Monday, August 28, 2006


After seven years of cultivating a faceful of unruly whiskers, last night I decided it was time for a change. So I took a bath, got out the clippers and the straight razor, and exposed my chin, lower jaw, and upper lip to the world for the first time since my wedding day. My daughter is delighted, as she never really liked the scratchiness of my facial hair; my wife on the other hand (who has always been a fan of the beard) is less than thrilled, although to her credit she has only said nice things about my new look.

Why did I do it? Curiosity was one big reason. I hadn't seen my face since I'd lost all that weight on the South Beach Diet, and I was pretty pleased to recognize the guy from my wedding pictures behind the scruff after all these years. Peer pressure may also have had a hand in the deed -- a long-bearded coworker of mine recently decided to shear himself as well, so perhaps I was subconsciously motivated to make a similar tonsorial change.

But by far the primary motivation for shaving was my realization that I was using the beard as a mask, or better yet a form of social body armor. There's something immediately off-putting about a person in a beard -- doubly so for a bearded man wearing glasses -- and I think that I've been increasingly taking advantage of that fact over time. Mind you, even with a fully-bristling unkempt beard I was still the kind of person who appears mostly harmless and eminently approachable (I get asked directions virtually every time I go out for a walk, I kid you not!), so maybe it's more of an internal mask than an external thing.

My beard was a cocoon, something I could hole up in and hide behind to keep the world at bay for a spell -- not altogether a bad thing, if done for the right reasons. But nothing lasts forever, and just as I used my scruffy exterior to indicate my desire for a self-imposed vita contempliva, by shaving I may be trying to tell myself that I'm ready for change, ready for vita activa, ready for the world.

Either that or I just couldn't stand the itchiness anymore...

(Of course the real downside is that if I decide to ditch the beard for good, I'll no longer be able to form the Bearded Librarians' Association. I was really looking forward to that!)

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