So to continue talking about masculinity on Mondays, what could possibly be more masculine than beards? I’ve observed that our society today believes that a man with the ability to grow a beard is perceived to have reached a level of manhood his hairless brethren have not risen to. Thanks to puberty hitting me like a truck in 6th grade, I was the weird middle schooler in homeroom with the crusty mustache, believing it was my invitation into maturity. Over time, my beard became iconic and so ingrained into my persona, people would often ask how my beard was doing rather than how I was doing by the time college rolled around. Overtime, this started to annoy the hell out of me, but the blame for this oddity rested on myself, because in at least every other conversation I brought up my beard. In the other conversations, I was stroking it Gandalf-style minus the actual wisdom that comes with it.
An egotistical part of me exist that loves growing it out. I feel known and valued when people say something to me about my beard because it makes me believe that I’m somehow special because of my genetic make up that gave me the ability. If the lie “the bigger the beard, the bigger the man” was a drink, I’d be wasted. I came to terms with this character defect when I went to rehab this past winter and one of their policies was I must be clean shaven everyday to signify a “fresh start.” They conveniently left this out during my check-in phone call and they were wise to do so because I wouldn’t have arrived had I known this policy. With my self-esteem already at dangerously low point (rehab initially isn’t really a self-esteem booster), I shaved away a piece of my identity, grimacing as the razor pulled and pricked at my coarse hairs. The more of my baby face came to the surface, the more I believed that I was losing what made me unique and special in this world. When I looked in the mirror, the insecurity orchestra began playing a fine symphony that rolled along the smoothness of my face.
My fragile masculinity was showing. Logically, I know it’s pathetic to believe I’m less of a man because I don’t have a beard, but clearly along the way I embraced this lie. To cover up this insecurity, I created what I’ll call a relational mask.
A relational mask is when we our exterior communicates something contradictory to what we’re experiencing inside. When I grow my beard out, I am communicating that I’m secure in who I am as a man, I have no doubts about my manhood, and I’m a mature adult. Reality is that on the inside, I grow out my beard because I’m insecure about my weight so I want to cover up my double chin. There’s also another part of me that believes I’m less of a man when I shave because growing up, my parents would tell me to shave everyday whenever I rocked facial hair until I was finally worn thin from it. As I learned in counseling, part of me grows out my beard because I see it as a way to prove my adulthood to my family; showing I am no longer submissive to their authority. What’s interesting about this particular insecurity is that a sign of adulthood is being able to articulate negative feelings in a respectful, clear manner, so really my choice to grow out my beard spitefully was a sign of my immaturity. Who would have thought shaving would have uncovered so much?
In order to build a healthy identity, the negative identity that shifts like sand must be broken down. Today, I think I look hella good clean shaven or with a beard. I’m pretty sure that’s just confidence, but God will chip out any pride existing in that statement eventually. My manhood is not defined by this particular social construct and everyday when I shave for work, I’m actively preaching to myself that my manhood is rooted in what Jesus teaches to be true. Let’s unpack that in upcoming weeks. To my fellow bearded fellas, go ahead shave and write down the thoughts you have when you first look in the mirror. You’ll be okay, I promise.
I recommend the book Relational Masks by Russell Willingham if you’re in the mood to completely break down your identity and question everything about yourself! Grace and peace family.