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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.