Facial hair has contrasting connotations. For some, it represents laziness or a desire to be seen as grungy and alternative. For others, it is a symbol of masculinity and power. But despite differencing views on the role of facial hair, one thing is clear: at Macalester, it is in.
Its popularity could be due to the Minnesota cold or to broader cultural trends. This winter, a number of Macalester males will partake in facial hair, especially during upcoming No Shave November.
Facial Hair: An Academic Perspective
Assistant Professor of English Neil Chudgar is both a practitioner and scholar of facial hair. During his five years at Macalester, Chudgar has tirelessly sported a distinctive beard and a bald head.
The look began in graduate school when he realized that his hair was thinning. “A dramatic gesture seemed like a good idea,” he said. “I beat nature to the punch. The hair on my head went and the hair on my face came.”
By the time Chudgar arrived at Macalester the beard was linked both to his appearance and his profession. In fact, his first talk discussed the role of facial hair in the British Eighteenth Century.
“Facial hair was impossible,” he said of the time period. “It was left only for the insane or for Greek gods. For actual human beings, being clean shaven was absolutely required.”
This attitude has markedly changed. “It’s manifestly more in fashion now,” Chudgar said.
The recent popularity of beards and mustaches has led Chudgar to consider the implications of facial hair. “We’re in a weird moment,” he said. “There’s a critical mass of bearded men who are functional adults in the world.”
Chudgar believes that facial hair serves two paradoxical functions.
“On one hand, growing facial hair is a way of emphasizing a certain kind of external, visible difference between people,” he said. It makes gender distinction palpable.
“At the same time, it might be a way of demonstrating that gender differences don’t matter,” he said. “It is so obvious that beardedness is a qualification for nothing. It signifies a kind of difference that doesn’t matter at all.”
Being an academic has allowed Chudgar to indulge his facial hair obsession. His profession is a rare one in which facial hair is accepted. And as an English professor, Chudgar feels he can think critically about any subject – even beards.
Although he is pleased by the surge in facial hair, Chudgar can’t help but feel troubled by what this means for the future.
“If beards are fashionable now, soon that won’t be,” he said. “And that means I am going to look distinctly old fashioned very shortly.”
A Man Of Many Beards
In November, senior Robert Gelberg will appear on stage fully-bearded and twirling a mustache.
His facial hair is a key component in his role, the tyrannical mayor of a provincial town in Russia, in Macalester’s upcoming production, The Government Inspector. “It behooves me to have a giant beard,” Gelberg said.
When he was first cast, the role came with a unique caveat: he had to grow out his existing beard as much as possible.
His face fur has extended to unprecedented lengths. And as Gelberg has learned, more facial hair requires more upkeep. “It’s a whole new ball game,” he said. “I have to shampoo it and clean it. I’m learning as I go along.”
Gelberg’s beard is reaching new lengths, but he is not new to the facial hair community. He has worn a beard for seven years, shaving it off only a couple times.
Along his facial hair journey, Gelberg experimented with several different styles: a goatee, mutton chops and chin straps. He finally settled on a classic beard.
“Without the beard I look like I’m 17,” he said. “With it I look like I’m 30.”
Gelberg considers his beard a distinguishing feature and embraces his role as “the guy with the beard.” But his facial hair serves purposes beyond appearance.
Thanks to his beard, Gelberg has an acting edge. He can fulfill a wide variety of characters, both with and without facial hair.
“It’s extremely important for an actor who can grow facial hair to be able to show it either way,” he said. “It changes the way people perceive you.”
He plans to keep his beard and mustache for the foreseeable future, joining the ranks of men sporting facial hair during No Shave November. But this is not some passing fad for Gelberg.
“People ask me if I’m doing Movember,” he said. “I’m doing Movember all the time, you’re just trying to look like me.”
Team Bonding and Beards
For junior Bolton Howes, football season has always meant one thing: facial hair.
He began the tradition in high school and carried it on into college. “For team pictures, I always make sure I have a mustache,” he said.
At Macalester however, his facial hair has gone from a seasonal whim to an annual commitment.
“Last year I was the Jesus RA,” he said. During that time he sported both long hair and a beard. By Thanksgiving, though, he decided to abandon the long locks.
The few times Howes has gone beard-less at Macalester have been dramatic. “When I shave it off, people say, ‘Who are you? You look weird.’” This year, Howes and his brother made an agreement to not shave until they see each other again.
Howes does not take facial hair lightly. He owns a book about the history of mustaches and reads it in his spare time.
He has also taken on the responsibility of expanding the facial hair community. Howes gave a presentation to his football team encouraging the growth of mustaches, which led both the coaches and players to adopt the look.
“It was the highlight of my year,” he said.
Freshman football player Tre Nowaczynski was easily convinced by Howes’ presentation. Unfortunately, his facial hair yielded disappointing results.
Since football camp, Nowaczynski has stopped shaving, but he has experienced limited progress. As one of five players who struggles to grow facial hair, the prevalence of beards and mustaches on the football team can be frustrating.
“Generally I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror and am overcome with sadness,” he said. “I go to practice and see everyone with full grown beards. I wonder what it’s like.”
Still, Nowaczynski holds out hope. “I’m banking on the fact that I’ve not hit puberty yet,” he said. Nowaczynski thinks No Shave November will turn into No Shave Freshman Year. He is anxious to enter the football team’s facial hair community, led by Howes.
“By senior year, my dreads will be to my back,” he said. “My facial hair will be thick and bushy and probably will have a little bit of barbeque sauce in it from Café Mac.”