Edmund Barton, first prime minister of Australia, stood out in the photograph taken of the founders of the federation. He was clean shaven. The other members wore beards. Today it is a matter of preference both men, and women, have a love hate relationship with beards. Naturally occurring on the faces of most men what becomes of it is largely a matter of fashion.
Your fascination with the beard is a matter of when you were born. It also depends on where you were born, and the wealth of the nation into which you started life. Born, as you were, at the beginning of WW11, most able men were enlisted, and later, conscripted into the forces to defend the country. Enlistment meant men gave up much of their independence to the service in which they served. Those enlisted in the army were clean shaven by order. Those in the airforce fielded a moustache – if they were flamboyant enough. The men of the senior service were allowed beards, however few but officers, followed that naval practice.
At that time shavers still preferred to use a cut throat razor because it could be resharpened easily with a leather strop. The safety razor invented nearly one hundred and fifty years before never really caught on until King C Gillette invented the double sided razor in the early 1900s. These blades were disposable, however after a few uses they became dull. Perhaps understandably the privations of war reduced their use during those years. As any shaver will tell you using a blunt razor will give you an unsatisfactory shave.
After the war men generally preferred the practice they had become used to in wartime and in our neck of the woods most were clean shaven. You were through your adolescence before you saw your first full beard. On that occasion the immature face it hid was nowhere near imposing as the Royal face of King George the V whose profile graced many of the coins still in circulation. The curly bristles barely covered the acne on the face below and you were not impressed.
Within a decade you recognised you shared a birth date with Alfred Deakin, (03.08) our second Prime Minister. This man wore a beard and like him you decided shaving was for the birds. You came to this decision slowly – but resolutely. The safety razor was too wasteful, you decided. For a start it was near impossible to use the same blade for a week. (Every cent spent on a razor, was one less you needed to keep your weekly spend within your limited budget, and here was a way to save.) You soon reasoned scraping hairs off your chin with a spent blade only gave you a rash. The electric razors you tried never cut as close as a blade. That meant if you were to shave with an electric razor you were doing it twice a day. This was, in your mind, just ridiculous.
At first you allowed your beard to grow while you were on holidays. You discovered a beard was irritating at first but you persevered and after a week of growth you began to relax about it. After five weeks is seemed such a shame to cut it off but you allowed the mores of your community to dictate how you should look and you cut it off. As soon as you had you were reminded, once again, how uncomfortable it is to shave.
Thirteen weeks later you regrew your facial hair. You allowed the hair on your heard to grow as well. With long hair and a long-standing beard a Russian woman you knew remarked you resembled Rasputin. (It was an undeserved comparison, by the way, as you knew no czarina then, and not even now.)
Over the years your beard has fluctuated in length. It has varied in colour as it has been exposed to the sun, and more remarkably as the snow has settled on your head, it has also descended to your face. It has also been remarked on as being much softer than was first imagined. (That bit still seems a bit off the mark because your hair is straight. It is stiff and unyielding. In fact it would make an excellent shoe brush for muddy boots.)
By the time you entered the corporate world you were unperturbed by what others thought and you were one of the very few in the world of finance, to wear bristles above the company tie. This little no no was so long ago whether it upset people or not is no longer of consequence.
Of course today what you wear and how you wear it is not something one dare mention. If perchance you should be so bold as to comment on the feature of someone before you you will be covered in the confetti of writs that follow such indiscretion, even before dust can settle. The people you meet today are influenced by the label they wear, the social media they follow and those who wear beards with self determination as as rare as Harnaam Kaur. (The media figure teaches us all how to be self accepting – good on her I say.)