November 25, 2010

IF YOU WEREN'T SUPPOSED TO HAVE A BEARD IT WOULDN'T KEEP GROWING BACK:

The Beard: A razor-sharp consideration of men's facial hair. (Paula Marantz Cohen, The Smart Set)

I have never known my husband without his beard, a fact that disturbed me in the early years of our relationship. What was he hiding: a weak chin, a saber scar, a slothful nature, a psychological need for a barrier between himself and the world? But as time passed, I no longer felt the need to ask these questions. I now know my husband, and the beard is part of who he is. This seems to me to relate to the question that the anthropologist Gregory Bateson raised about the old man with the cane: Where does the one end and the other begin? Impossible to say, Bateson concluded, since the two cannot be functionally separated. A beard may seem less functional than a cane, but the choice to grow a beard has a function, though it may not be singular or simply articulated.

When I thumb through my husband’s high school yearbook and see his pale smooth face (smooth, he notes, because his spotty adolescent complexion had been airbrushed), he seems alien, but alien in a particular way. The absence of the beard, far from making him look like someone else or uncovering some hidden aspect of himself, makes him look incomplete: raw and unformed. One could say he had yet to grow into his beard, both literally and metaphorically — he had yet to become himself. For some men, a mid-life crisis would consist in growing a beard; for my husband, it would mean shaving his off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 25, 2010 8:36 AM
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