Opening Letters

Talkin' Beards

contemplating facial hair as a sign of the times, or just a fad

Leah Rule, illustrated by Ryan Carpentier |

First I noticed them on the men that drove by in their trucks on lonely country roads. Then on the college students hanging out at the Menomonie coffee shops. Then I started to see them everywhere. It’s a full resurgence of beards.

Maybe it’s just a fashion statement made popular by musicians like Justin Vernon, My Morning Jacket, and the Fleet Foxes. Maybe it goes a bit deeper; back to the flannel, grunge movement born out of the ethos of today’s political and economic climate. A sign of the times. Beards could be indicators of the unemployed, bored, and depressed with no will to shave or money for blades. For some men, it’s the way they’ve always been.

The Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Doors – they all toyed with beards at some point in their career. They had already reached some level of acclaim when they sprouted whiskers, so how are these relatively new artists pulling it off? Minneapolis native Jeremy Messersmith, who also had a stellar year in the world of music, attributes his success to his beard. “The Secret to Critical Acclaim,” he states, “... may surprise you. ... You might think it’s due to better songs or stellar production, but music critics do not care for such things. ... Critical success for male artists is directly correlated to the length of beard + age of beard.”

He goes on to explain that exhaustive research proves that “... most dudes don’t have beards because they have jobs. I mean, growing a beard isn’t the fastest way to get the corner office. So what the beard says (to music critics) is that I live on the edge. I care not for your promotions and food-service jobs. My beard is a growing critique of popular culture and accepted values. The beard exists to hold a mirror to the tamed, smooth faces of man-children.”

Living on the edge is something most of us are getting used to and accepted values are changing. Abraham Lincoln was the first president to sport a beard, Amish style, in his presidential portrait. It’s hard to believe that beards were once so widely accepted that the Commander in Chief could get away with wearing one.

Somewhere along the way beards became associated with sloth. As much as President Obama admires Lincoln, I don’t think full facial hair would go over well up on the hill. At the same time, President Obama campaigned on “Change We Can Believe In,” so maybe he should give it a try. A well kept beard in addition to his quickly graying hair might give him the street cred he needs to get things done, a symbolic gesture of maturity and an ability to relate to the every man.

Men are not lazy in abundance. The mass quantity of beards cross the boundaries of employment, class, age, religion, and urban or rural designation. The bearded man mustn’t be automatically lumped in with the hopelessly unemployed, or the crazies for that matter. They are not all the unibomber or Joaquin Phoenix.

Whether instilling fear, seeking solitude, or expressing individuality, they are the rebels, radicals, and anarchists of our time. Beards are the new pierced ear, the new rat-tail, the new soul patch. A beard says “I am confident!” and sometimes it simply says, “I am warm.”

I know this because I am married to     a bearded man. Every winter he grows an extra layer of protection from the elements. Sure, if I didn’t know him and saw him walking down the street, I might think “scary,” but because I do know him I think “cuddly,” a sentiment I have heard echoed by many significant others of the bearded man.

The beard is a mirror to the soul, a sign of the times, a celebration of the change of seasons and for some a way to compensate for a follicley challenged head. My beautifully bald husband uses his facial hair designs as a way to express himself in ways that I can not, in ways that I encourage. So I look forward to spring and wonder, will the bearded man fade into the history of winter, shaving away months of commitment, or will he go forth and grow with amplitude a symbol of freedom and change? That’s change I can believe in.

BONUS: Some Substantial Homegrown Beards

• Dave Zien (former state senator)
• Bill Hamilton (famous local musician and dude)
• Nate “Bones” Knoeck (of Flags Will Cover The Coffins)
• Stacy Thompson (current UWEC professor)
• Mike Sabo (The Peaceman)
• Richard Kirkwood (former UWEC professor)
• 66% of the male ownership of Just Local Food
• Jesse Edgington (of The Daredevil Christopher Wright)
• Dave Gordon (former UWEC professor)
• Justin Webb (of Midwest Tattoo)
• Zeus Stark (of Next Step Energy Systems)
• Stephen Katrosis (former UWEC professor)
• Brent K (of Desolatevoid)
• Aaron Brewster (UWEC student senator)