What is about a beard that makes a man want to grow one at least once in their life?
Is it a sense the freedom that one gets when allowing hair to grow uncontrollably from your face? The wind throwing it around your neck like a furry scarf as you throttle down on your Harley Davidson.
Perhaps it’s a form of rebellion in reaction to a strict work place/relationship policy on facial hair?
Collectively, could it be a simple statement to society;
I don’t care what I look like, I am a man!
Whatever it was, I knew I was time to get one.
So what constitutes a beard?
Any image of Jesus, for example, is a good place to start. This man sported a beard as true as the day is the long. Slightly unkept, yet commanding respect, this was certainly one to be proud of. Santa Claus is another famous for his beard. Wickedly white with luscious curls to match those on his head, Mrs Claus never seemed to complain. Rumour even has it that Chuck Norris uses his beard as a place to hide his third fist indicating that there is perhaps a functional to these hairy face extensions.
My plan was simple; don’t shave for a long time.
The first few weeks of this strategy proved easy. At the time that I started this challenge, a friend of mine, Nick, and I were traveling through Cuba on bicycles. A lack of showers and hygene in general meant that shaving was the last thing on my mind anyway. However July in Cuba is one of the hottest months and a few weeks into the growth came intense fever-like itching. After two weeks, my stubble length gave me the appearance of a stylish musician but after three I had transformed into a struggling actor.
The sun seemed to increase my hair growth as my normal clean shaven look was overtaken by a subtle layer of coarse dark hair which became quite prominent on my lower face.
At first the growth was very rewarding as before undertaking the challenge I had doubt as to how much growth I could obtain. However 20 days in and it could be said that I had great potential.
After three weeks in Cuba, I left Nick and made my way to California to meet up with some people who a friend of mine had put me in touch with. Living in San Diego, these guys were typically cool, young and funky. My beard was mixing in the right crowds.
After four weeks, my beard had got through its infancy stage and was really growing up quickly. It was like watching a newly born child. What started as little definition and no personality had now developed into a beard of character.
Long side burns posed proudly as hairy chin-straps as they spread wonderfully across my cheeks. Pressing southwards, they then cunningly flanked my mouth on the East and West sides before colliding powerfully like two waves on my chin. An upshot of hair then sprayed north peaking just under my bottom lip. To cap it off, a Mexican-like hair-umbrella had formed separately just above my top-lip and hovered poignantly there before spilling over the edges and falling dramatically into a thickened dark goatie.
Interestingly, I had noticed that some hairs were thicker than others. On closer inspection it turned out that some hairs got on so well under the skin that thay had decided to make a life-long commitment and share the one pore to grow through. Although admittedly disgusting, I loved finding these thicker hairs and plucking them out. In fact it became a habbit. On some occasion I would pluck 3 or 4 hairs from the same hole! The side effect of course was that by Day 50, constant picking at the one area had caused a bald spot!
One of the Californians I was living with, Willem, had a great beard. Light in colour and trimmed such that it was kept longer on the chin, Willem looked like a wise man. He often gave me advice on beard cultivation and even suggested trimming at one stage. This I refused outright. I needed a beard and would not stop until I had succeeded.
Thankfully it wasn’t long before I heard someone refer to me as the “bearded Aussie” and with that came the recognition that I needed. My growth was becoming very beard-like, but deep down I knew I wanted more.
By Day 40, I had seen marked improvements in beard length. Regular shampooing had meant that not only was the beard clean but it could be kept to look respectable also. Sadly this was all soon to change; my beard was evolving into something far more gruesome.
Rebel hairs had held some kind of meeting near to Day 45 and had colluded to grow quicker than others, as such the beard appeared more shaggy. I looked like I was having a mid-life crisis and had decided to deal with it through alcoholism and a refusal shave.
As timing would have it, word was spreading fast about my new facial accessory and soon enough my Mum back in Australia became concerned. Rumors that her son resembled a member of Al Quaeda had worried her so much that she demanded a Skype conversation on the computer. With the aid of a camera, I almost made her cry within seconds of saying hello. Not long after this, she asked me to turn the camera back off. She was not impressed. This was the beginning of an interesting period for me and my beard.
New York was next stop and having been denied an upgrade to business class on the flight over due to my appearance (some say it was jeans, others feel it was the beard) I was met at Grand Central Train Station my old friend Rugsy,
“You look about 40, Seb!”
Admittedly, the beard added age to my appearance.
Rugsy was intent on showing all of New York, including all the hot spots on what was an electric night-life, 7 days a week in Manhattan. Amongst loud music, delicious drinks and bad dancing, the city is undoubtedly full of life and soul but even amongst all of this, I couldn’t help but notice that I was having limited conversations with any girls. In fact, it only dawned on me then that over the course of the past 45 days a worrying relationship had formed stating that the longer my beard became, the less girls would talk to me. This, as shallow as it might seem, began to play on my mind.
It had never been something that I had ever thought about previously, but gone were flirtatious glances in the street, cheeky smiles across a bar or conversations about travel that had become a normal occurrence without a beard. Currently, no girls wanted to talk to me. Contrary to this, the gay community now loved me. Men walking their labradoodles through Central Park would stop and watch me and my beard pass by, while in clubs it would be a gentleman dancing on a podium in leather pants who would glance over and smile in my direction.
On top of this, such was my appearance by Day 52 that I was now being turned away from some clubs, being told that my attire was ‘inappropriate’ or that there was a private function on. I was blatantly being discriminated against because I looked undesirable.
I had never thought this sort of prejudice would be part of my challenge but certainly now it appeared so. My beard, like Sherlock Holmes the detective, was uncovering hidden truths in our world. Was this rejection a direct reflection of a shallow society based on appearance alone? I hoped not, but it this seemed the only explanation.
To make matter worse, it seemed that hair growth had ceased for an unknown reason and as such, there was no way of improving my appearance. Luckily however, with every cloud there is a silver lining and so with the time gained from not talking to members of the opposite sex, I was able to create a brilliant game called “What object can I hide in my beard today?”. I still remember the first time I fully embedded a pen within its bushy confines.
On Day 55, when brushing my teeth, I looked in the mirror and stared deep within the black furry mess that now engulfed half my face. My beard was now officially ‘a beard’ (I asked people most days if this was the case) but was it time to let go? Images of being able to function normally again flashed before my eyes. I picked up the razor and held it close to my face, but for some reason I couldn’t do it. My ego said yes, but my heart said no. If I was to shave now, I would be doing it purely for superficial reasons and I knew that this was not right.
Friends and family were by now pleading that I shave but I was discovering that there is a connection between a man and his first beard that only he can understand.
I put the razor back down and left the house.
As it happened, I had planned to attend the Burning Man Festival the following week with some friends up in Nevada dessert. A festival that encourages radical self expression seemed just the ticket for me and my furry friend and true to form we fitted in emphatically. Like Cuba, hygene flew out of the window whilst in the middle of the dessert, all beard issues were forgotten. In fact I received many positive remarks about my growth. I was one of many bearded individuals, both male and female!
On one night that required fancy dress, a kind girl in our group decided to paint my beard orange. Beard decorating was certainly a hobby I never knew existed, and a week on I was still picking out paint from my hair in New York.
Fancy Dress at Burning Man Festival
A relationship of any sort takes time to grow and blossom. It takes time to get to know someone and with this comes an adoration and respect for one another. Me and my beard were no different. In the literal sense, my beard had become an extension of me.
Although by definition I had had a beard for some time now, I chose not to shave any earlier through stubbornness. Sure I hadn’t been allowed into certain places due to my appearance and it had literally been two months since I received so much as a smile from a girl but this I took interest in.
After 66 days of growing my beard, it was time to say good bye. An old friend from Australia had arrived in New York and the way he laughed in surprise as he saw for the first time with my beard gave me the sensation of achievement. I had grown a beard and as such had ticked off Number 88 from my list.
30 minutes later, a near-by Turkish Barber hacked into my black blanket of fur and my challenge was officially over. My lips never seemed more lonely!
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