Wednesday, 16 April 2014
A response to 'Peak Beard' #100beards
Today has been particularly interesting for me on the beard front. Usually a day doesn't pass without a friend texting me something along the lines of "just saw an awesome beard you should photograph" or being tagged in a photo on instagram of a '100 Beards' fan showing me their facial hair but today there was a turn in the conversation. The University of NSW Australia published a study which suggested that we've reached 'peak beards' and now is the tipping point for men to go clean shaven. In the wake of this I was bombarded by media outlets asking for my opinion on the matter and spent 2 hours on the phone to 8 radio stations across Canada (big beard fans it transpires) to discover if this trend is 'over'. As this news story seems to have generated more interest than the Ukraine crisis, I thought it only right to give my views in a post of it's own.
Firstly, if we're looking solely at this study it's best to get the gist of what it says. Basically it asked females to rate men on a scale of attractiveness with and without beards. Once they'd viewed a whole bunch of bearded men, they found the clean shaven variety more appealing. This leads to the question, if women find men unattractive with beards will the men be persuaded to shave? Speaking with so many gentlemen about their life with facial hair, it seems the majority of them don't have supportive partners, particularly when those are female. The growth occurred in spite of opinions from the opposite sex, not due to it. In this case, the argument to keep a beard wins.
On another note, we have to consider whether we've reached saturation. For me, I actually think we have. When I started documenting the facial hair trend on July 1st 2012, I had two thoughts in the first week of consecutive portraits. Firstly, how on earth will I find a new beard every day? And secondly, is this trend already dead? At the time I thought I was late to the hirsute party but in the months that followed I realised it was only just started to grow, pun intended. Today, nearly 2 years later, I feel the shift it happening and a balance of beards is starting to occur. This doesn't mean we'll suddenly be seeing a pack of Don Draper's roaming the streets but it does mean that those who don't suit a beard or aren't truly comfortable with one will give up the gig.
There's something more important to mention here. In different regions beard growing means different things. From what I can see in the UK, it's about returning to gentlemanly style, masculine grooming and taking pride in taking pride in your appearance as a man. No that wasn't a repeat-typo. Beard wearers aren't wearing sloppy joes and scratching their arse, they're probably cleaner than those "clean-shaven", more culturally aware, more buttoned up and more socially plugged-in. There's not a great bearded man I've photographed yet who told me they keep a beard solely because they're lazy. In fact, for many of the men I photographed they have stories of reclaimed masculinity in a feminised culture and aesthetic transformation leading to an increase in confidence, self-esteem and self-acceptance. You don't get a much greater transformation than beard-leaders Ricki Hall and Chris Millington who both have build fantastic modelling careers and fanbases around their ability to grow facial hair.
I'm asked regularly if I have a beard and when I respond 'no', after the shock has worn off, invariably I'm asked 'why?' My true response is that I'm not going to grow one because it's popular but because it's my truest form of self-expression. After photographing well over 200 gents with fantastic beard, it's hard not to develop a complex over your own average growth. As I said multiple times on air to CBC radio, it's best to leave it to the experts.
In short, if you're considering shaving your beard because some journalists have deemed it unfashionable then you probably shouldn't have grown one in the first place.
Hear one of my many interviews on CBC Radio above and please let me know your thoughts. Are you tired of the beard or will they live on? Is it a fad? Are they attractive to you? Tweet me @GarconJon or Instagram your thoughts tagging @GarconJon and #100Beards.