I have not shaved my face in two years, but I do not resemble a caveman—or Zach Galifianakis—thanks to a grooming device for achieving “designer stubble.” I have received many compliments from ladies on the scraggly look over the past twenty-four months, but a question haunts me with every morning that my Mach III rusts from neglect: Is this a passing fad that will embarrass me—and my generation—in hindsight?
The perma-scruff was not a calculated decision to increase my sex appeal, as it is for plenty of trend-hopping douche bags; I merely wanted to decrease my cherry-red razor bumps, which drove me crazy with painful itching, much like my cherry-red herpes bumps. (Spare me the lecture on shaving with the grain, steaming up the bathroom, using aftershave, etc., and I’ll spare you the dropkick to the spinal column.) However, we are no longer in the era of hairless metrosexuals: A 2008 British psychological study found that women overwhelmingly prefer guys with a five o’clock shadow, no matter whether they are looking for a short- or long-term partner. They view stubble as the perfect medium: more masculine than smooth skin, but less intimidating than shaggy ZZ Top beards.
“[F]emales are not selecting … high or low masculinity,” the researchers concluded, “but are rather preferring males who are clearly mature—post-pubertal—but not too masculinised.” (Quite possibly there is no better description for the Nintendo-playing, yogurt-eating modern man-child than “post-pubertal—but not too masculinised.”)
This evidence suggests that a guy’s sex life will benefit from a layer of hair. However, any fashion-conscious person must ask: “Will this embarrass me a decade from now?”
Case in point: It was only a decade ago that all the male A-list stars had frosted tips—just as they now have scruff—and a couple decades ago that the mullet and flattop reigned supreme. Your father believed that sideburns-plus-mustache was a flattering look for the better part of the ‘70s, and your parents’ wedding photos are a joke. In 2020 will everyone with a penis ask ourselves, “For God’s sake, why didn’t we shave for weeks or months or years at a time? Why did we forsake our Bics and Schicks and Gillettes and instead choose to look like unhygienic, soul-crushed hobos?”
You can make the argument that stubble has been cool since Miami Vice or earlier—Richard Nixon loved the unshaven look, even though it cost him the 1960 election, and he remains the eternal definition of a forward-thinking hipster—but it is an ominous sign that everyone now sports the fashion, even guys who cannot grow a full beard in the first place. Trends become passé with overexposure. The sporadic whisker patches of desperate, unoriginal morons are ruining the look for the rest of us, just like how millions of doughy old chicks had no business whatsoever getting their backs tattooed. (Gentlemen, do you remember the first time you saw a back tattoo on a woman? It was so hot—the perfect target—and now you just want to puke when you see those hideous, sagging abominations of stretch-mark-ridden ink, am I right or am I right?)
Look in any direction and you will discover individuality-deficient zombies doing whatever Hollywood told them. And then look in the mirror, my stubbly-faced friend, and recognize your true enemy. Those shaving bumps are a pain, yes, but I’ll take minor embarrassment today over major humiliation tomorrow. Enjoy your wedding photos, bro.
Update #1: Oh my God, THE RAZOR BURN HURTS SO MUCH, WHY WHY LORD CHRIST WHY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF?!!!!!? BEAUTY IS PAINFUL, BEAUTY IS PAINFUL, BEAUTY IS AIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
Update #2: Okay, the itchy, painful redness is subsiding; I cannot believe how much different, younger and better I look now. I did not realize it at the time, but when I gazed into the mirror every morning at a shaggy, burdened visage, I felt so much older; I grew the scruff to look older, yes, but putting five years onto my face also put five years onto my personality. Losing the haggard, desperate image feels like regaining energy, confidence and aliveness that I assumed had dissipated as my twenties progress.
Update #3: At my first post-shave social gathering I was more fun (and had more fun) than I expected; perhaps others can sense the internal vigor from a well-groomed exterior, or perhaps I simply look charming instead of creepy now. Either way, I am sticking with smooth. I will miss the bohemian effortlessness of my scruffy days, and those razor cartridge refills will cost a pretty penny, but a chinny shaved is a chinny earned.
Marty Beckerman is the author of Generation S.L.U.T. and Dumbocracy. His website is www.martybeckerman.com