Ian McNaught Davis spent a year growing his beard. This is his story…
By MH Staff - Posted on 4th June 2014
One face, 12 months, several thousand follicles and an epiphany.
“What kind of action do you get with that thing?” he gets asked. “Not the kind you brag about,” replies The Bearded Man. For the past 12 months I’ve been one of them, The Bearded Men. I’ve been growing a yeard – a beard for a year. Besides a bit of minor deforestation on my moustache so I can eat and some trimming on my sideburns so I can hear, I’ve let my facial follicles roam razor-free and feral for a year. And in this time, my beard has morphed from well-kept summer stubble to handy warm face-beanie to a ginormous ice-breaker (metaphorically and probably physically) attached to my head. The Bearded Man lives life at a slightly different latitude to his smooth-faced brethren. He nods when he walks past another Bearded Man – an affirming, knowing nod that says: “Yup, I pushed through the Itchy Phase too. Yup, I’m also saving on sunblock and shaving cream costs. Yup, I too have stopped eating soup, but can you take the idea of soup as meal seriously?” It’s quite a complex gesture. People ask you for beard-growing advice and it’s difficult not to sound patronising when you tell them the best way to grow a beard is to not shave your face. Now, sporting an enormous beard doesn’t necessarily make me a better human being than those that don’t. In fact, I know a lot of people who can’t grow beards. But most of these, however, are women.
The Bearded Man gets used to the comments from strangers as his faces evolves from fertile to fuzzy to forage-able. When I go for runs in the evenings, it’s to a soundtrack of shouts of Jesus!, Hashim Amla!, Rick Ross! and the occasional Osama! Once, a bergie’s opening line in a pitch for money was “Shalom”. I gave him 20 bucks – and in doing so, I undid a stereotype. But it doesn’t stop at outbursts. Earlier in my yeard, I travelled around India for three weeks and a good portion of that time was spent fending off people getting touchy feely with my guru-like face. The Bearded Man knows that his beard is a filter. Any Bearded Man who has eaten soup or soft serve ice cream will tell you this. But it’s also a filter in the abstract sense because it eliminates several unnecessary elements from a man’s life. By growing a substantial beard you have avoided the farce of buying razors – and thus encouraging an industry that’s way too generous when it comes to complimenting themselves on their groundbreaking, revolutionary innovations in technology. (We get it, shaving companies; you added an extra blade.)
Not only will a beard protect you from harmful UV rays, but a beard everyday keeps the jellyfish away. Sean Conway, a 32-year-old endurance swimmer, recently completed a four-and-a-half month swim of the length of the UK. Conway – as reported by the BBC – “grew a beard to protect himself from jellyfish.” So there. I too can safely say that since growing my beard I have been jellyfish-free since January. Growing a beard is the gentrified option of letting yourself go. And it’s the most economically viable way to do so; getting fat is expensive and time-consuming. By simply not dragging a razor across your face, you can indulge in a man’s oft-neglected RDA of Not Giving Of F*cks – without the hassles of diabetes and hypertension. However, while The Bearded Ma knows his beard repels poisonous underwater creatures, malevolent sunbeams and overpriced starters at restaurants, he knows that once it crosses a certain threshold of bristliness it repels another thing: women. Scientists at the University of New South Wales published findings in the journal of Evolution & Human Behaviour revealing that the majority of women prefer 10-day beards. So I grew one, and somehow it became 355 days overdue. There are countless articles on women’s preference for stubble, all of which feature a stock photography model with neatly groomed two-week beard. Mine, however, makes me look like I’d be comfortable nibbling on locusts in a desert or distributing presents from the skies on Christmas Eve. Also, mine’s red – how’s that for a handicap? If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the yeard, it’s that surprisingly few girls have fantasies that involve Irish rabbis. Unfortuantely, the idea of making out with what looks (and feels) like a Welcome mat is somewhat unwelcoming to a large majority.
4 Old Dutch
I’ve had almost a year to prepare for this story and for 10 months I planned for it to be a self-deprecating one about how a beard is the most character-building thing you could do for your face (They really are; you should grow one) and how you’ll get plenty of encouragement from complete strangers. Whenever I’ve thought, I should probably do something about this ridiculous thing on my face, a person would yell, “Dude! Awesome beard, man!” or “Sweet beard, bro!” or even a simple, matter-of-fact “Beeeeaaard!” out of their car windows on my walk to work. Almost entirely of which are men. But who needs women anyway? Etcetera. Until I met someone who had an appreciation for the beard without having the genetic ability to grow one. Now I find myself driving back from her house – with my brain swarming with oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine and other wonderful biological drugs – wondering what a girl has to do with a guy with a ginormous beard that doesn’t involve begrudgingly buying a Big Issue from him at a traffic light. Several years ago, I’d been dumped in a spectacular passive-aggressive fashion. It didn’t involve gnashing of teeth, screaming of profanities and negotiating the ransom of CDs and hoodies, it was a festering, vague and ambiguous break-up. It was all the moping, false hope and over-thinking without the fun of throwing possessions at each other.
5 The Winnfield
One overcast summer’s Saturday – it may have been sunny, but it felt overcast – I was browsing a second-hand bookshop when I found a book titled Big Questions In Science with a chapter called “Why We Fall In And Out Of Love”. I bought it hoping it would provide an empirical explanation as to why my life felt like a James Blunt ballad. And, more importantly, to find out when this would go away. I skimmed through it, but it quickly turned my imaginary overcast day even gloomier. It was clearly written by someone who was a scientist first and a writer second, as there wasn’t much of a conclusion. Instead of ending with a glimmer of hope for the disheartened, it stopped abruptly with the author making uncomfortable parallels between men who have been “unceremoniously dumped” and subsequent homicidal behaviour. To paraphrase, the scientist basically said that we don’t know much about love but we do know that might make you want to kill things. This also happens to be the essence of Haddaway’s 1993 hit “What is Love? (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)”. Last week I opened that book for the first time since I was “unceremoniously dumped” years ago. I was looking for an empirical explanation as to why my head felt like a Vengaboys album every time my phone winks a white light that signals the possibility of a message from her.
6 Fu Manchu
The article is still fairly garbled. It seems most scientists are comfortable bisecting butterflies, impaling them with pins and assigning Latin names to them, but they’re a bit hazy when determining the origin of the species called love that appears unexpectedly in your stomach. But in and amongst the big words, there was mention of the work of Charles Darwin and his theories on the crazy little thing called the continuation of species. Now, Darwin is the godfather of this subject, but he’s even more relevant to this particular story as he was the proud owner of a formidable beard. And if the journey of Darwin’s mutton chop sideburns to a glorious Gandalfesque beard isn’t a wonder of evolution, then I don’t know what is. Darwin proposed that mating is founded on competition between members of the same sex – usually males – and the choice of one sex for a member of the other – usually females. However, the latter notion of females being allowed to make choices was seen as way too radical in the Victorian Era. Fellow scientists didn’t agree with the idea that women should do wreckless things like making decisions and the concept went to the grave with Darwin in 1882. When he and his magnificent grey beard were lowered into the ground in Westminster Abbey next to Sir Isaac Newton.
And so, for years, it was assumed that most species got it on because of male competitiveness, and blood lines continued only because males bashed each other with antlers, flaunted colourful feathers, and wailed and warbled until females silenced their nagging mating calls. (The modern human equivalent of this includes frosted tips, tribal tattoos, entry-level sports cars and various other material side effects of getting into debt.) The idea that females have a say in furthering their populations was resurrected by Malte Andersson, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, in the early 90s. Andersson’s experiments with flocks of finicky widowbirds proved that despite the alpha-maelstrom of flexing, faux hawks and fighting words that is male-versus-male competition, natural selection crucially depends on females making a selection.
8 Copstash Standard
We forget this sometimes, us men. We think that getting the girl is a gloves-off brawl of outwitting each other and eliminating the odds. We think that if we’re not fighting that specific fight – with its laws of what to say, what to earn and what to look like – then we’re out of contention. We forget that, ultimately, women are going to choose whoever they damn well please. And the fact that this woman in question chooses a guy with a beard – well, that damn well pleases me. Perhaps it’s biological – some innate and primordial hunch from our Neanderthal days telling her that my cave would be more cosier in the winter than a guy with the #nofilter jaw. Or perhaps she just likes the beard. Or perhaps I have been going on charm and cheekbones alone, and the bristling population of follicles on my face is irrelevant.
In two weeks I’ll be taking a razor to my face to mark the end of the yeard. I already know what it’s going to feel like after 12 months of living under face foliage: it’ll be poignant to see a companion go (it’s a look that, ahem, grows on you), it’ll be weird to see my face again and it’ll feel a lot less hot in the summer. A summer, I might add, that feels a lot brighter than when I bought Big Questions In Science in that second-hand bookshop several years ago. It’s been said that a man who shaves his beard for a woman deserves neither. And that’s why I’ll be growing it back again. But until I shave it, ask me about the action. So I can brag to you.