So recently I’ve made a conscious decision to grow out the largest beard I have attempted. I have worn one style of facial hair or another since college. Started off with sideburns, then a chin beard, chin strap, mustache, full beard and pretty much any other conceivable style out there. The only consistent thing between those beards is that none of them were ever big and long.
When you always have a beard with short hair no one really says anything. Most people that I meet know me as a guy with a beard and life goes on as it would with any other person. But growing a full, big beard is different. You’ve got to put away the razors and scissors and step into something new. That’s what I love about it – that it’s different, it’s change, and most people won’t even try it in their life.
Why grow a beard?
I am one of those people that likes change, without it I become very bored and lose a little bit of drive. I had a short full beard consistently since 2005ish and my hairstyle has been generally short and spiky. My needs for change expanded as I hit my first mid-life crisis. Subsequently a new job, a trip to India, and starting a family wasn’t enough.
The other thing about growing a beard that really appeals to me is the rarity of full beards among men. The pressures of society seem to be too much for most men. These pressures can be anything from a nagging wife, an old school boss, or just internal head trash. Luckily my wife supports me, I work for myself, but I have always had to deal with those internal demons.
The process of growing a beard requires patience and is a challenging process. No one gets a big beard after a month, and most of the very large ones you see are at least one year of growth with no shaving. It will be a great challenge to me to see how long I can go without trimming or shaving.
What it’s like with a beard?
For me there is an added sense of manliness as I grow this beard out. Granted I am only about 3 months into the journey, but it is uncharted waters for me. My longest beard hair is probably about 1.5 to 2 inches. I’ve had to overcome my obsessive habits of plucking out beard hairs with split ends and solved that by simply cutting off those split ends with scissors. I’ve also caved a few times and trimmed up my mustache as it starts to get down to my mouth.
Contrary to popular belief, having a beard does not necessarily mean you will have less maintenance. After a certain point you need to brush or comb the beard to keep it manageable. This of course is in addition to washing and conditioning your beard when you shower. Also, I am currently in the process of trying to train my mustache hairs not to go into my mouth. It’s a challenging process that again will test your patience.
I am an active rower and I have noticed that it gets a lot hotter on my face during practice. Fortunately, Spokane is having a very mild summer and it’s not too bad. Had I still lived in South Carolina, I may be thinking differently. You do also run into other obvious problems – like getting food and drink in your beard, but really that’s a problem that a napkin can solve.
The other day I was around a friend’s 3 month old baby who was staring at me (like most babies do) and there was no telling what was going through his mind. But, after a while we encouraged him to touch and feel the beard, and the little guy seemed to enjoy it. Fortunately for me he didn’t enjoy it too much and rip out some hairs. It’s little things like that on a daily basis that make this process a lot of fun.
I love getting comments about the beard – both positive and negative. While this is a journey of self improvement and self control, it is nice when others notice you are on that journey.
The beard culture
The best thing about growing a beard is being part of the beard culture. There is a brotherhood among bearded men that is very welcoming. When I run across another bearded guy in public usually a conversation will arrive about the beard and compliments are spread around. It’s as if there is an automatic trust, because you understand what they have gone through to grow a beard. It doesn’t matter if you are a biker dude, a hipster, or just an ordinary guy – there is that instant relationship.
Online the culture is very similar and warm. I browse the message board Beard Board where people will upload photos of their progress and get encouragement from other members. Lord knows that we hear enough negativity about our beards that it is good to be around positive comments.
Within these cultures there seems to be slight pressure to grow a full, big, and long beard. I’m guilty of dishing out the pressure and ironically it’s the same thing boy faced guys do to bearded men. I suppose it’s a bit of human nature, but I have found myself trying to get my good friends to let those facial follicles grow. To me it’s trying to get people to share in my wonderful journey, but for hairless guys it seems to be more about shaping the other guy into their view of what you should look like.
What others think?
Who the heck cares, it’s my face. But in all seriousness you will run into people that are supportive, others that are not, and some that just don’t give a damn. The thing is there will always be people that disapprove of something about you. It could be your hairstyle, your clothes, your car, your house, your family, your friends, or even your beard. There are haters everywhere and there will always be haters. The key to anything is life is to do what makes you happy, and do something that you are proud about. If you give that your first priority you will find a lot more people accepting you.
Eric Bandholz is the founder of Sovrnty Communications and the search engine Bingle.nu. He has been bearded on and off throughout his career in sales and marketing. To see him in his current bearded state visit his blog. This article is written under Creative Commons 3.0 – please copy this article and do with it what you will, but please attribute my works to me.