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On what is not wrong with you, part 7: growing a beard

According to some people who give way too much of a shit, Jeremy Paxman has grown a beard.

Think what you like about it, but by God you have to think something. Today the internet has been bubbling with chatter: are you for or against the beard? Does it look good? Does it look scary, because for some reason someone once decided that all bearded men are Harold Shipman? Has your attitude towards Paxman’s hard-hitting interview questions changed because he happens to have some hair on his face? Let’s do a sodding online poll about it, shall we?

Anyway. Because I’m fucking contrary and annoyed, I’m going to weigh in to the beard debate with the definitive answer as to Whether Beards Are Good. Ready? Here goes:

Growing a beard is good

I’m a fan of beards – they’re often a pretty sexy way of framing and defining a man’s face. I’ve been with a few guys who have had some sort of facial hair, and with one guy who found facial hair so amusing he would regularly grow a beard just so that when he shaved it off he could experiment with various comedy styles.

They’re occasionally a bit scratchy when you’re kissing someone, and might irritate you if you’ve got sensitive skin, but the same can be said of a particularly coarse jumper fabric.

I love running my hands over a guy’s beard, feeling the scratchy texture of the hair on my palms. I love watching him trim the edges, that ‘I’m so grown-up’ feeling I get when I think about him doing something so adult. I enjoy the way it frames his face, and the variety – the different stages of beautiful he looks as it gets longer, shaggier, and eventually gets tidied up.

But the best thing, I think, about men who have beards is that they are clearly capable of making independent decisions about what to do with their own face.

Not growing a beard is also good

I also, though, like clean-shaven dudes. There’s a certain elegance and beauty about a really smooth shave. Again, I like to watch men do it, particularly the bit where they tip their head back to get at the hairs on their neck. I love the slight scratch of stubble as it starts to push through in the evening. I utterly adore the smell of a freshly-shaved guy when he rubs his face up next to mine.

But again, the best thing about a clean-shaven gentleman is that he is capable of making independent decisions about what to do with his own face.

Growing a beard is your own decision

I’m surprised at the number of people who would respond to the ‘should women shave their legs?’ question with a loud and decisive ‘it’s none of your fucking business’, yet are happy to pass judgment on a TV presenter just because he has chosen not to shave. I wouldn’t bother writing about this issue if it were just Jeremy Paxman – I appreciate that people are having a bit of fun and Paxo isn’t going to be sobbing into his autocue because some people on Twitter said his beard was shit. But the beard vs no-beard debate leaks awkwardly into a lot of our sexual discussion in a way that is pretty offensive to men, and this seems like an appropriate time to tackle it.

People say things like:

“I just couldn’t kiss a man with a beard”

“Men with beards just look untrustworthy”

Or even, in a move designed to hit not one but two of my ‘rage’ buttons: “The only thing worse than a beard is a ginger beard

I’m not making these up, incidentally, these are all things people have said to me – the latter prompted a bollocking in the form of a tedious drunken lecture. Mumbled apologies ensued. Awkwardness happened. Lessons were probably not learned.

Preference vs pressure

I understand that people have personal preferences: some gentlemen really do prefer blondes, and some people really can’t get aroused unless their partner is clean shaven. Fair enough – passions like these are hard to control, and there’s no rule that says we must bestow equal lust on men no matter what their facial hair situation. However, there certainly is a rule that states we must avoid pressuring people to do certain things to their bodies just for our aesthetic pleasure. It’s the ‘don’t be a total arsehole’ rule.

Most adult men, in their natural state (and most women, come to that) will grow some hair on their faces. It might be dark, light, thick, coarse, downy or patchy, but ultimately most people will grow some hair on their faces. Having some hair on your face is the natural default for the majority of the adult population. The decision to remove it is one that can only be made by the owner of that face, and making them feel bad about their decision based purely on your aesthetic opinion about beards makes you a total arsehole.

So, just as it’s none of anyone’s business whether I shave my legs, wear make-up at work or wax my pubes into the shape of a lightning bolt, likewise it’s not for us to decide what hair Jeremy Paxman should or shouldn’t remove from his face.


  • Ian says:

    as someone who looks about twelve without his beard, thank you for this.

    I have a beard. I like my beard. My wife likes my beard. Thus completes the list of people whose opinion about my beard matters.

  • Spam286 says:

    Related but irrelevant fact: Pogonophobia is the irrational fear of beards. Margaret Thatcher was a pogonophobe, apparently.

    I like my beard though. It allows me to appear serious and thoughtful when I fiddle with it and stare into the middle distance, when actually I’m just daydreaming about something utterly banal.

    Paxman’s makes him look kinder, I think. Sort of grandfatherly.

  • Ay None says:

    As a defiantly unshaven woman, it would hardly be fair for me to make a fuss about the state of a gentleman’s chin. My dating history tends to suggest a leaning towards beards, but the only thing I really dislike is stubble. And that’s for the simple fact that the feeling of having my chin sandpapered during an enthusiastic snogging session isn’t the kind of pain I’m into.

  • Farmer Dave says:

    I’ve grown a beard recently (probably had it 3 months) and people are desperate to tell me one of two things, either it’s awful (generally guys, incidently) or that it’s great (surprisingly, this seems to be the opinion of most of the girls I know). Beards seem to be something everyone things they have a right to tell you what to do with. Personally, I like mine. I’ve not been totally sold on keeping it, if I’m honest, despite liking it, but given your blog I feel a strong burst of “Who gives a fuck, it’s staying” coming on.

  • Not from Limerick says:

    I was immensely pleased to see that the tag “what is not wrong with you” came immediately after the tag “sometimes I think about Paxo grilling me on my masturbatory habits while I blow him under the Newsnight desk”. For what it’s worth, I don’t have a beard, and it tends to grow quite patchily, which makes me feel ridiculous. Also, shaving with a brush and a razor is about the most time I spend looking at my face, so I’m loath to give it up.

  • Azkyroth says:

    People say things like:

    Oh, and my favorite. Women who are absolutely adamant that 1) facial hair on men is disgusting and 2) all men who prefer their partners remove pubic hair are OBVIOUSLY closet pedophiles.

  • IDiom says:

    For years I had people tell me that a beard was a sure fire way to remain single since ‘Not many women like bearded men’. However conversely without it (much like Ian above) I look 12. Also I would need to start putting up posters reading “Lost, one chin. If found please call…”

    I’m happy to say that the women I have dated who loved and appreciated that beard remind me that the beard is a great mate selection tool. It is quality control if you will, if one wishes to get with me, one must love the beard as well.

    I couldn’t be happier with the woman I am currently dating who definitely appreciates the beard and has never suggested, or dreamed of suggesting that I shave it off.

  • Edwin Hesselthwite says:

    Hey GOTN,

    Just been led over here by your guest post on the guardian… I’m guessing you’ve had an enormous hit-surge today, I hope it does good for business.

    I was rather taken aback, both over there and over here, by how damn well you write… Your sentences are elegant but percussive, and you have a voice a darn sight more individual than most of the Guardian’s bloggers. So I read a couple of posts, and they repeatedly caught my interest. I’ll be wandering back over here if and when I get the time.

    Congrats for being good at this.

    Right, back to the lab.


  • Chris says:

    As the proud and longstanding owner of a ginger beard, I thank you for this. Beards actually seem to be much more socially acceptable – and appealing to women – right now than at any point in my memory; I suppose that’s a good thing overall, though in terms of attracting women who have always found beards hot (pogonophiles?) it does mean there’s now lots more competition from bearded bandwagon-jumpers!

  • Lee says:

    Ah, beards. I have one. I love it. It’s a full, bushy, twiddly thing. It makes me look like Grizzly Adams (Dan Haggerty iirc). People, thinking it’s an insult, have called me that. Hah! Wrong! He’s an awesome character.

    Thanks for that unwitting complement, twerp. :)

    So, here’s the tale.

    I was walking thru the square in London with the famous cinema in it, when I was hailed by a polite young lady and her gentleman friend sat outside a cafe.

    “Excuse me, she said, but would it be okay if I touched your beard?” They both smiled.

    Figuring that I was about to facilitate letting another chap into the secret club of beard wearing sexyness (because some ladies *luuurve* the look… And the feel… *wink*) I said

    “Sure”. Twenty seconds of gradually more wide-eyed stroking ensued.

    I thought ‘congrats, laddie me buck, your lady loves em too’. At that point, I offered the key advice.

    “Getting past the stubble stage is the tricky bit. The freshly cut hairs are triangular in cross section, and sharp. So, being too short to flex, they prickle.”

    “You need to persevere with it, and rub the stubble a bit to round off the sharp ends. After that, be patient, and you’re good to go”

    I grinned, winked and walked away, while whistling Zippity Do Dah in my mind’s ear.

    While I never met them again, it always gives me a warm glow to recall it.

    And that’s my take on beards. Plus, of course, beards are low maintenance, too. =D

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