It was mid-December and I was getting lazy as my two-week Christmas vacation approached. I noticed that the stubbly 5:00 shadow forming on my face was quickly approaching 9:00, so I knew I was at a crucial crossroads in my personal facial hair history. After giving it decidedly little thought, I vowed this would be the first time in my life that I would let a true beard materialize.
It’s been nearly two months since I began this experiment, and since I had very little counsel and have learned much about the ups and downs of such a venture, I thought I would share my wisdom for future manly men who might consider boarding the beard train.
So You Want To Grow A Beard?
While it has always been a decision that I take lightly, changing your facial hair is not necessarily a decision to be taken lightly. It’s your face. People have to look at it every day, talk to it every day, and deal with it every day. Even more so than the clothes you choose to wear, facial hair can help define you. It becomes both a style accessory and a part of your personality. Have you ever noticed that some children are afraid of men with beards? Have you ever noticed that no normal, self-respecting man who was born after 1980 would ever sport a mustache in a non-ironic context? There is connotative baggage that comes with certain types of facial hair, and you need to be ready to accept it.
My first facial hair experience was an unfortunate one: the Clement. Randomly seized by the desire to try something different, I decided to emulate the facial follicular styling of Matt Clement, a rather mediocre pitcher at the time playing for my beloved Chicago Cubs. In hindsight, I believe this facial hair helped me to live up to one of the Cubs’ most famous nicknames: Lovable Loser. On the upside, my first facial hair experience had gone off without a hitch, the Clement grew in rather fully and I had the confidence to know that I could do it again some time…perhaps even in a more traditional facial hair configuration.
A couple years later, I took my first stab at growing a beard, but hot summer temperatures made me abandon it for goatee territory after only a few weeks’ growth. The goatee grew boring, however, and I quickly got out of the facial hair game. This winter, it was finally time for a comeback.
The 7 Stages of Bearded-ness (SOB)
In its two-month life, my beard went through several stages–some painful–before achieving undeniable glory. To break down what followed, I proudly present the 7 Stages of Beardedness (SOB).
Stage One: The 5:00 Shadow
As legendary singer and facial hair experimenter Bruce Springsteen likes to sing, “From small things, mama, big things one day come.” The 5:00 shadow is the time when you decide to head for the shaving cream or commit to the process.
Stage Two: The Dirty Hobo
This is the part where your baby beard’s growth has gone beyond the acceptable limits of the 5:00 shadow and you start to get odd looks from your friends, family and coworkers. The “Did someone lose his razor?” jokes start to fly and you may or may not be called a hobo to your face. (If it’s not happening to your face, you’re definitely being called a hobo behind your back. Hobo.)
Stage Three: Growing Pains
Into each life, some rain must fall. And for a man growing a beard, sometimes it feels like acid rain. In this stage (at which you also still look like a dirty hobo), you become keenly aware of your suddenly misguided experiment. As you constantly claw at your ever-itching face, you’ll question your sanity and try to remember why you even wanted a beard in the first place.
For me, it’s a genetic reason. Beards seem to run in my family. My Dad and younger brother have both sported them since the day they realized it was physically possible. My Dad’s beard is more salt than pepper these days, and my brother recently lopped it off for a goatee formation, but these grizzled veterans both offered the same advice for dealing with a stage three beard: Stay the course. I would add another piece of advice: Hide your razor to resist its siren call. When the useless scratching of your itchy invisi-beard leaves you with nothing but an underlying layer of pimples, you’ll beg for a Bic to save you. At that moment, keep your eyes on the prize.
Stage Four: Keepin’ It Real
Now that you’ve made it through stage three, you’re in the home stretch. If you haven’t already, it’s time to legitimate your beard growth and put to rest the question of your lost razor/hobo status by shaving the excess hair growth on your throat and neck. The question of how far down to shave is a valid one, but I’ve found that following the curve of your jaw around to an inch above your Adam’s Apple is an acceptable look. It also hides any double chin that may or may not be setting in. If you’re one of those people whose facial hair grows up your cheekbones toward your eyes, it’s time to take care of that, too. Repeat this process as needed until you reach stage five.
Stage Five: “A Guy with a Beard”
Congratulations! You’ve reached the promised land! It’s hard to say exactly when you cross the threshold, but one day you’ll look in the mirror and see a guy with a beard. People will start to throw around words like “professorial,” “dignified” and “older.” Women–many of whom categorically seem to hate the mere idea of a beard–will begin to despise your appearance. That’s how you know you’ve really made it. Welcome to the world of the bearded.
Before you get too excited, there are a couple caveats of which you need to be aware. First off, don’t get sick when you have a beard. Blowing your nose is no longer a relieving experience, as your mustache does a lot of, um, collecting. Make sure you’re within range of a sink for a quick wash or that you have an extra tissue to clean up what you’ve wrought.
Secondly, soup is no longer your friend. This is another reason not to get sick when you have a beard. You just cleaned up your face from a particularly rough nose-blowing session and you reward yourself with some Campbell’s. Pretty soon you’ve got broth running down your chin and chicken noodle soaking in your beard. Mmm, mmm good.
Lastly, let it be known that you will stroke your beard. Before you have one, you may scoff at that notion. But the day you realize you have a full beard will also be the day you realize you’ve been stroking it. In fact, that may be why you realize you have a full beard. The longer the beard, the more stroking will occur. The hobo has become the wizened professor. Time to move on to stage six.
Stage Six: Upkeep
This is the stage that doesn’t go away. After basking in the glow of your new beard, you’ll soon realize that the beard is changing the shape of your face in slightly alarming ways. You’ll wash your face and wonder why your cheeks seem fatter. No, you haven’t gained weight…your beard is just too long. In addition to the excess below-the-beard neck hair that you’ve been shaving away right along, you are now forced to properly maintain and care for the beard itself. This requires specialized equipment that you may or may not already own. Fortunately for me, I have bearded blood relatives and they were willing to share. Unfortunately for me, I had waited so long that the beard and mustache trimmer didn’t stand a chance. It was like trying to mow your lawn for the first time in June. Where were you all spring?
I resorted to using a regular hair trimmer, normally reserved for inducing a crew cut on the top of my head. After several tests, I finally found the proper length attachment and effectively tamed the beard. It remained remarkably full and appropriately trim. Now what?
Stage Seven: Requiem for a Beard
I haven’t reached this stage yet, but I feel it coming. I’m not one of those people who thinks this red beard (yes, mine’s red for some reason) should become a permanent part of my facial personality. I’ve seen it through all six stages, so it’s days are numbered. The thrill of the chase is gone. I’ve conquered the beard; it’s checked off my bucket list (along with “properly using a semicolon in this blog”).
If you’ve read this far, but you’re female or similarly face follicle-challenged, I recently received a Facebook ad for a product that is the answer to all your beard-filled prayers. Consider investing in a Beardo. All the fun of a beard with no line and no waiting.
Where was that ad two months ago?