Graphic by Pranav Mehta

Careless Whiskers

My face-off with facial hair

Oct 1, 2016

A trembling fist held the blade close to the dishevelled contours of my face that was speckled with an ensemble of keratin cadets. The steely edge, a cold cutlass against my cheek, apprised me of the unfathomable power this portable partisan wielded.
“17 years a shave,” I reflected pensively, as swift strokes separated skin from the unkempt mementos of yesteryear puberty. “This boy watches too many telenovelas,” Mother sighed in the distance.
My first shave — all of two years ago — was a cherished rite of passage. As I learned, Major Razor, trailblazer of facial fields and curtain raiser to masculine yields, was a weapon of destruction that divorced adolescence from adulthood. That day, the sun burnt an exquisite tinge of tangerine and all the birds chirped Bach a capella. Most of all, between tracts of shaving cream, an unrecognizable visage stared back at me in the mirror, heralding my arrival in a new world. I shot finger guns at it.
Over the next couple of days, my Wikipedia history was strewn with names of far-flung beard styles. I pondered, as I stroked my impressive battalion of fourteen and a half miscellaneous strands, Does a goatee resonate with my chi, or am I a French beard connoisseur? Yet, as days melted into weeks, I was rendered restless, awaiting the arrival of a new consignment of bristles with the desperation freshmen anticipate stipend day with. Looking around, the grass was certainly greener on the other side, as were beards darker on other faces. This was upsetting. In a world where T-shirt and not a T-shirt are the two categories that define male wardrobes, facial hair is the most customizable accessory known to man. From grizzly fuzz to supple stubble, the permutations are boundless, each accompanying an unparalleled aesthetic. Much time was spent in front of the mirror, running my finger through the plots where the harvest bore promise, like a slow download bar that demands the placement of a cursor to ascertain its progress. When my ochre meadows failed to endow obsidian fruit month after month, I gave up. Like maturity and the magical ability to file tax returns, I reasoned that facial hair will also materialize slowly but surely.
“LOL,” my future alter-ego retorted.
Coming to college shattered whatever importance I had bestowed upon my clean shaven facade. This was a land where moustachioed machos and well-endowed beard-bearers prowled a dirham a dozen. As I acquainted myself with mesmerizing beasts that boasted beards thicker than frozen Nutella, I realized that they speak a language I was completely alien to. My desperate attempts at learning vocabul-hairy were in vain, as I was to discover that if your barber asks, “Should I use the number 7 or number 5?” he doesn’t really care about the HB pencil scale. When a Broseph exclaims, “Sick mutton chops, brev,” he is not, in fact, complimenting the dining staff’s culinary prowess. At the center of these epiphanies, a pit of despair evolved – facial hair was no longer a mere embellishment, but a passport to attaining that which is termed masculinity. If said masculinity were a spectrum spanning from, Carries XY set of chromosomes, to, Chugs WD-40 for breakfast, I probably lay somewhere near, Ruminates on UFC and Gossip Girl with invariable interest. The urge to scale this spectrum had never been more incremental, as I let an idiosyncrasy devolve into an inadequacy.
My obsessions led to me corners of the internet that offered seemingly innocuous advice like, Gently massage cheeks every three hours and 38 minutes to stimulate optimum hair growth, and led me to decidedly dubious products like Hair Force One, the Au-Naturel, Organic, Gluten-free, Anti-establishment Facial Fertilizer. Side effects include: itchiness, patchiness, fuelling of insecurities and spawning a generation of climate change denialists.
Interactive Media and Legal Studies were passé; I wanted to study Follic-ular Biology. Even my book club abandoned me — apparently, Tolstoy didn’t pen Anna Keratina.
I only terminated my ailing infatuations when I realized I was falsely equating personal growth with a physical distinguisher of development. Somewhere, I believed that my transition from boyhood to manhood would be incomplete were my upper lip not adorned with proteinaceous filaments. This is not to say that the beards of my brethren are in anyway superfluous – keep ‘em growing glorious, guys. Of course, there are various unverified claims that thicker beards lead to earlier balding, but I couldn’t care less even if I picked the short straw in this gene-pool lottery. And hey, I still don’t know how to file tax returns. Facial hair thus became the metaphorical Rolex — I was content without it, though I would be equally pleased were I to get one. Denial led to acceptance, acceptance to gratefulness — I am as I was made, splendid from cerebellum to sole. Instead of becoming a better man, becoming a human was a monumentally more rewarding endeavour, finger guns still ablaze.
I still get marked in the Tag a Mate With a Beard Like This picture of a shaven comrade sporting a lone ranger on his chin, and my razor still doesn’t see the light of day for weeks. Thankfully, neither of these occupy my mind like, well, UFC and Gossip Girl. To all my fellow Brobi-Wan Kenobis, take it easy. George Michael, famed singer and hotel-lobby-playlist mogul may have said, “Time can never mend the careless whispers of a good friend,” but who knows? Time could mend our careless whiskers, good friend. Or not. Whatever. I’m late for my WD-40 tasting session.
Pranav Mehta is Research Editor. Email him at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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