What I mean is, maybe you’re a man who was clean-shaven for basically his whole life.
And maybe you decided during the early stages of the pandemic, when you were isolated from most of the world, anyway: Heck, let’s see what happens if I just stop shaving.
Now that the world is going back to the office (at least part-time), you’re trying to figure out what science says about the impressions your new look inspires.
It’s what happened to me, starting around March 2020. By April, I’d grown beyond the itchy stage; by Memorial Day, it was full-on Grizzly Adams. By late summer, I went to my barber and said, Hey, how ’bout you help me figure this out?
I like how it’s turned out. I have to stay on top of it, because I’ve realized that probably the best look for me — the one I feel most comfortable and confident with — is when I try to make time stand still, by maintaining a perpetual state of roughly 10 to 14-day growth.
Not, “guy who got in late last night and didn’t have a chance to shave;” not, “trying to imitate Tom Hanks in Castaway,” but instead: “short beard, two weeks, might decide to shave, not sure.”
Now, I don’t know if it’s pure coincidence, or grooming serendipity, but it turns out that 10 days’ growth is exactly where science says most men should try to be in order to send the most positive messages, statistically speaking, to the people around them.
Let’s start with a study out of the University of Queensland in Australia, in which researchers attempted to determine the degree to which varying lengths of facial hair might change perceptions of men, in the eyes of heterosexual women.
Researchers collected the women’s reactions to photographs of men whose beards fell into four categories: clean-shaven, light stubble (5 days’ growth), heavy stubble (10 days growth), and thick beards (about a month’s worth of growth).
The study really broke the women’s responses into categories based on what type of romantic relationships they were looking for.
But in short, men with light stubble and heavy stubble fared best in the “just looking for a little fun” category, while men with heavy stubble and full beards were most attractive to women looking for a long-term relationship.
Men with clean-shaven faces were at the back of the line in all cases.
Another study out of Brazil found fairly similar results regarding gay men, according to a New York Times report; if anything, they were more attracted to men with more facial hair.
Now, I’m happily married, so as long as my wife is cool with the beard I suppose I can consider that box checked. But, I was also very interested to learn how people in social and business settings perceive men with beards, especially if there were any scientific research to back it up.
Here’s perhaps the most interesting study. Yet another group of Australian researchers (must be a thing) asked 227 people to look at photographs of men both with and without beards, and with facial expressions connoting happiness or anger.
In general, the study participants identified the angry, bearded men most quickly, leading to the conclusion that men with beards give off an aura of seriousness and aggression, regardless of other factors or expressions.
But, the surprise was that in a follow-up study of 450 people, in which they were asked to rate the same photos as either aggressive, masculine, and/or prosocial, they rated the happy, bearded men as higher on all three categories–including, “prosocial.”
One theory: the mere presence of a beard suggests aggression and masculinity, so the change in expression as the result of a smile or another signal of happiness results in a magnified reaction toward prosociality on the part of the other person.
Look, there are a lot of reasons why men grow beards: pandemics, sure. But, maybe your culture or religion encourages or even requires them. Maybe you just want to see how it would look.
Maybe you just got traded away from the New York Yankees, and you want to let your freak fly a little.
Obviously, I’m not going to tell you whether a beard is a good idea for you or not. But, if you’re able to grow one, maybe knowing what science says it does to other people’s perceptions of you will affect your choice.
Oh, and keep it clean. I don’t think we need scientific research to know that a beard with food stuck in it doesn’t rate high on anyone’s list.