Let’s start with the aesthetics. Unsurprisingly, a good case can be made for the position that facial hair can add or subtract aesthetic value from the world. It can be ugly, patchy, stringy, greasy, or sparse. It can disrupt an otherwise attractive face—consider the “depression beard” or “beard of sorrow” used in movies and on TV to signify that a character (usually portrayed by a handsome actor) has been brought low (1). Beards can also be downright repulsive, as described in this passage from Roald Dahl’s The Twits:
Further evidence: Samson, in the Biblical story, was a Nazarite, having vowed never to shave or cut his hair; when he was shaved (by a woman!) he became like a woman and lost his strength. The Amish believe that once a man marries, he must not shave; in 2011, the leader of a fundamentalist Amish sect in Ohio and his followers were convicted of hate crimes for shaving the beards of those Amish they believed to be insufficiently pious. The men of “Duck Dynasty” used to have a very yuppie, nigh metro-sexual look; they apparently realized that for marketing purposes, it would be good to look like real men, so they grew giant beards (7). There is also evidence that the incidence of facial hair growth spikes in reaction to men’s fashion trends that are perceived to be too effeminate (8). I think this explains not only the Freddie Mercury mustache, but also the hipster trend of growing mustaches and beards—it’s a way to show that you’re manly even though you wear skinny jeans. Complimenting your skinny jeans with a beard is like complimenting your hose with a codpiece. Finally, to get into more personal and potentially sensitive territory, a lot of notable philosophers have worn beards (even when beards weren’t in fashion for men). Is it any accident that (a) philosophers tend to be bearded and (b) we have a serious problem attracting women to the profession?
Facial hair, in short, carries a lot of cultural baggage with it. It’s a symbol of manliness. In fact, it’s a symbol of patriarchy. That’s not good.