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Hairy dilemma: How much beard to grow?

  • Author: Geoff Kirsch
  • Updated: May 21, 2017
  • Published May 21, 2017

I'm a beard guy — or, as some of us prefer to be called, "whiskered American."

And I have been for decades, long before metrosexuals went lumbersexual and facial hair, like the rumpled flannel shirts I also favored, became fashionable.

In fact, beard friendliness was a major reason behind relocating to Alaska in the first place. Also, I figured it'd be a good place for developing an Alaska-based reality TV show, which I was (and still am), chronicling my life as I do nothing but watch other Alaska-based reality TV shows. I call it "Deadliest Couch."

No mystery

Anyway, here are a few reasons why I love beards:

• They make great sunscreen. In fact, I wish I could grow one continuous beard all over my body. Then I could finally wear a G-string to the beach.

• Beards are nature's balaclava, much like baseball caps are the poor man's toupee.

• My parents hate the beard. And for some reason, I still do stuff specifically because my parents hate it — even though I'm in my 40s now, with my own kids who do stuff specifically because I hate it.

• I can't stand shaving. Why fight biology, that's my motto, which also explains my gut. And falcon toenails.

• In the absence of hair on your head, a beard gives you something to twirl. Which brings me to my final bullet point …

• There's nothing like a big, fat beard to take the sting out of going bald.

David Doering, left, winner of the moustache category, and Adam Bruck, winner of the grizzly beard and overall title, at UAA’s sixth annual Beard & ‘Stache Competition during the Winterfest event held in the Student Union on March 2, 2016. (Bill Roth / ADN archive 2016)

You see, like millions of American men, I suffer from androgenic alopecia, aka male pattern baldness — in my case, full-blown by age 24, coincidentally the same year my beard finally started coming in all the way.

While at 17 I enjoyed a mess of long, flame-red dreadlocks — which my parents really hated — the only facial hair I could manage was an incomplete goatee forming two devil's points on the sides of my chin (I looked like a satanic leprechaun). Seven years later, the dreads were gone (better to burn out than fade away), but as a consolation prize by then I'd cultivated a substantial Van Dyke and a crazy pair of Van Burens.

Turns out, there's science behind this. Male pattern baldness stems from genetic hypersensitivity to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the same hormone responsible for beard growth. The more DHT, the better the facial hair; but for us genetic unfortunates, that same DHT fries the follicles on top of our heads. Essentially, we trade one type of hair for another. Is it fair? No, but a deal's a deal. And at least I've still got all my teeth.

Charles Darwin to Grumpy

Some beards I admire: Charles Darwin, Jerry Garcia, Santa Claus, Billy Mays, Gandalf, Bob Ross, Walt Whitman, Professor Dumbledore, the dad from "Family Ties," Al from "Home Improvement," Grumpy from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," Dallas Keuchel, Rumpelstiltskin, 20th President of the United States James A. Garfield, Moses, "Abbey Road"-era John Lennon, "Abbey Road"-era George Harrison and "Abbey Road"-era Ringo Starr. ("Abbey Road"-era Paul McCartney wore sideburns only, but his "Let It Be"-era beard may be my all-time fave.)

The thing is, in the face of these great beards — not to mention the magnificent homegrown facial topiary you see all around Alaska — I can't help but feel …  well … inadequate. Oh, what I wouldn't give for just a few more inches …

And so, periodically, I invest myself in growing out the beard: washing my face with Mane 'n Tail®, blasting ZZ Top, freebasing vitamin E, stuff like that. Indeed, I've been at it all winter, and now, like every spring, I stand at a crossroads. (Well, actually, I live in a cul-de-sac, but whatever.) The beard's going rogue, exactly like my head hair when left to its own devices: it doesn't grow "down" as much as "out," kind of in a big orange Afro. On my face.

To trim or not?

As such, I now face the toughest choice in bearding: to trim or not to trim?

Part of me thinks it's just at an awkward in-between stage, and with patience, all my beard-related dreams can come true. Like if I can only get past the on-hiatus Conan O'Brien I've got going right now, an awesome Leif Erikson awaits me on the other side.

Of course, you can always cover up a bad hair day, or in my case total baldness, which isn't just a bad hair day, but the worst hair day, every day, until the day you die.

Nope. I've got no choice but to grin and bear these bad beard days no matter how long they last. I mean, what else am I going to do? Grow a handlebar mustache?

Geoff Kirsch is a Juneau-based writer and humorist currently working on an essay collection based upon his long-running column in the Juneau Empire.

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