My father always had a very dapper, well-groomed moustache adorning his thin upper lip. The few rare times he decided to shave it, it was truly like coming face to face with a totally new person. It so changed his appearance, he seemed somewhat unfamiliar, a stranger I hardly recognized.
Then I was attracted to and married a man who had a full face (and head) of hair. Massive full beard and moustache, plus shoulder-length hair which suited his rock-and-roll lead singer persona. In all the time I've known him, (which is more than three decades), he has never once shaved off the facial hair that has become a significant part of who he appears as, to the world. There is only one lonely picture of him as a young up-and-coming member of a Beatle look-alike band, that reveals one of the main reasons he considered growing the facial hair in the first place. Self-consciousness (and maybe a bit of vanity) about a double chin.
The world-wide yearly event Movember, where men are encouraged to grow moustaches to raise funds and awareness for men's health, specifically prostate cancer and male mental health initiatives, happens around the globe every November. It brought my attention again to this unique thing that men can do and women (well, most women anyways) can't.
I became curious to explore the reasons why men grow facial hair, and whether or not women are actually attracted to it. The jury is out on how I feel about it, as for me, it's always more about a person's energy than a specific look. Although, come to think of it, I do remember finding myself strangely captivated by the wonderfully moustached actors Tom Selleck and Burt Reynolds when I was much younger.
No dispute that Movember and Novembeard or No-Shave month, have made their way into our consciousness during the month of November. Movember has had more than 1.9 million men around the world participate so far. Started in 1999 in Australia, in 2011, over 854,000 Mo Bros and Mo Sistas around the globe took part, raising $125.7 million CDN.
The official Movember rules are strict, but pretty simple. The participants who are called "Mo Bros," must begin the month completely clean-shaven, and may only grow moustaches. The one way women are allowed to participate, is by helping to spread awareness, organize events, and collect money. We Canadians, in fact, are the largest contributors world-wide.
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No-Shave November is a related event that promotes the same causes, but widens the field and is a little more relaxed. The only rule: Absolutely NO shaving in November. Beards and sideburns are allowed, as well as participation from the ladies. Women are encouraged to let their hair grow, wherever it may. Legs, armpits and... you get the picture.
Participating in special events like Movember or No-Shave month aside, I'm curious why do men choose to grow facial hair and do women, in fact, really like it? Some men grow it and never take it off. Others grow it, shave it and grow it back again.
Some of the questions a male friend of mine posed to himself as he was trying to decide whether to shave his manicured goatee off, intrigued me and had me interested in exploring the facial hair topic more. Do men just like the way it looks? Does it make a man look masculine or more attractive? Is it a sign of virility or strong testosterone, as some guys apparently can't grow a nice thick beard. Has it just become a fixture on the face of those who chose to grow it long ago? Is a man's identity tied to his facial hair? Does it offer the man an opportunity to hide behind something? Of the many reasons to consider, I'd suggest that each individual's choice is highly personal and complex.
Most of the small group of men I asked, originally grew their moustache or beard to cover up what they perceived as some facial imperfection, and might even be considered a form of male vanity. Got a thin or wide upper lip. Grow a moustache. A weak or double chin. Cover it with a beard.
With regards to the moustache, Allan Peterkin, author and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto said, "After decades of being much maligned in Western culture, the moustache is now enjoying a cultural renaissance." He points to young celebrities such as James Franco and Ryan Gosling who have helped to make it fashionable, as well as the charitable movements such as Movember, for bringing awareness to it.
Research shows that some men do feel facial hair makes them look more worldly or manly. Some like the way it feels. Studies consistently show that women, however, do not necessarily like it. And results often suggest that beards send a signal of masculinity to other men, but do little to attract women. In a study done by Nick Neave, a Northumbria University psychologist, results found it's light stubble that gets the highest ratings from women. Thumbs up for the scruffy look. Neaves added, '"It was almost as if women preferred a man who could grow a beard but hadn't."
Study results generally showed that men are perceived to look significantly more attractive and even younger when they're clean-shaven. Research, led by Paul Vasey of Alberta's University of Lethbridge and New Zealand anthropologist Barnaby Dixson, confirmed that overall, both sexes said bearded men looked older. It also affirmed that men with beards appeared to have a higher social status and earned more respect from men.
Vasey and Dixson say that Charles Darwin speculated that beards evolved in our ancestors because women found facial hair attractive. Vassy reported to Global News that, "Taken together this research suggests that the beard did not evolve because women prefer male mates with beards. Rather, the results are consistent with the conclusion that beards evolved because they signal a male's age, status and augment displays of aggressiveness, all of which would have been helpful in repelling rival males in mating context."
So men, are you up for a challenge? If you've ever considered trying out some facial hair, a moustache or perhaps even a beard, November is your opportunity to experiment with what it looks and feels like. A chance to get involved and to raise money and awareness for a great cause: men's health.
I'm left with lots of unanswered questions, but the jury is still out for me. Why do you men grow facial hair and women, do you like your men with or without it? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
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