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Facial hair is many things to many people. For some it’s an itchy, patchy inconvenience that they do their best to remove on a daily basis. For others it’s the physical feature around which they base their entire wardrobe and personality.

The beard in particular is seen as a totem of manhood that is a must-have for anyone who wants to be truly masculine. So does this opinion match reality, or are beards overhyped by those who are lucky enough to be able to grow one?

 

The psychological impact of beards

There have been many scientific studies into beards over the decades, and one of the most recent to emerge reveals an interesting fact; men are psychologically inclined to like the look of a beard on their own faces, but to have the opposite opinion when asked about this feature in other males.

Meanwhile for women, the scales are tipped very slightly in favor of beardiness, with 57% preferring facial fuzz to completely clean-shaven cheeks in a partner.

In a sense, this means beards matter more to men than women, and that their association with masculinity and potency is relevant to platonic male relationships more so than to romantic heterosexual ones.

The everyday realities

Another point to make about beards and masculinity is that this is a very context-sensitive fashion accessory.

While a scruffy, Wildman beard might be fine for outdoorsy types, in a professional setting you need to manage and maintain this properly. DapperMane’s article on how to grow a thicker beard is definitely useful in this context, as thin, unkempt beards can be particularly off-putting both to prospective employers as well as to romantic partners.

The geographic & historical differences

We might think of beards as being a symbol of masculinity here and now because they are still widely worn in celebrity culture, and considered the norm in the Western world in particular. But this is worth contextualizing both in terms of the geographic and historic differences in opinions on facial hair.

For example, in many parts of Eastern Europe there is a dominant preference for clean shaven male faces among female respondents, whereas the opposite is true in countries like the UK.

In this sense the relative masculinity of a beard is down to cultural norms and expectations, rather than it being an immutable, international symbol for manliness, dominance and sex appeal.

Likewise the ebb and flow in the popularity of beards across the 20th century, let alone throughout the rest of history, has been significant in its peaks and troughs.

Clean-shaven men were far more common through much of this era, and it is only really in the post-millennium period that beards have bounced back.

Then there is the question of the alternative facial hair styles which flit in and out of fashion. From sideburns to mustaches and beyond, flash-in-the-pan fads as well as longer term trends are not really about adding to your masculinity, but more about fitting in with the in-crowd.

The basic truths

There is no getting around the fact that studies have frequently found that men with beards are perceived as being more masculine-looking and aggressive-seeming than their clean-shaven peers.

However, it is not always helpful to apply these broad conclusions to the specific choices that you make as an individual.

If you like the look of yourself with a beard, and you are able to grow and maintain it well, then by all means go ahead. Just don’t assume that you will suddenly become irresistible to women or so masculine that you scare off muggers and mischief makers.