While acceptance of beards and moustaches is on the rise there remains a large contingent of folks who just don’t get it. Beyond fashion and trends or what’s cool and what’s hip, there are many who can’t or won’t part with their negative assumptions about beards. For decades in the U.S. beards have been maligned; associated with dirty hippies, the destitute, outlaw counter-culture. We have made a lot of progress toward wider acceptance in the workplace as well as the public eye, but we’re far from being where we need to be.
Workplace restrictions on beards and moustaches are largely meant to foster a clean-cut look, though often this is disguised as a hygiene or safety concern. That’s particularly insulting when these same workplaces have little or no restrictions when it comes to length and style of the hair on top of one’s head, which can just as easily be transferred to food, beverage or the customer as any hair grown on the face. Even if you are willing to wear a beard-net (and willing to supply your own!) many companies simply will not accept facial hair of certain lengths or styles from their employees.
There are legitimate exceptions, of course, but by and large, it’s troubling that many of these limitations are driven by aesthetics as opposed to real honest hygiene or safety concerns. What can we do to start changing this? While there are some facial hair advocacy groups out there worth looking into, there’s also something we can all do to start positively influencing the way we are seen by the public: Always be a gentleman.
We live in a superficial world. People judge a book by its cover, and as much as I may despise that it’s just a fact. That’s why it’s so important to make a positive impression when we have the opportunity to do so. We all have our own story or have heard a story of someone with facial hair being told “I didn’t expect you to be so nice.” or “You’re just a big teddy bear!” Some people seem truly surprised to learn that guys with beards and moustaches aren’t villainous curs out to cause general mayhem. When explaining the charity-based fundraising that goes on at beard competitions I frequently get an “Oh really?” response.
We have to realize at a certain point that we are all ambassadors of the beard and moustache community. We can make this better for ourselves and can change attitudes, even if it’s one at a time, by being decent people to our fellow human beings. Sure, it can be interesting at times to realize someone is experiencing a little intimidation at your “bearded badass” look, but if you have the chance to change that intimidation into respect, we are all better for it.
And I do want to take a moment to recognize that the disparity facing those of us with facial hair is inconsequential in light of the large amount of very real discrimination that takes place in this world of ours. Ultimately, we can shave our beards and moustaches if needed. I certainly would if it meant the difference between working to support my family or being unemployed. But I’d also like to think that we’re getting incrementally closer to a world where a person’s ability and desire to express themselves via facial hair does not limit their options for earning a living, or earning the respect of their fellow citizens.