What is facial hair for (Part 2)?

Attracting a partner

Surely the hope that facial hair will make the wearer (or should that be ‘grower’?) more sexually attractive is one of the main reasons for its proliferation? After all, what could signal masculinity more clearly than a beard or a fine moustache – yet still be legal? In the second of our series, we look at the role follicular displays play in attracting a partner or mate.

Outside of the unfortunately-named ‘freak’ shows, facial hair has until very recent times been perceived as an assertion of masculinity. Putting it crudely, emphasising to prospective partners that you are a man. As such you’d expect it to be right up there in the sexual attraction stakes. And it’s true that men over the centuries have developed many weird and wonderful styles of facial hair. Many of them to impress the opposite sex. In classical times, of course, the show may also have been for the benefit of other men too.

But the sex appeal of a beard is not so clear cut. The man with the finest beard does not automatically get the prize, apparently.

Are women impressed?

Tamsin Saxton, of Northumbria University explains: ‘Interestingly, women don’t seem that interested in beards. While some studies have found that women like a bit or even a lot of facial hair on men, other studies have reported that they prefer the clean-shaven look. The lack of consistent evidence means we can’t conclude that beards evolved because women were attracted to them.’

Tamsin suggests an alternative theory in a provocative item posted at bbc.com. She believes that men grow beards to appear more imposing and dominant than the shyer-seeming clean shavers. A beard, apparently, makes you stand out from the crowd. But as well as attempting to appeal to potential partners, our beard growers are competing with other men. So it seems that even though many women, who when questioned, say they don’t like beards, may yet be ‘carried off’ by a dominant bearded beau!

Perhaps they think they can later talk him out of keeping that unsightly facial fuzz?

Vituperative reactions

And there’s further bad news from GQ magazine that followed up on an article on what men thought about beards They asked the women.

Can these be the same people that swoon over Brad Pitt? Not if you read their vituperative comments about men’s facial furniture. Here’s a taster:

‘If it stops you looking like a 6ft baby, do it. No discernible jawbone? Beards pretty much write “PUBERTY” all over your face.’

‘Having a beard is not an excuse for ostentatious hairiness. Just because you have a beard, doesn’t mean you can have a monobrow, nose hair or, god forbid, ear hair. Buy some goddamn tweezers.’

Ouch!

However, they did give a few good tips. ‘Just grow three-day stubble,’ says one. ‘It looks masculine, it’s hassle-free and has a full-on beard smell.’

No more than 1cm.’ recommends another.  ‘I hate beards. Stubble, absolutely, but not a bush. I don’t need your face brush to remove my makeup. Gross.’

Strong support from gay guys

For men who like men, it’s a different story. It’s a generally held belief that gay men prefer men with beards. Now, according to Pink News, Scientists have been investigating why it is so many gay men like a guy with a beard.

The journal of Evolution and Human Behavior investigated the phenomena. They surveyed nearly 1600 men and women from Brazil and the Czech Republic, and concluded that gay men had stronger preferences for men with more facial hair and that ‘thicker facial hair’ was more attractive.

The second study seems to chime with the GQ findings:  men who were clean-shaven and those with a full beard were less sexually attractive to women, the findings showed. Here again, the women found that the sexiest men were those sporting heavy stubble, followed by those with short stubble.

There was consolation for those who can’t grow a full beard: guys are most commonly attracted to guys with similar levels of beard to themselves.