Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Facial Hair Dysmorphia

My name is Drew, and I feel insecure about my facial hair.

Let me describe for you a cycle that’s been going on for most of my post-pubescent life. Facial hair grows in, and stubble approaches beard status. About a week in, however, I begin to notice imperfections. “Oh, these few hairs don’t lie flat, and it looks patchy over yonder, and hey — have these two sides always been so asymmetrical?” I trim in an attempt to even it out. This maybe lasts a day or so, because when I’m next standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I realize that my attempts to fix the problem only made it worse. Of course, this only prompts me to try again to fix it, and in the end I end up buzzing it all away, back down to stubble, whereupon the cycle begins again.

(And no, clean-shaven is not an option for me. When I shave it off, I think I look like a kid play-acting as a grown-up. It creeps me out.)

Based on that description, you might think I’m critical of facial hair in general, but here’s the thing: I can’t remember the last time I saw some else’s stubble, beard, near-beard or whatever and had anything other than a positive reaction to it. Goatees excepted, I think facial hair better looks better than no facial hair, and I give everyone else a pass that I don’t give myself. At 32 years old, I’m basically good with the way I look and the way my body goes about its processes, but this one in particular I cannot accept. That’s maybe just how most people operate, saving their harshest judgment for themselves, but I’ve gradually become aware of the fact that I focus this harshness specifically on my facial hair.

I know calling my problem dysmorphia might rankle some, because body dysmorphia can be a life-ruiner of a problem that drives people to starve themselves or isolate themselves or plastic surgery themselves into oblivion. But before I wrote this, I read up on how dysmorphia affects people. Without going into too many specifics, I was surprised to learn that what I experience fits many of the criteria. I’m lucky I don’t experience it in a way that could impact my life more negatively, I realize, but it’s still something that’s bothered me for a decade. And it would feel better to stand in front of a mirror and not have my first reaction be, “No, this isn’t right.”

Alas, my permastubble is as good as I can do, Gawker’s condemnation of it notwithstanding. I’m fortunate to live in a part of the world where no one seems to notice or care that I’m trying to look like I always just getting back from a long weekend, but I also live in a part of the world with some commendable, magnificent beards that put me in my place. As a gay man, I have to wonder what insecurities may be prompting me to use facial hair as an easy, visible shorthand for masculinity. (“See? I am a man. Look, I have secondary sex characteristics and everything.”) And if I’m doing that, it’s odd that seizing upon a physical aspect of myself for which I can’t compensate by, say, working out more or investing in a codpiece.

I wrote this not to fish for compliments — other people’s assurances don’t do much to change my opinion about by pathetic beardlessness — but to put it out there to see if other guys ever feel the same way. Do you also suffer from suspicions that everyone else’s facial hair looks superior to your own? Do you find yourself trapped in a permastubble cycle? Is this an insecurity for straight guys in the same way it is for gay guys? Does anyone know the name of a good beard-wig supplier?

Captain Permastubble

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