Men, do you ever worry about your facial hair? Do you worry about how manly it makes you look, how handsome, how old, how responsible? Have you ever become concerned about how your pencil thin moustache or your joined mutton chops is affecting your dating life?
Well wonder no more! This study is here for you. Or at least, it’s here for those of you with stubble, bare chins, or full beards.
Neave and Shields. “The effects of facial hair maintenance on female perceptions of attractiveness, masculinity, and dominance in male faces. Personality and Individual Differences, 2008.
So the question here is: what signals really define masculinity? Usually masculine features are those associated with higher levels of testosterone after puberty, and include things like defined cheekbones, jawbones, and chin, as well as the forward thrusting of the eyebrows. But of course, the onset of puberty leads to many other confusing changes. Changes like acne, pubes, and…facial hair growth.
The authors wondered in this study whether and how the facial hair growth of men related to how attractive women rated them. They were not the first, several other studies have come before them, but most have assessed only the bare faced and full beard conditions, without anything in between. Wither your 5 o clock shadow?! Inquiring minds want to know. After all, presumably the display of a beard, as an indicator of the testosterone required to grow one, must be pretty attractive, right?
So they took 76 female undergrads, and showed them a cartoon picture of a dude. The dude was presented with either bare chin, light stubble, heavy stubble, light beard, and full beard.
The women were asked to rate the attractiveness of the men for a short or long term relationship, and also asked to assess how old they thought the men were, as well as rating their dominance, aggression, and social maturity.
They found that, as expected, men with full beards ranked older, slightly more dominant, and slightly more aggressive (though nothing in this study reached significance, so REALLY, it all means basically nothing). But they were NOT viewed as more attractive. Instead, the highest attractiveness ratings, as well as the highest short and long term relationship ratings, were reserved for those boys with the 1-2 day growth (still nonsignificant I might add). The authors hypothesize that this is because what the women want is the ABILITY to grow the facial fur, meaning the testosterone is there, but not the actual beard which might mean too much aggressiveness.
Me, I’m not so sure. And I feel that this study is FAR too limited. Where are the mutton chops? The goatee? The soul patch!?!?! WHERE IS THE NECKBEARD MY FRIENDS?!?!?!
As for their conclusions, maybe the women were voting for the indication of testosterone without the reality. But I think it’s far more likely that they were voting in accordance with the current fashion. Right now, the fashion on men described as “Sexy” is usually clean shaven or with a slight stubble.
But that’s NOW. Things have certainly been extraordinarily different in facial hair through the ages. In ancient Rome, the emperors were ALWAYS clean shaven, it was seen as a sign of civilization and something which distanced you from the barbarians, and it deeply shocked the Romans when the Emperor Hadrian gave them a facial hair f**k you in the form of a full beard. By contrast, in the Rennaissance and Middle Ages facial hair was seen as proof of manhood. No facial hair, and you were no more than a boy. Observe Shakespeare:
Just, if he send me no husband; for the which
blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and
evening. Lord, I could not endure a husband with a
beard on his face: I had rather lie in the woollen.
You may light on a husband that hath no beard.
What should I do with him? dress him in my apparel
and make him my waiting-gentlewoman? He that hath a
beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no
beard is less than a man: and he that is more than
a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a
man, I am not for him...
-Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Scene 1.
Hair fashions have continued to change drastically over time. Who cannot recall the muttonchops of the Civil War era? The pencil moustaches of the 20s? I think that just including stubble in this study was WAY too limiting, and I think you really need to take into account that we are currently being surrounded by media and by real people sporting relatively little in the way of facial hair. Of COURSE we’re going to think less facial hair is generally better, it’s what we’re used to.
If you're going to take away anything from this study, first take away this:
This study means nothing. Nothing reached significance, and the only thing it probably did is make a bunch of female undergrads fulfill their psych 101 requirement.
But I think there is another lesson to be gleaned here, and that, oh men, is the lesson of the ruggedness of the 5 o clock shadow. If that soul patch isn’t getting you ladies and your stalker 'stache has let you down, maybe it’s time to try for a little less is more. Less shaving, a little more stubble.
NEAVE, N., & SHIELDS, K. (2008). The effects of facial hair manipulation on female perceptions of attractiveness, masculinity, and dominance in male faces Personality and Individual Differences, 45 (5), 373-377 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2008.05.007