When I was little I was afraid of men with long hair and beards. Seriously, the father of my best friend had a full beard, and it used to scare me to death. My own father would always shave himself after 2 or 3 days maximum and so I wasn’t used to that kind of face fur. In hindsight, I guess what scared me was this specific masculinity: an untamed wildness that I experienced as strange and fascinating at the same time.
The Urban Lumberjack
Photo Credit: BILF
25 years later facial hair doesn’t scare me anymore. Which is fortunate – because it is everywhere these days. A couple of years ago some cool guys in New York Williamsburg, London Hackney, maybe even Berlin Kreuzkölln started to wear the look. I remember how Frank from IHeartBerlin suddenly looked like a cool Waldschrat (wood gnome) in early 2012. At about the same time similar masculinities appeared in pop culture (e.g. True Blood’s Alcide Herveaux) and until today this style has become madly popular among the urban young and hip. At some point, the full beard even replaced the moustache as the former international hipster symbol.
The style that goes with the hipster beard is a clean pompadour haircut with short sides, jeans and a white t-shirt or muscle shirt, the sneakers du jour, a muscular and tattood body and optionally a flat cap. Peaking in 2014, the hipster beard – according to The Guardian – is already over. Still, according to an unwritten law of fashion it will take another decade or two until it trickles down – and back – to the hillbillies. Where it originally came from: the country lads, woodcutters, tramps, hobos.
The urban Berlin Kreuzkölln boy adapted the aesthetics of the country bloke and the wild outlaw and mixed it into his own urban identity blend. Would he retain his slick nonchalance while chopping some actual wood? I dispute.
The Adventurer Aristocrat
I remember a Quality Magazine cover from maybe 2011 or 2012 shot by Yves Borgwardt sporting a ginger haired guy with red leather gloves, a silk scarf and a full beard. The picture really impressed me then; it seemed like a completely new masculinity to me at that point: a blend between the adventurer type and the young urban aristocrat. The cover shoot was accompanied by a fashion spread including a couple of black and whites showing the guy riding his jeep through the woods. One page featured only a pair of wealy, almost bloody male hands. A third shot showed the bearded model in a chic blue sweater, the face elegantly blurred. A postmodern ever changing identity blend that eludes every attempt to pinpoint it.
Can You Have Both, the Comfort of Urban Life and the Thrill of the Wilderness?
This fashion spread already epitomized the shift of masculine identities. Contrasting the two prior decades of rather clean, shaved looks, it portrays a new longing for the direct, rough ultra-masculinity of the adventurer. At the same time the urban aristocrat with his silk scarf and fine leather gloves is not willing to renounce the luxury of his more or less opulent city life. Can you really have both, the comfort of the urban life and the satisfaction and thrill of surviving in the wilderness? That is the question.
Beards I’d Like to Fondle
For some, the beard has even become a fetish. According to an article on Dailymail.co.uk 50% of British women agree that “hipster facial fuzz is sexiest men’s hairdo” and 82% state that a beard makes a man appear more masculine. The health charity movements Movember and BILF (“beards I’d like to fondle”) have grown into big movements around the beloved type of facial hair. Movember raises awareness for prostate cancer and male health through the symbolic moustache. Its German facebook channel alone has 19 000 fans.
BILF is a anti-cancer charity movement that encourages its followers to post full beard selfies, including sexy ones. The Facebook series “Moist Monday” is some sort of wet t-shirt contest for the beard bearer – with wet beards instead of t-shirts of course! The international BILF facebook page has 8 000 followers and 16 000 fans on Instagram.
Photo Credit: BILF
Why Are Beards Hot?
Why are beards so hot? Because the beard adorns a normal city dude with the qualities attributed to a dangerous anarchic lifestyle. The lumberjack, the hobo and the tramp are all outlaws. The rules and the ennui of domesticated city life don’t apply to them. Rather, they inhabit a hint of unpredictability that is refreshing in our over-secured and -insured Western life.
It’s also their proximity to nature that contrasts today’s urbanity’s high levels of abstraction and complexity. Difference is attractive. A man who knows how to make a fire, how to hunt, to prepare his own food, to withstand the forces of nature – that’s a man who will survive. And survival is hot. It’s also rare. Even the slickest beard of Kreuzkölln probably lacks these abilities, simply because he never needed them in his life.
A Group of Spiritual Seekers, Yogis, Hippies and Adventurers
Of course there are the exceptional travellers, who part their lives seasonally between the Western cities and the Eastern wilderness, a lifestyle lived by an international group of spiritual seekers, yogis, hippies and adventurers that is currently developing into a bigger movement. Challenging preconceptions about a fixed work place and eluding the boundaries of nationality and urbanity, they have become the new trendsetters.
Photo Credit: Matthew Silver
The Enlightened Bum: Matthew Silver
I recently went to a show of the New York-based performance artist turned Youtube star Matthew Silver. Silver plays some kind of enlightened bum running naked through the city, preaching love and the bliss of being in the moment.
According to him, “we are all animals”, a statement that Silver underlines by frequently breaking his own talks and songs through burping and random animal sounds. At some point he completely strips naked, showing off his penis, singing “I have a cute little penis”, over and over again.
He is wild, unshaved, unwashed. We could literally smell him during the show when he came closer to hug the folk in the back. The overnight youtube fame of Silver also shows the longing for new masculinities, new lifestyles, wild spaces that are closer to nature and not yet taken by masculine stereotypes and preconceptions.
The new urban stereotype of the wild man shows that there is a broader societal longing to go back to the roots, to a life close to nature. A life that covers the full spectrum of human emotions and possibilities rather than the safe but trimmed reality of our urban jungles. Mega trends like escapism, emigration, yoga, alternative and spiritual traveling also hint at that. The desire for a wilder, more authentic life reflected in these trends is the same that is enveloped in the beard of the urban hipster.
The Energetic Meaning of the Beard
Beyond the images and fashions of the urban streets, on the energetic level the growing of hair and beard makes sense. Indian sadhus do not cut their hair and beards, thus renouncing wordly attachment to fashions and cultural norms. In the Sikh tradition, it is recommended to grow hair and beard to their natural full lengths without cutting, because the constant growing wastes precious energy.
According to the kundalini yoga blog Spiritvoyage the beard is a buffer between a man’s emotional self and the world around him. Women do not need this buffer because they are more in line with the moon energy.
Hair by contrast is associated with the sun energy. Coiled up on the sun centers (on top of the head at the front for men and on top of the head towards the back and on top of the crown chakra for women) it works like antennas that channel energy.
It also helps in raising the Kundalini power: to counter balance the downward stream of sun energy through the hair, the energy is raised up the spine. Kundalini, from the Sanskrit word “Kundal” even means “the lock of the hair from the beloved”. According to Sikhdharma.org, “the uncoiling of this “hair” is the awakening of the Kundalini, the unlimited potential that already exists in every human”.
Here is a collection of in-depth articles about the meaning of hair in kundalini yoga.