).

Samson also demonstrates his reliance upon God for strength just before his death, when he prays: “Sovereign Lord, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines …”

While some beard enthusiasts are keen to make a connection between hairiness and holiness, this is probably a stretch too far.

The humble beard may not bring its wearer Samsonian strength or even potent masculinity, but it can still offer some street cred – at least, for the time being.

According to Withey: “There is always someone out to discredit facial hair … as popular as [beards] still are, history tells us that there will be a backlash. Beards are not here to stay, but despite tens of news reports claiming that we’ve already reached ‘peak beard’, I’m not so sure. The only thing I can be certain of is that they definitely won’t last in the long run. Eventually, society will find a way to condemn the beard once more.”

The Old Testament guide to beard styling

Style 1: Close-shaven

Ezekiel 5:1: “Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair.”

Style 2: Unshaven

Judges 16:17: “’No razor has ever been used on my head,’ [Samson] said, ‘because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.’”

Style 3: Smoothed down

1 Samuel 21:13: “So [David] pretended to be insane in their presence; and while he was in their hands he acted like a madman, making marks on the doors of the gate and letting saliva run down his beard.”

Style 4: The handlebar

2 Samuel 20:9: “Joab said to Amasa, ‘How are you, my brother?’ Then Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him.”

Style 5: Well oiled 

Psalm 133:2: “It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.”

Style 6: Extra bald

Leviticus 14:9: “On the seventh day they must shave off all their hair; they must shave their head, their beard, their eyebrows and the rest of their hair.”

Style 7: Extra full – with sideburns

Leviticus 19:27: “‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.'”

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