Maybe you are like me. (Sorry, it’s not always easy. Well, sometimes it is. But I digress.)
I mean, maybe you’re a man who’s been clean-shaven your whole life.
And maybe you decided during the early stages of the pandemic, when you were isolated from most of the world, anyway: Heck, let’s see what happens if I stop shaving.
Now that the world is returning to the office (at least part-time), you’re trying to figure out what science says about the impressions your new look inspires.
This happened to me, starting around March 2020. By April, I was past the itching stage; By Memorial Day it was full Grizzly Adams. At the end of the summer, I went to my hairdresser and said, Hey, how about you help me figure this out?
I like how it went. I have to stay in control, because I’ve realized that the best look for me — the one I feel most comfortable and confident with — is when I’m trying to stop time, maintaining a perpetual state of approximately 10 to 14 days of growth.
Not “the guy who came in late last night and didn’t get a chance to shave”; not, “trying to imitate Tom Hanks in Castaway“, but rather: “short beard, two weeks, might decide to shave, not sure.”
Now, I don’t know if that’s pure coincidence or serendipity, but it turns out that 10 day growth is exactly where science says most men should try to be in order to send the most positive messages, statistically speaking, to the people around them.
Let’s start with a study from the University of Queensland in Australia, in which researchers tried to determine the extent to which different lengths of facial hair could alter the perception of men, in the eyes of heterosexual women.
The researchers collected women’s reactions to photographs of men whose beards fell into four categories: clean-shaven, light stubble (5 days of growth), thick beard (10 days of growth) and thick beard (about a month of growth).
The study really broke down the women’s responses into categories based on the type of romantic relationships they were looking for.
But in short, men with light stubble and thick stubble fared best in the “just looking for a little fun” category, while men with thick stubble and full beards were more attractive to women looking for a long term relationship.
The men with clean-shaven faces were at the back of the line in any event.
Another Brazilian study found fairly similar results for homosexuals, according to a New York Times report; on the contrary, they were more attracted to men with more facial hair.
Now I’m happily married, so as long as my wife is cool with the beard, I guess I can consider that box checked. But, I was also very interested in learning how people in social and business circles perceive bearded men, especially if there was scientific research to prove it.
Here is perhaps the most interesting study. Yet another group of Australian researchers (it must be a thing) asked 227 people to look at photographs of men with and without beards, and with facial expressions suggestive of happiness or anger.
In general, study participants identified angry bearded men the fastest, leading to the conclusion that bearded men exude an aura of seriousness and aggression, regardless of other factors or expressions.
But, the surprise was that in a follow-up study of 450 people, in which they were asked to rate the same photos as aggressive, masculine, and/or prosocial, they rated happy, bearded men as higher. in all three categories. –including, “prosocial”.
One theory: the mere presence of a beard suggests aggression and masculinity, so the change in expression following a smile or other sign of happiness results in an amplified reaction towards the prosociality of the from the other person.
Listen, there are a lot of reasons why men grow beards: pandemics, of course. But, maybe your culture or religion encourages them or even requires them. Maybe you just want to see what it would look like.
Maybe you just got traded from the New York Yankees and want to let your monster fly for a bit.
Obviously, I’m not going to tell you if a beard is a good idea for you or not. But, if you are able to cultivate one, perhaps knowing what science says it does to how others perceive you will affect your choice.
Oh, and keep it clean. I don’t think we need scientific research to know that a beard with food stuck in it isn’t high on the list.