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To beard or not to beard

I dislike shaving for a number of reasons. First, shaving takes valuable time in the mornings that I could spend watching TV. Second, my beard provides ample coverage of the double chins I picked up in my late 20s thanks to college dinners of beer and hot wings. Third, and most importantly, all the best wizards had beards (Gandalf, Tim the Enchanter, Dumbledore, etc.) — and who doesn't want to be associated with that level of awesomeness?

Unfortunately, my beard creates a great deal of tension in my marriage. My wife complains that my beard itches and that it gets food stuck in it. She is a beautiful and intelligent woman, and she has learned to withhold affection from me until I break down and begrudgingly shave or at the least clip my beard to an agreed upon length. Even when my beard is a manageable length, it remains one of the consistent points of tension in our relationship.

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Ever the psychology professor, I have looked high and low for a scientific, evidence based, argument to convince my wife that beards are healthy and sexy on men. And lo, my search has not been in vain. Scientists have found two very good reasons that all adult men should grow beards.

First, beards are the result of a post-pubescent level of testosterone production in the male body, and testosterone has a ton of physical benefits. Testosterone makes men strong. It makes men fast. It makes men big. So having a beard is basically nature's advertisement that a male adult body has the testosterone it should have and that the man sporting the beard is full grown. Beards mark the men from the boys.

Second, studies have shown that at the peak of a women's monthly fertility cycle (the window at which conception is most likely) women have a preference for rugged, highly masculine faces in their male sexual partners. Part of that rugged masculinity comes from facial hair; the bigger the beard, the manlier the man. Manly-faced men are seen as being physically strong and having high social status but highly aggressive. Their faces look like the faces of prototypical alpha-males and, as such, these men are rated as the most desirable or most sought after for short-term "hook-ups" and one night stands.

Yet women are biologically complicated. When women cycle out of their fertility window, they prefer men with less masculine, beardless faces. These baby-faced boys are perceived as honest, caring and warm but wimpy. In short, these men are perceived to be good boyfriend or husband material. They are perceived to be the kinds of guys with whom women want to settle down and raise a family.

Given these shifting preferences, it is unsurprising that when it comes to facial hair alone women seem to split the difference. Too much or too little beard leaves the impression that the man is too aggressive or not aggressive enough. Instead, on average, women tend to prefer a man with what a British research team described as "light stubble." Neither too long and frightening, nor too smooth and childlike, light stubble appears to hit just the right mark of manliness for most women. Perhaps best of all, these men were preferred for both short-term hook-ups and long-term relationships.

Thus, my research has concluded that there are a number of advantages for men who grow a neatly groomed beard or light stubble. To many women it looks good and leaves the impression that you are masculine and strong but not a caveman. Furthermore, while research has yet to investigate the relationship between the growth of facial hair and the development of magical powers, based on historical records, global mythology, and folk wisdom, it is currently a man's best route to becoming a wizard.

Of course, even in the light of this overwhelming evidence and ironclad logic, my wife remains unconvinced.

D. Ryan Schurtz is a psychology professor at Stevenson University. His email is dschurtz@stevenson.edu.

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