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One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hairby Alan Peterkin
Synopses & Reviews
Beardsandmdash;theyandrsquo;re all the rage these days. Take a look around: from hip urbanites to rustic outdoorsmen, well-groomed metrosexuals to post-season hockey players, facial hair is everywhere. The New York Times traces this hairy trend to Big Apple hipsters circa 2005 and reports that today some New Yorkers pay thousands of dollars for facial hair transplants to disguise patchy, juvenile beards. And in 2014, blogger Nicki Daniels excoriated bearded hipsters for turning a symbol of manliness and power into a flimsy fashion statement. The beard, she said, has turned into the padded bra of masculinity.
Of Beards and Men makes the case that todayandrsquo;s bearded renaissance is part of a centuries-long cycle in which facial hairstyles have varied in response to changing ideals of masculinity. Christopher Oldstone-Moore explains that the clean-shaven face has been the default style throughout Western historyandmdash;see Alexander the Greatandrsquo;s beardless face, for example, as the Greek heroic ideal. But the primacy of razors has been challenged over the years by four great bearded movements, beginning with Hadrian in the second century and stretching to todayandrsquo;s bristled resurgence. The clean-shaven face today, Oldstone-Moore says, has come to signify a virtuous and sociable man, whereas the beard marks someone as self-reliant and unconventional. History, then, has established specific meanings for facial hair, which both inspire and constrain a manandrsquo;s choices in how he presents himself to the world.
This fascinating and erudite history of facial hair cracks the masculine hair code, shedding light on the choices men make as they shape the hair on their faces. Oldstone-Moore adeptly lays to rest common misperceptions about beards and vividly illustrates the connection between grooming, identity, culture, and masculinity. To a surprising degree, we find, the history of men is written on their faces.
Faces are said to be an index of character, the most public part of us.and#160; Christopher Oldstone-Moore proposes that the history of men is literally written on their faces, and his book makes it easy to see how historical eras can be identified by facial hairandmdash;think of Hadrianandrsquo;s Rome, or the kings and aristocrats of the high Middle Ages, or Tudor period andldquo;spade beards,andrdquo; or the Victorian period in England (and also the U.S. at the same timeandmdash;Walt Whitman sneered that andldquo;washes and razors for foo-foos . . . for me, freckles and a bristling beardandrdquo;).and#160; The result, here, is a consistently fascinating andldquo;male-pattern history.andrdquo;and#160;and#160; We witness a long-running battle by men (and a few women) to eradicate or shape the hair on their faces.and#160; Shaving plays as prominent a role in this history as beards do since the basic language of facial hair is built on the contrasts of shaved and unshaved hair; Oldstone-Moore insists we must take the long view to understand the underlying influences working on the male face.and#160; We are treated to a most sweeping history indeed, from the beards of Mesopotamia and Egypt to contemporary metrosexuals, Brooklyn-style hipsters, athletic teams (Red Sox, for sure, but also, this year, both Kansas City and San Francisco).and#160; Beard movements (instituted to combat what some men saw as a world of andldquo;woman-faced menandrdquo;) alternate with shaven faces, notably the period ushered in by Alexander the Great or the medieval Church ideal of clean-shaven clergy. Is it a sign of loss of control over the self to be bearded (cf. Enlightenment views), or, contrarily, is a huge beard a signal of authority, health, an ultimate symbol of masculinity (cf. Victorian presumptions).and#160; Nowadays, the fear of beards is receding, facial hair is taken to be a token of entrepreneurial daring, and beards are becoming acceptable in the boardroom.and#160; Want more signs?and#160; New York trendoids are paying $8000 and up for facial hair transplants (to fill out their patchy beards).and#160; Beards are back in business.and#160;
A cultural history of facial hair.
A witty, comprehensive history of facial hair, documenting its continuous rise and fall as a trend. With style recipes, information on care and upkeep, and hundreds of pictures of famous bearded men (and women!), One Thousand Beards provides an insightful, light-hearted, and well-groomed look at facial hair.
Every man has the capacity to grow facial hair, but the decision to do so has always come with layers of meaning. Facial hair has traditionally marked a passage into manhood, but its various manifestations have been determined by class, religious belief, historical precedent, and occupational status. Beards have at one time or another come to represent wisdom, goodness, sorcery, diabolism, psychological depth, and revolution; they have been purchased, elaborately trimmed, adorned, and dyed, and deracinated as a form of torture. To this day, the act of displaying facial hair is still regarded as a form of ultimate cool.With wit and insight, One Thousand Beards explores the historical meaning of beards, mustaches, sideburns, and other forms of facial hair, from Freud's psychoanalytic interpretation, to a wild trip through history, to a rogue's gallery of famous bearded or mustached men, including Abraham Lincoln, Joseph Stalin, Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean, and Yosemite Sam. Includes numerous b&w illustrations and photographs.
About the Author
Allan Peterkin is a psychiatrist and the author of numerous books, including One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair. He lives in Toronto, Canada.
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