This week we've wasted a lot of time on frivolous stuff like presidential impeachment, the Second Amendment and national security. So today, let's tackle of of the really important questions:
Are men with beards more desirable?
Science suggests that facial hair — from scruffy day-old stubble to full Grizzly Adams — is imbued with social messages, and can play a significant role in a man's love life.
I've had a beard for most of my adult life, ever since I got out of the Army and discovered that a little facial hair could hide a weak chin. My pre-beard romantic life was mostly as a nerdy high school student who barely knew what to do with a girl. So maybe the beard has been a help, maybe it hasn't. I do know that a certain percentage of women absolutely cannot stand facial hair — they are not shy about saying so. And I know a certain percentage of women are a little turned on by it — they are not averse to showing it. I think most women can take it or leave it, and that's fine with me.
Periodically I see stories proclaiming that "beards are over, guys," or that beards are making a big comeback. Since I've never considered shaving mine off — the sight of my naked face in the mirror would undoubtedly bring on a seizure — I tend to ignore such silly chatter. But I suspect that, public opinion's waxing and waning notwithstanding, a certain number of men will choose the bearded life, so perhaps we should take care of this "romantic attraction" business once and for all.
Luckily for us, someone has tried to tackle the question with something approaching methodological precision. Last year, researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia gathered data from 8,520 women, who were divided among three groups. Each group of women was shown pictures of men with varying degrees of facial hair. The images, which had been manipulated by the research team to show the same men more or less bearded, showed the men with clean shaven faces, light stubble (five days of growth) heavy stubble (10 days of growth) and a thick beard representing about one month of growth.
Next, each group of women was asked to mull a different question about the man's sex appeal. The first group rated the men's beardless-to-bearded faces for overall sexual attractiveness. The second group also rated the photos, but this time they were asked to score the pictures based on short-term attractiveness: Which of the men seemed most desirable for a fling or a one-night stand? The third group rated the men in the photos as long-term prospects: Which of the men had a face that suggested he might be a good candidate for marriage and commitment?
And the results:
Overall, the women said the sexiest men were those sporting heavy stubble, followed by short stubble. Men with full beards and clean-shaven men were rated the lowest on the overall sexiness scale.
What kind of man is most attractive to a woman looking for a short-term fling or one-night stand? Men with light stubble won that contest, closely followed by men with heavier stubble, suggesting that the scruffy look appeals to women looking for fun, but not commitment.
But when it came to choosing a long-term partner, a guy with whom a woman could have babies or settle in for the duration, the more facial hair the better. Men with heavy stubble and full beards were the clear winners on this question, suggesting that men who are ready to commit might do better if they shave less often.
The authors of the study theorize that for women who are looking for a long-term mate, beardedness may be more attractive as it “indicates a male's ability to compete for resources.”
So there you have it. When women want to "settle in for the duration," the more facial hair the better.
Periodically, people send out online musings, complete with photoshopped images, of what various celebrities would like like with beards. I remember two in particular — President Obama and Conan O'Brien, who both looked pretty good with chin whiskers. But the real thing — when a celebrity decides to abandon the naked face for real — can be frightening. I give you . . . David Letterman. Man, he looks like he just crawled out from a homeless shelter and could use a "will tell jokes for food" sign around his neck.
A few years ago, I tried out this app that would take your photograph and turn you into a Simpson's character. I won't say I think I look sexy with my cartoon beard, but Homer had better be careful. I think Marge might have the hots for me.