The contemporary “love affair” that men are having with their ability to grow facial hair may be a reaction to the feminization (neoteny) of the male face that has been a trend for decades. Ironically, soldiers sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, who grew beards in order to “fit in” with ideals of manhood in those cultures, have encouraged the new “manly man” tradition.
I intended to write a post concerning “facial expression & mind reading.” Psychologists have made quite a big deal out of their contention that Asperger people are devoid of the ability to “read” the messages sent human to human via facial expressions and body language, and that this phantom “ability” must be displayed by an individual in order to be classified as “normal” or fully human. Other than the arrogance of this declaration, which to begin with, ignores cultural traditions and differences, one simply cannot get past asking questions about physical aspects that must be addressed in order to support the definition of “human” that has been derived by psychologists.
If facial expressions are necessary to human to human communication, doesn’t extensive facial hair negatively impact this “social ability”?
If you go hairy, you had better have the face and body to back it up. A beard does not “hide” a neotenic face.
How does reading faces apply to earlier generations of males, and the many cultures around the world, that favor or demand that men grow varying amounts of facial hair? Shaving is a product of modern cultures beginning notably with the Egyptians who began removing facial hair and body hair because it harbored dirt and lice. Other ancient cultures used beard growth as the transition to adult obligations and benefits, including the Greeks. Ancient Germanic males grew both long hair and full beards. The Romans made a ritual of a young male’s first shave, and then favored a clean face. Of course, growing a beard also depends on having hairy ancestors – or does it?Right: Do we actually know how hairy early Homo species were? It would seem that without evidence, artists settle on a 5-day growth or scruffy short beard. Does a beard cover a “weak” Neanderthal chin?
The image of archaic humans, notably Neanderthals, as hairy and unkempt Cave Men has influenced how we interpret hairiness or hairlessness in Homo sapiens. Hair is extremely important in both favorable and unfavorable ways: hair can be a haven for disease and parasites; we need only look to the large amount of time that apes and monkeys spend grooming each other for lice, time that could be spent looking for food, learning about the environment, and practicing skills.
Growing hair requires energy. Our large human brain requires 20% of the energy that our body generates in order to power that brain. It could be that the growth of the modern brain (beginning with Homo erectus) was intricately tied up in a slow feedback cycle; the brain produces energy saving inventions (fire, tools, clothing, travel to more abundant environments) which means more energy to devote to the brain, which can increase brain connections, which makes increased technical innovation possible, which frees more energy for the brain. So, technology could be seen as part of streamlining the human animal into a energy-conserving species, which in turn improves brain function. In other words, the brain benefits from its own thinking when that thinking becomes a set of “apps” that manipulate the environment and the human body.
Meanwhile, what about facial hair? Personally, I’m thankful that I live in a time when men have the choice to grow, or not to grow.