Beards

I’ve never been able to grow one very well (it is possible but it never turns out quite the way I want it to).  Apparently beards are making a comeback though.  Check this out!
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fter 60 years of bigotry against full facial hair, Disney recently decided to allow its male front line employees to greet vacationers at its theme parks with neatly-groomed beards.
It’s yet another blow to the shaken clean-shaven hierarchy, as the last half-decade has seen a prominent shift in society’s attitude toward facial hair.
In Canada’s urban centres, young men head out to the bar dressed beard to toe, as if suffering from a long day of logging. Even pretty boys like George Clooney or New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist have decided a beard doesn’t distract from their hypnotizing eyes.
On our faces anyway, brash masculinity is in, and has been for several years.
Concordia University sociologist Marc Lafrance, who teaches courses on masculinity and gender issues, says in his profession no trend is an accident.
In the “mancession” era, when statistics suggest women are outperforming men in many economic markers, is it a coincidence that men are revolting in a way that only having a Y chromosome allows? Is it easier to read an Atlantic article called “The End of Men” while stroking a gloriously furry chin?
“Facial hair has long symbolized virility and manliness and today, that’s no exception,” Lafrance said in a telephone interview from Montreal.
Lafrance notes the beard’s popularity has risen in the same era that interest in other hyper-masculine activities such as bodybuilding (an area of research for him) has.
“This boom is indicative of men trying to find a place for themselves in this society, and trying to claim that place in a very traditional masculine way,” he said, adding that men are feeling a lack of strength and security in their jobs and lives.
Vancouver fashion writer JJ Lee, the author of the critically-acclaimed “The Measure of a Man,” notes the beard’s return has coincided with a renewed interest in old-timey men’s fashions. The Hemingway sweaters, pipe smoking, fedoras, the “Mad Men” suits.
“People are attracted to a very normative masculinity,” Lee said. “It’s fatherly, it’s kind. The beard falls into that.”
Lee suggests there’s a dichotomy among beard wearers.
“It’s the same trend expressing two ideas. One is to restore normative manliness, people who can actually run corporations . . . and be actual breadwinners,” he said. “But there are the bearded men who identify more with back-to-nature types — the reclusive, the mountain man, the poet, the Bunyan-esque wanderer.”
These are the men of the 99 per cent.
“We don’t trust the slick anymore,” Lee said.
Prior to the 1840s in the West, facial hair was considered the domain of social deviants such as “artists, radicals and dandies,” Lafrance explains. It’s a stigma that still exists in some parts, particularly the business community. (It’s no coincidence Steve Jobs, who considered himself the ultimate rebel, wore a beard.)
That is except for the month of November, when Bay Street lets its facial hair down thanks to Movember, the prostate cancer awareness campaign. Movember, which encourages men to grow mustaches to raise awareness, has expanded in with the speed of a Jose Bautista (beard wearer!) homer.
Pete Bombaci of Movember Canada says the campaign has allowed corporate men to test the mo’waters and realize it feels more than fine.
“We’ve certainly seen a lot of corporations loosening up their facial hair policies because of Movember and that trial run has given them opportunity to embrace the mustache more than ever before,” he said.
“It’s a bit of masculinity, but it’s a bit of style, which is important in the business community today.”
While few workplaces have outright bans on men’s facial hair, there remains a few notable exceptions. When the late George Steinbrenner took over the New York Yankees in 1973, he mandated a rule that no player (or coach) could grow a beard, a rule that still stands.
The RCMP only allows a neatly-trimmed mustache, while the Canadian Forces requires its soldiers to receive a chit from a senior officer in order to get permission to grow a beard (which they have to grow in 30 days or less.) The service sector, particularly fast-food chains, also has fairly strict facial hair regulations.
But Lee laughs when he heard of Disney’s former ban on beards.
“Imagine not letting Tom Brady work for you!” he says with glee.
As hairless as the day we were born
But while hair is in on top for men, down below is another story.
On Starz’s hit television show “Spartacus,” ferocious Roman gladiators sport finely trimmed day-old scruff on their faces, while long bathhouse scenes display their perfect (and large) hairless chests and genitals.
Indeed, throughout Hollywood and the pages of men’s magazines these days, you are more likely to find beards than a hairy chest like those of Burt Lancaster or Sean Connery. While genetically possible, it’s rather improbable that all these famous bearded, brawny men seen on screen have nary a chest whisker.
This strikes Lafrance as a contradiction.
“What you are seeing is the exact crystallization of that contradiction, nostalgia (for big facial hair) on one hand, huge trend on body modification on the other,” he said. “We want men to be men in the traditional sense of the word, but men are also caught up in this vortex of consumer capitalism and this incredible boom of beauty products and cosmetic surgery.
“We as a culture are really moving towards the idea that nothing but perfect will do and the perfect body really does seem to be hairless increasingly for both men and women.”
Lee says it’s all about sex appeal to the viewer.
“Enough of a beard to show wisdom and experience, but not a shaggy chest to suggest prickliness or discomfort,” he said.
Speaking directly to “Spartacus” — the rare cable show that is an equal opportunity offender with its full-frontal nudity – Lee suggests that “maybe hairy male nudity might be too manly.”
As if there is such a thing as “too manly.”

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