From movie stars to rock stars, many popular, well-known men sport beards. Over the years and across the globe, beards have been associated with everything from religion to revenue, from climate to culture. Yet despite their ubiquity and even potential utility, many people jump to conclusions about the man behind the beard—without knowing anything else. However, anyone wishing to take up the argument of whether or not such snap judgments are fair should consider whether such automatic stereotypes are favorable.
Beards Are In
To grow, or not to grow? That is the decision many men have to make. Sure, part of the analysis involves who you are, where you work, what your wife thinks, and no doubt other practical considerations. The beauty of beards for most men is if they don’t work out, they are easily here today gone tomorrow. Bearded men are literally one shave away from changing their entire image. But many choose not to, deciding instead to take advantage of the fact that, according to research, beards are in.
Research by Tessa R. Clarkson et al. (2020)[i] discovered that women find men with facial hair to be attractive and dominant, both socially and physically.
Their study was conducted at the University of Queensland using 919 American women between the ages of 18 and 70, who rated photographs of men with various stages of facial hair. In the study, the women viewed 30 images depicting men who had been photographed without a beard, with a full beard, and after photoshopping to make them look more feminine or more masculine. They rated the men in the photos according to perceived attractiveness for a short-term relationship, and a long-term relationship.
Results included the finding that the more facial hair, the more attractive the men were found to be. Bearded men with a more masculine appearance were rated as more attractive, particularly for long-term relationships.
Bold and Bearded
The researchers opined that the results could be because masculine faces indicate a man who is socially dominant and physically stronger, and facial hair enhances masculine traits while masking less attractive facial areas.
Regarding perceptions of masculinity, the authors acknowledged the positive association between facial masculinity and physical strength, fighting ability, and social assertiveness. Experimentally enhancing facial masculinity also increases perceptions of age and dominance. The authors note that facial masculinity may influence women’s mating preferences by providing insight into a man’s strength and health.
Could growing a beard become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Clarkson et al. cite prior research showing that bearded men themselves feel more masculine, and possess more serum testosterone, that was linked to a higher level of social dominance. Such men reportedly also had more stereotypical views of masculinity within heterosexual relationships than men who were clean-shaven.
Women Who Dislike Beards
Not all women in the study, however, liked hairy faces. The study revealed that the women who disliked bearded men feared parasites in the hair or skin. Apparently, beards are not always interpreted as a sign of cleanliness, and these women might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming. On the other hand, women with a high level of pathogen disgust were more likely to prefer bearded men, perhaps indicating they viewed beards as signaling good health.
Are #Beards Trending or Traditional?
The study also contained an interesting psychological component regarding attributions of morality. The women who exhibited what the researchers termed “moral disgust” were more likely to prefer beards. In the words of the authors: “Women's preferences for beardedness also increased with women's self-reported moral disgust, which may also reflect associations between beardedness and political conservatism and traditional views regarding masculinity in heterosexual relationships.”
The authors did not find that women with “greater reproductive ambition” preferred beards when considering long-term relationships. Although when they included women's current relationship status, both single and married women who wanted children found beards more attractive than women who did not want children.
They also noted that the preference for a clean shave was positively linked with reproductive ambition among women who were single, with married women exhibiting a negative association with reproductive ambition.
Obviously, relationships develop according to many different factors and personality dynamics of the parties involved. But it is interesting to note how women apparently respond to a man’s appearance alone when he has a beard. Whether representing trend or tradition, facial hair for men continues to be a choice with consequences.
Facebook image: Volodymyr TVERDOKHLIB/Shutterstock
[i] Tessa R. Clarkson , Morgan J. Sidari , Rosanna Sains , Meredith Alexander , Melissa Harrison , Valeriya Mefodeva , Samuel Pearson , Anthony J. Lee and Barnaby J. W. Dixson, “A multivariate analysis of women's mating strategies and sexual selection on men's facial morphology,” Royal Society Open Science, 15 January, 2020; https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.191209.