I have a beard. Sometimes it’s a big beard, sometimes it’s not, but I’ve more or less had a beard of some kind for the past five or so years (and a little more intermittently for the four years prior to that). This isn’t to brag about by beard-growing prowess (though let the record show that I am a hairy, hairy man), but to demonstrate that I’m a “beard guy,” which is to say that I prefer having a beard to not. Part of this may be because my dad has always had a beard, but I think it’s mostly because having a beard requires almost no maintenance (when compared to not having a beard), and I’m nothing if not lazy. Unfortunately, in 2012, being a beard guy (especially a twenty-something beard guy) has a lot of baggage. Unless you’re a real live lumberjack or homeless dude, being a young man with a beard suggests that you like indie music of all types, wear skinny jeans, and generally care about your appearance only enough to look terrible “ironically.”
Perhaps I should back up to what got me thinking about this in the first place: this New York Times article that ran this past Monday about the New York City Beard Competition. That so many people are going to be thinking about beards and judging their appearance already kind of sets off my poseurphobia, but that’s not even the worst part.
The event also attracted the singer Kesha [sic], who spent the evening “getting inventory,” she said, for a forthcoming Web site that will prominently feature beards, possibly in a suggestive manner.
What. The. Fuck. Having a beard was something I liked because it made me feel like I had something in common with my dad, but now it makes me think of a “possibly suggestive” website designed by Ke$ha. Why would she want to do this? Was ruining parties, drinking, feeling like P. Diddy, clocks, and music not enough? I guess she just wanted people to think “possibly suggestive beards” and think “Ke$ha,” which I guess is only fair. My point is, if Ke$ha is banking on the cachet of something, then it’s probably too mainstream even for the hipsters, let alone me. (I also imagine Ke$ha kind of smells, what with the staying out all night drinking and waking up in dumpsters, which I would rather not have associated with the thing growing on my face.)
But long before Ke$ha ruined beards (and let’s not give her too much credit here), the hipsters had co-opted the meaning of having a beard. When I was in high school, I had (and still have) a similarly lazy approach to getting haircuts. Maintaining a short haircut requires periodic haircuts, whereas not being particular about how long your hair is means you can go a damn long time without ever cutting it. This also means that it’s long as often as it is short, which always warranted comments from my parents. They went to college in the 70s:
So they weren’t exactly against long hair, but they thought it was remarkable that having long hair wasn’t the political statement it was when they were growing up. I always thought this was absurd, even while I understood that that opinion was only made possible by the changing social mores of the 60’s, where having long hair held the very meaning they were talking about. Still, though, it’s just hair guys, chill out. At least, that’s how I felt until the hipsters totally commandeered the good ship beard.
Now, I’d hate to give the hipsters too much power, either, but I think I get mistaken for one of these guys more often than I am for a homeless guy, which is nice, I guess, but can’t I just be a person with a beard? Granted, I do think I’m too cool for a lot of things and generally pass to much judgement (which I’m working on), but I’m no hipster. In fact, I would probably count myself among the anti-hipster backlash (which is, in itself, an insanely popular, bandwagony phenomenon that may be worth a post somewhere down the line). The point is, I reject the identity many people assume because I have a beard.
This kind of puts me in a weird spot though, because if this were a different situation, say, a dude with a mohawk bemoaning that his hairdo has been co-opted by idiot high-schoolers, I would tell him to get a fucking haircut. That’s probably the cowards way out, but that’s just how I’ve dealt with things I like having baggage I don’t like for most of my life. I’d like to say that I’ll continue to wear a beard in order to buck this habit, but I know deep down that I really just keep it because I’m too lazy to not have a beard. My beard is pretty thick, and (more importantly) very dark, so unless I’m committed to shaving every day, I’m going to have a “beard” (it also bothers me that a days worth of stubble passes for a beard nowadays, but…well, maybe that’s just some lazy people getting creative about their “intentions”). I could never maintain a daily shaving regimen — heck, I can’t even maintain a daily showering regimen — so I really don’t have a choice. Nobody would ever confuse having a messy room with a conscious decision, and I more or less feel the same way about having a beard.
On the other hand, I do like that my dad also has a beard. When I think about it, I like feeling this weird, fraternal connection to the world of bearded dudes, from Abraham Lincoln to Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. On a more everyday level, I’ve always given a special nod to strangers with beards when I pass them on the street, because I think we must understand something about each other. We’re beard guys, and we don’t care what the rest of the world thinks.