Crunching Data: Making Sense of Bearded Studies

A casual Wednesday evening and a quick search for beard-related articles online.

Scholars really write about everything and anything, there’s bound to be something on man’s favourite facial accessory. A quick search on clever article database JSTOR pulls up an astounding number of results:


All that scholarly language can be exhausting, but I’m curious to see what the clever people make of beards. Since you don’t have time to read 16,800 articles of at least five pages each (probably), I’ve read them all for you* and now present the

Bearded London Translation Machine

to make sense of all that data. Scroll and learn, hairy friends.

Androgens and hair growth; Valerie Anne Randall (Dermatologic Therapy, 21:2008, pp. 314-328)

What it says:

“Androgens act within the follicle to alter the mesenchyme-epithelial cell interactions, changing the time the hair is growing, the dermal papilla size and the dermal papilla cell, keratinocyte and melanocyte activity.”

What it means:

Little chemicals, called androgens, affect the speed at which hair divides and multiplies and what colour a beard will be. Everyone has slightly different androgens, so everyone’s beard speed and colour is completely beautifully unique.

Fashions in Shaving and Trimming of the Beard: The Men of the Illustrated London News, 1842-1972; Dwight E. Robinson (American Journal of SociologyMarch 1976, pp. 1133-1141

What it says:

The author took a head count of every man featured in the Illustrated London News for 130 years and noted how many had facial hair and what kind they had:

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 21.36.22 Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 21.36.28 Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 21.36.38

What it means:

The lines are the five-year averages, the dots are the individual years over time, where 1842 is on the far left and 1972 on the far right. See how many dots there are outside the average line? That’s because so many hirsute men love their facial hair no matter what’s fashionable and what everyone else is doing. YOU SO BOLD, MEN.

Negative frequency-dependent preferences and variation in male facial hair; Zinnia J. Janif, Robert C. Brooks and Barnaby J. Dixson (Biology Letters, April 2014, pp. 1-4)

What it says:

Uh-oh, it’s the article that started the whole peak beard debacle. After close analysis, this is one of the choice phrases that stood out:

“Women preferred light stubble in one study, heavy stubble in another and clean-shaven, light stubble and heavy stubble equally over full beards in a third study.”

What it means:

Somewhere there’s a stubble lovin’ gal or guy for every beard, no matter how big or small.


The Renaissance Beard: Masculinity in Early Modern England; Will Fisher (Renaissance Quarterly, Spring 2001, pp. 155-187)

What it says:

“It is difficult to tell if the use of prosthetic beards in the Oxford performance (of plays) is representative of the English stage practice in general, when all of these documents about beards are seen in conjunction with one another…it become apparent that there was a lively market for, and traffic in, false beards.”

What it means:

The Renaissance population loved acting with and wearing false beards and there may quite possibly have been a black market in false beards. In another part of the article, he mentions what a beard fan Shakespeare was – beards are explicitly mentioned in all but four of his plays, with well over 20 references in As You Like It alone.

Raphael and the Beard of Pope Julius II; Mark J. Zucker (The Art Bulletin, December 1977, pp. 524-533)

What it says:

“Prejudices against ecclesiastical beards, still very much in force at the time of Julius’ pontificate, originated at least as early as the ninth century, when in the Great Schism East and West disputed, among other matters, the question of whether or not to shave.”

What it means:

Julius chose to have a beard while he was Pope despite the preceding 400 years of staunch beard criticism (Julius II was Pope 1443-1513) and put facial hair on the agenda for discussions between the two sides of the church.

Lost – one papal beard. Via

Bearded Women in Early Modern England; Mark Albert Johnston (Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Winter 2007, pp. 1-28)

What it says:

“The female “beard below” does not threaten notions of male erotic and economic primacy: rather, it confirms them by remaining discreetly hidden in a subordinate position relative to the male facial beard and by being complicit with patriarchal economic strategies such as patrilineal inheritance through the production of heirs.”

What it means:

The male facial beard isn’t the only beard woven with sexual politics.

Rust-coloured bearded (erignathus barbatus) and ringed (phoca hispida) seals from Svalbard, Norway; Christian Lydersen, Kit M. Kovacs and Espen Lydersern (Journal of Mammology, February 2001, pp. 225-230

What it says:

“The higher incidence of rust-coloured bearded seals, compared with ringed seals, is explained by the greater dependence of the former species on benthic prey items.”

What it means:

If you’re a sea-loving mammal and you want a beautiful ginger hued beard, you gotta dig deep. To the very bottom of the ocean, actually.

Symbolic Meanings of Facial Hair in the Middle Ages; Robert Bartlett (Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 1994, pp. 43-60)

What it says:

“Those theorists who see hair treatment as primarily sexually expressive would argue that the social visibility of head and facial hair is a prerequisite for its effective role as an open bearer of biological information.”

What it means:

Your beard says more about you than you know. Your favourite pizza topping, where you want to get married, how long ago your last shower was. It’s all there.

Giants, boar-hunts and barbering: masculinity in Culhwch ac Olwen; Sarah Sheehan (Arthuriana, Fall 2005, pp. 3-25)

What it says:

“Close attention to the barbering theme as it unfolds through the story reveals shifts in tone which suggest that medieval Welsh attitudes towards masculinity were complex and ambivalent.”

What it means:

In medieval Wales, the barber’s was like the pub down the road – men shared stories, formed bonds and compared beard styling tips.

The Beard Movement in Victorian Britain; Christopher Oldstone-Moore (Victorian Studies, 2005, pp. 7-34)

What it says:

“There is little evidence that expenses associated either with shaving or maintaining beards determined style changes or differences between the classes. Indeed, it is a remarkable feature of the Victorian era that beards were just as popular with working-class men as they were with middle-class or aristocratic men.”

What it means:

Beards are like McDonald’s or a really big hug – they don’t care how much you earn, how bad you smell or how your day was. They just want to be there for you, whoever you are, whenever you need them.

*I read 15.

About Francesca Peak

Lifestyle, arts and culture journalist.
This entry was posted in Beard Science, Features and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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