Sean Moncrieff: I stopped shaving late last year. A pandemic can change a man

I have learned there are men who do Good Beard and others who are less accomplished

‘One of the things you learn during the beard-growing process is that all beards are different, and not through intention.’

I have opined – indeed, I wrote it once in this column – that I have little interest in growing a beard. Well, if you’re looking for consistency, you’ve come to the wrong place. A pandemic can change a man.

Anyway, last year, when I was having sundry eye surgeries, shaving wasn’t an option. I was half-blind, and thus vulnerable to the possibility of perishing in a tragicomic ablutions accident. As a result, there was a few weeks of growth. It wasn’t full-on beardiness; together with the eye-patch, I looked more like a down-on-his-luck individual who had suffered an archery accident.

Still, it did make me wonder. I said out loud that I might revisit the idea of cultivating facial hair. I said it out loud many times. I had to: on the first few occasions, Herself pointedly ignored my declarations, but eventually came around. Sort of. She said she’d support me on my beard-growing journey, or something similarly platitudinous. Roughly translated, that means she hates the idea and I’m certain to make a fool of myself. But she won’t say Told You So when I finally realise the latter. Not much anyway.

Hair raising

So, bolstered by Herself’s unwavering support, I stopped shaving late last year. The process, I learned, goes through phases. At first, you look like you could do with a shave, then you look like the sort of chap who is a worry to his family, then you look seriously worrisome because you’re staggering around the streets, trying desperately not to claw the skin off your face. But finally, the itchiness starts to abate; and a while after that I could look in the mirror and be content to believe that what was on my chin could reasonably be called a beard.


As any new beardowner will tell you, apart from the itchiness and crippling anxiety, the main issue to deal with is the reactions

One of the other things you learn is that, rather obviously, all beards are different, and not through intention. During my growing process I became aware of men who do Good Beard and others who are less accomplished. Mine is pretty good at the front, but a bit scrappy at the sides: something that, various YouTube videos have assured me, I should not get anxious about. Apparently, Beard Anxiety and Beard Envy are real things. One YouTuber waxed on about the toxicity spreading through the Beard Community, with the bushy-chinned mocking the less hirsute with such ferocity that many of the latter are driven to impulsive, desperate measures. Like shaving.

Colour in

Beard individuality also extends to colour. It was a joke in our family for many years how my mother would rhapsodise about the blond hair I had when I was six; which turned to a dirty brown soon after and, eventually, fell out of my head. But now some of it is back in my beard. There are some white hairs too, but mostly it’s red. I know of no relation of mine who had red hair, but obviously there must have been: and I do like the idea of carrying this mysterious genetic heritage about on my face.

But as any new beardowner will tell you, apart from the itchiness and crippling anxiety, the main issue to deal with is the reactions. I've had them all. Some have pointedly given no reaction – which is a reaction in itself. Some have been enthusiastically positive. Daughter Number Two says I'm giving off some serious Ernest Hemingway energy. Daughter Number Three thinks that this is just my preparation to give up the media lark and spend the rest of my days making hand-crafted tables. My sister, perhaps channelling our mother, said I look like a prison inmate, which I think she meant as a negative thing. My sister thinks I look like a badass. Cool.

But Herself remained resolutely silent, as impervious as the Buddha. So, of course I had to ask. She says she’s getting used to it, which is good enough for me. Many solid relationships are based on far less.