Do beards give voters the warm fuzzies?

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I was amused by this article about the facial hair of U. S. Sen. Jon Corzine, Democrat of New Jersey, in today's Asbury Park Press. Corzine, the only member of the U. S. Senate with a beard, will become the only sitting governor with a beard if he wins New Jersey's gubernatorial election this fall.

While facial hair hasn't been a problem for Corzine to date, some say it could still cost him points with voters. There are persistent, negative connotations underlying the taboo, according to political consultants, image experts and others.

"The problem with beards is the association with the '60s and '70s — the beatnik and hippie movement, the anti-establishment attitudes that were communicated by people in those years by people wearing beards. It's guilt by association, regardless of whether they were part of that," said Judith Rasband, a professional image management specialist.

I have often heard Oklahoma political consultant Fount Holland say that a beard will cost a candidate 4% of the vote. The only thing worse than a beard: A mustache by itself will cost you 6%. I don't have any numbers, but I suspect the electorate is even harder on men with a C. Everett Koop / Amish look (full beard, no mustache), a Fu Manchu mustache, a soul patch, mutton chops, or anything resembling Robert Bork's wispy chin fuzz. (The Organization for the Advancement of Facial Hair has a page of illustrations of beard types.)

Reid Buckley, younger brother of William F., writes in Speaking in Public:

[T]he heavily bearded speaker tends to look like a wooly caterpillar with lips. Most of the expressiveness in the face emanates from the thousands of tiny muscles surrounding the area of the mouth. When this is shrouded, what the audience discerns of the speaker's mug is precious little; what it gathers of expression is nada. Rubbery lips in their hairy casements... writhe, like sea anemones....

Bearded men, moreover, unless they are blond or redhead, tend to look dour, grouchy, even menacing; like Frederic March's Mr. Hyde.

Buckley's advice to public speakers: Shave it off, or at least trim it close.

I have twice run for office, and I was told before both campaigns that I had to shave. During my 2002 campaign for Tulsa City Council, I received a phone call from a voter who had received a campaign postcard with my photo on it. He felt compelled to inform me that under no circumstances would he or his wife vote for anyone with a beard. I informed the gentleman that I had two small children who were used to Daddy having a beard, and that they would be puzzled to see Daddy clean-shaven. I also told him that my wife liked me with a beard, and when it came to my appearance the opinion of my wife and children mattered most. The voter was unmoved.

I later looked up the gentleman's name in the voter registration database and found that he was rather advanced in years. I suspect that for those whose working life was mainly in the '40s and '50s and into the '60s, beards represent a rejection of authority and society. Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Castro, and (of course) Che had beards. For boomers and younger, beards are more commonplace, and they're more likely to have positive associations: fatherly, avuncular, professorial, venerable. Burl Ives had a beard and sang folk songs in Disney movies. Ernest Hemingway had a beard. Santa Claus has a beard, for that matter.

I lost my council race by slightly more than the beard penalty, and my opponent (Tom Baker) subsequently grew a beard of his own, although I think he had shaved it before the 2004 campaign.

I have not been fully clean-shaven since 1985. I first grew a beard as a junior in college, during an extended stay in the infirmary. It was weedy and scraggly, and I shaved it off before job hunting the following summer, then grew it back the next winter, during another extended illness. When I went job hunting as I neared graduation, I didn't shave. I figured that if a company didn't want me, beard and all, I didn't want to work for them. That may not have been the best job-hunting strategy in Tulsa in 1986, but I had a good job within two months anyway.

I trim my beard closer now, and I shave more of my cheeks and neck than I did back then, but other than that (and other than a growing number of white whiskers), it's the same beard as 20 years ago, and I'm given to believe it suits me. The first time I met my wife, I was clean-shaven and wore glasses; the following year we met again, and I had a beard and wore contact lenses. This time we clicked in a way we hadn't the first year, and I always suspected the beard made a difference. An erstwhile friend told me she didn't like facial hair and had urged plenty of men to shave, in brutally frank terms, but in my case, the beard was a part of who I am, and she couldn't possibly be more attracted to me. (There are at least two ways you could take that last phrase, one of which is complimentary.)

When your beard is part of who you are, shedding it before a campaign is likely to come across as an act of political expediency as cynical as shedding a long-held principle. Jon Corzine seems to take the same view:

"It's staying," he said when asked about the beard in a July interview. "When you've had something for 25 years, why would you reshape yourself to get into public life? And I haven't tried to."

I don't share the man's politics, but I hope his success opens doors for his bearded brethren everywhere.

The final word on the matter belongs to Minnie Pearl:

Kissing a feller with a beard is like a picnic. You don't mind going through a little brush to get there.

TRACKBACK: Kyle at Neumatikos chimes in: "[My wife] insisted I not shave for our wedding, which was a great relief. Later generations would have wasted considerable effort wondering who mommy’s first husband was, and why we insisted on putting out pictures of that wedding, instead of ours." (Found via Google's new Blog Search.)


Anon said:

When I first arrived back in Tulsa after grad school, I had two job offers in the first week. One was conditional on me shaving my beard. I took the other one.

I remember being a little shocked at the time, it was 1978. Beards were pretty common. And, my prospecive employer made at least a vailed effort at suggesting it were the clients he was concerned for, not that it mattered much to him.

It did. At least enough that when I turned him down, he didn't fall over himself to attempt a remedy.

Too bad, really, since he was one of the greats at what he did and has since died. I sometimes wonder if things had been different....but, oh well. I worked for only 5 years at the other position before being layed off with a downturn in the economy. It was, at the time, one of the large, corporate type environments where a new guy can get lost. But, they did have a lot of interesting work. Still, the other position would've been fewer, smaller jobs, but with the kind of artistic approach not often found anywhere.

Probably should've shaved.

I did shave the beard in 1983, but kept the mustach for years after that before going clean around 1990.

The one thing I can say at this point is that I still hate shaving as much as I ever did.

MrFisher said:

That is absolutely hilarious!

Either that, or we are.

You bearded freak you.

From Your Always and Forever Bearded Cousin.


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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 12, 2005 10:19 PM.

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