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Face Furring: How Britain Grew a Beard

This is how I see all beards.

Pogonophiles might call me a pogonophobe – someone with an extreme dislike of beards – but I prefer to think of myself as a lover of the male face. And chin. And jawline. Plus, I’m ticklish.

I also like a little mystery: I don’t want to taste what you’ve been eating and drinking – or sucking – that day.

So, feel my (growing) pain over the last decade or so, as any man that can – and quite a few that can’t – has grown face pubes. Even as they religiously shave the other ones.

For a while it was just gay bears and hipsters, which was fine by me. Then in the late noughties beards or stubble became compulsory for all gays over thirty wanting a shag in a metropolitan area.

Then, in the early 2010s, beardageddon happened: evil gay stylists persuaded male slebs to sport them – think George Clooney, Bradley Cooper et al appearing full-bearded at the Oscars in 2013. As part of the total aestheticization of masculinity that metrosexuality (and its faux backlash) represented, beards were officially accessorised, glamorised, and normalised – by men whose famously pretty faces were their brand.

And the rest is hirsutory.

But why are beards and facial hair so popular now? Well, partly because as I say, men are now spending their time and blunting their razors shaving the bits you don’t usually see in public. And partly because beards/facial hair are a form of male make-up – they can disguise weak chins and bad skin and give shape to a face that might otherwise not appear to have any bones. In a social media age of 4K constant scrutiny.

Likewise, men who are going bald can still grow a beard – even if this gives them an upside-down face. More generally, beards are a way of advertising secondary sexual characteristics in a world in which sex and gender are increasingly confused.

But beards are so popular now mostly because they are no longer so frowned upon. Many men took the trouble to shave every day simply because of social pressure, or because of work. That clean-shaven reinforcement has waned.

Even – and this really is the End Times – the UK military has capitulated. The RAF and the Navy, both allow them (though they must be ‘trimmed’). Only the Army is still technically holding out for civilisation: ‘beards and whiskers are only to be worn with the CO’s authority, which will usually be granted only on medical or religious grounds.’ In practise, I’m reliably informed all you have to do now is tell your CO ‘Shaving irritates my skin, Sir’. (Why does no one care about squaddie beards irritating my skin?)

Clearly, we need the Romans to come back and teach us how to shave again.

A new poll confirms my worst, over-sensitised impressions. More than half (54%) of a sample of 2000 UK men asked by YouGov said (I think they mean ‘admitted’) they have facial hair. In 2016 – oh, halcyon days! – it was still a minority, at 42%, which was itself a 5% rise on the 2011 figure.

But the real change is in the commonness of full beards. More than two thirds (34%) of men today admit they have a beard and a moustache. Compared to only 11% of men in 2011. That’s an increase of over 300%.

It gets worse. Over two thirds (69%) of men aged 18-39 say they have facial hair – 42% with a full beard. This seems like an awful lot of itchy trouble to go to so as not get perved on by me.

Women have also failed me. Nineteen percent say they prefer the appearance of a man with a beard, up from 6% in 2011. Just over three times as many. In 2011 two thirds of women (66%) said they preferred clean shaven. Now it’s almost halved to 36%, while 44% of women say they have no preference. (Up from 27% in 2011). Cop outs!

A large majority of men also say they have no preference (62%), perhaps because of a laissez faire attitude, or because they don’t want to appear to have a preference for men – while one in five prefer no beards (19%) and 15% say they look better. Only 6% of 55+ men agreed ‘I prefer the appearance of a man with a beard’. Older men clearly still have standards. Shame I don’t fancy them.

Men who describe themselves as gay, bisexual or ‘other’ are – like me – more polarised than men in general. A quarter (23%) prefer men with beards, while a third prefer no beard. With 44% having no preference. 52% say they currently have facial hair, 2% below the figure for all men.

Regionally, London had by far the highest number of men who said they preferred clean shaven: 34% (interestingly, the same as the figure for non-heterosexual men nationally). But London is also the place with the second highest incidence of full beards in men with facial hair: 70%.

However, it is rugby-loving Wales that sits atop of the face pubes chart, scratching its chin, with a hairy-scary 79%.

Contrary to sporrany stereotypes, Scotland has held out against the spread of face pubes that has conquered the rest of Britain. It has not only the lowest full beard percentage for men with facial hair at 56%, it also has the lowest incidence of facial hair, at 49%. So, in Scotland, the smooth chinned are still in the majority. If only by a hair’s breadth.

I’m moving there.

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