Beards: rugged? Trendy? Or unreliable?
Updated: 2011-07-28 11:31
(The New York Times)
Lee Leshen, the drummer for The Hotcakes and the founder of Patchwork Media.[Photo/The New York Times]
Given the resistance, I don't think I would have kept my beard if Joanna, 13 years younger than me, hadn't all but forbidden me to shave. "Growing up in Michigan, your idea of a man is a woodsy, outdoorsy guy with a beard, who can start a fire with two sticks," she explains now. "A beard just reminds me of that, what a manly man should look like, compared to these skinny hipster guys in New York, all lanky and bony."
The thing was, all those lanky, bony city kids suddenly had beards, too. The beard, once a symbol of age, had suddenly become a sexy symbol of youth for the first time since the Allman Brothers ruled FM.
FOR me, that meant an unforeseen windfall: In the eyes of young, cool New York, I had unwittingly shaved 10 years off my age by not shaving. I was getting carded at nightclubs. Tattooed young women working the register at coffee shops no longer called me "sir." At downtown parties, I invariably found myself huddled in the corner with bearded guys in their 20s, talking about the new Fleet Foxes album or the best way to get past the velvet rope at the Box. I was a member of a tribe.
That experience changes you. Having a beard functioned as a substitute for hormone replacement therapy. Not only did my beard advertise, on a fundamental physical level, testosterone, but also I was starting to feel the testosterone. I found that wearing a beard makes you feel two inches taller, and 10 pounds burlier. A beard was a lazy man's alternative to weightlifting.
I was so happy to grow into my new proportions that I didn't take (too much) offense when a flight attendant on American Airlines leaned over me and said, "I'm sure you get this all the time — Seth Rogen." In my mind, I was dangerous. On my latest passport photo, I looked like the type that the T.S.A. might detain for an extra round of questioning. It felt liberating. "Don't mistake me for another 9-to-5 cubicle drone." My beard, in my own mind, was freedom, the open road, "Easy Rider" — even if I was just riding the C train to work.
It got to the point that I didn't even hear the jibes — like when my mother tells me, once again, that my beard makes me look older. Mom, you don't live in Williamsburg.
After half a decade as a changed man, my only regret is that this whole moment is surely fleeting. At some point, the gray hairs will sprout too quickly on my chin, and form a distinct white patch (a cool look on Brad Pitt; not sure about on me). I've already made a pact with myself: the point that I officially become a graybeard is the point I become a no-beard.
Even if I don't abandon the beard in the next year or two, everyone else might. At some point, the beard is destined to go the way of the trucker hat. (The fact that beards have their own coming reality series, "Whisker Wars" on IFC, might indicate that they are about to go mainstream, thus lose their edge.) And there's never any question when a beard moment is over. The last time around, it was the precise moment that Kenny Loggins went solo in 1976.
Still, seeing tabloid shots of the never-uncool Justin Theroux squiring around Jennifer Aniston while sporting a beard suggesting King George V makes me think we have at least another year to go. And so, I guess, do I.
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