“For years people have been taught – trained – to remove facial hair because it is considered ‘ugly’ by mainstream media, and beauty standards in some areas of the world. We are each individuals and being hairless to some people is beautiful and to others their facial hair is stunning.” – Sophia Hadjipanteli, model
Beauty standards continue to evolve from one generation to the next with the media – and marketing – playing a big role in what is considered ‘beautiful’. However, with the rise of social media and the conscious consumer, we’re seeing traditional beauty standards upturned, and celebrations of individual identity arising. And one area where this is evident is facial hair, where gender identification, cultural expression, and historical nuances all culminate in the simple follicle placement.
The role of facial hair in History
Facial hair is not just about keeping the face warm, throughout human history it has been a status symbol and a method of individual expression. Going back to the Egyptian Dynastic era, facial hair was eradicated as it was associated with animals.
However, ancient Greece viewed beards as a sign of virility and wisdom – imitating gods like Zeus – and cut only as a form of punishment or mourning. To differentiate themselves, the Romans chose to be clean-shaven. In England, knights had beards as a sign of honour, but when King Henry VIII ruled, he kept a beard but charged tax on subjects who grew one. Jump to 1900s America and the start of WWI meant no beards because these interfered with gas masks – a trend that continued into WWII but was overthrown by bearded hippies in the 1960s.
Throughout history, facial hair has come to be iconic for certain influential characters, from Leonardo da Vinci with his long, flowing beard and Karl Marx with his bushy beard, to the minimalist facial hair of William Shakespeare and the beard sans moustache of Abraham Lincoln. While there are fewer examples of iconic female facial hair, the Mexican artist and feminist icon Frida Kahlo used her unibrow as a statement to reject stereotypes of conventional beauty.
Cultural differences in facial hair
Beyond Western standards of beauty, facial hair has significant cultural and religious connotations across the globe. In Christianity, early religious leaders opposed beards until the 5th century when Jesus was depicted with a beard. In Islam, beards are an important indicator of religious devotion, as they are in Judaism – evidenced by the Hasidic Jews.
Facial hair is also a politically charged subject, from transgender identities to right and left-leaning politics. In Russia, damaging someone’s beard was a crime but then a beard tax was introduced in 1698 shifting the ideals. More recently, beards are statements about homosexuality and gender. In Japan, the long moustache was an indication of the Samurai, but then the clean-shaven look was popularised as more moral.
Facial hairstyles have come to symbolise different nationalities, time periods, and affiliations. When talking about the French, the stereotypical waxed moustache and clean-shaven chin often comes to mind; whereas Vikings are remembered for long, bushy beards, often plaited.
Breaking the gender binary on facial hair
However, when it comes to women and facial hair, there are few historical representations outside of the ‘carnival act’ known as the bearded lady. This is even though around 10% of women suffer from hirsutism which is the excess growth of dark hair on the face and back. The association of women with facial hair has been dissuaded by the dominating patriarchal narrative that has, for too long, dictated how women should act and look.
In the last few decades there has been a shift, with people, regardless of gender, choosing to grow facial hair as a form of self-expression or to align with their personal preferences. They are looking to celebrate their unique identity, challenge rigid gender norms, and rage against the traditional ideals of beauty that have held women back and destroyed self-esteem.
People who have defied facial hair norms
Flaunting female body hair has always been part of the feminist movement, and we’re seeing more modern women expanding this to flaunting facial hair. Here’s a look at some of these defiant women who are standing up against rigid ideals.
- Sophia Hadjipanteli – This model has been fighting beauty standards through her #UnibrowMovement which has sparked campaigns, and seen her on the cover of magazines promoting diversity.
- Harnaam Kaur – A motivational speaker and influencer who has a beard from Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) which is now one of her biggest assets.
- Trésor Prijs – A trans woman who chooses to present with and without a full beard, stating that the ‘negative connotations of females with facial hair have another sinister layer of taboo and prejudice when applied outside of the gender binary’.
The media and facial hair
Media representation has always played a crucial role in challenging beauty standards. The rise of social media and influencers has provided a platform for women to showcase their facial hair and connect with others. The more this happens, the more likely diverse facial hair will be included in advertising, movies, and other forms of media, normalising and celebrating this unique look.
Embracing positive body images
For too long, we have bought into the unrealistic expectations of traditional beauty standards. From skin tone and body type to body hair and now facial hair, the mainstream media and patriarchal narrative have dominated what it means to be beautiful. Body positivity means feeling beautiful about yourself, no matter your shape or size, and this includes choosing to grow facial hair, or opt for hair removal if you prefer. The ultimate goal is to promote a culture of acceptance where individuals can make choices that align with their preferences, whether that means growing facial hair, choosing not to have it, or experimenting with different styles.
In the end, it’s up to you!