Who Wants to Kiss a Man With a Beard?
DOROTHY LAMOUR ONCE SAID IT WAS LIKE FALLING FACE DOWN ON A BROOM. IT'S WOMEN LIKE HER WHO ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR STUBBLE-TROUBLED CANADIAN MEN GOING THROUGH THE DAILY ORDEAL OF POGONOTOMY, SOMETIMES CALLED SHAVING
EARLY this morning, while women and small boys slumbered, 4,887,000 wretched Canadian males crept silently from their beds and shuffled to their bathrooms to keep a standing date with their faces.
From Nootka on the west coast to Twillingate in the squid-jiggin’ grounds of Newfoundland the men pursued the same solemn prehistoric ritual. Each martyr assumed the Pogonotomy Crouch before his mirror. He blinked, yawned, shivered, studied his hairline, scratched his chest, tucked a towel beneath his chin and contorted his face.
Amid whirring motors and showers of stubble some pogonotomists belabored their jowls with small machines. Others smothered their faces with an inch of lather, grappled with steel blade in a wax-paper jacket, peeled off seven grams of epidermis, struck small gushers of blood and, if they were fortunate, whittled away most of the fifteen thousand whiskers that sprouted from their cheeks.
But above the lather and debris, eyes were bleak and weary. The pogonotomist knew that in spite of the benefits of lanolin, high-velocitv heads or the sharpest edges ever honed, he’d be doing the whole thing over again tomorrow.
Pogonotomy 'from the Greek pogon — beard") —shaving, if you like—has effectively stymied mankind since the Stone Age. At various times throughout history the beard has proudly signified mourning, celebration, wisdom or dignity. Men have sworn oaths on it and grown it to pay off debts.
Today, however, chin whiskers are in a slump. Even the traditional navy beard is frowned upon: during the last war two shipwrecked seamen were believed to have suffocated when oil and salt water mingled in their beards. A memorandum was issued asking captains to discourage beard-growing
Other misfortunes plague the modern man who wears whiskers. Back in the Thirties John Kontra, of Hungary, twirled a twenty-eight-inch mustache, which he claimed was a world's record. But he used special oil to train its curves and one night, when the usual preparation wasn’t available, he basted it with lamp oil. When he lit his pipe, flames spurted forth from his upper lip, injuring one eye. In 1946 an elderly New Yorker, Lewis Malina, was dozing over an early morning cigar when his beard and bedclothes caught fire. The mattress suffered minor damage, Malina received first and second degree bums, the beard was a total loss.
But fire hazard isn’t the major reason for the beard’s decline. In the words of a Toronto barber: "Women are responsible'” In Hollywood Dorothy Lamour, asked for her opinion on Iteards, scoffed, "Grandpa had a beard and kissing him was like falling face down on a broom.” Most women are just as emphatic. Some argue beards are both unsightly and unsanitary. The man who shows his face today with five-o’clock shadow may as well turn up with leprosy.
In their attempts to look sharp some pogonotomists pay a high price. Last year, whiskers cost Cesar Anulfo Aneu, of Guatemala, six thousand dollars. He turned in a lottery ticket as payment on a shave. A day later the ticket paid off for his barber.
And nearly five million Canadian shavers lost countless dollars and about three million hours a year, all devoted to straight razors, electric razors, thirty types of safety razors with one hundred and forty-three brands of blades, styptic pencils, lotions, talcs and one hundred and thirty brands of shaving cream in sticks, tubes or bowls containing such ingredients as stearic acid, glycerol, coconut oil, perfume, castor oil, wax, olive oil, palm-kernel oil. peanut oil, dihydroxyhexachlorodiphenylmethane and suet.
From time to time the shavers of the world arise and fight back.
In 1932 the Milwaukee Plumbers’ Association passed a resolution urging all plumbers’ assistants to shave regularly and "increase the trade’s prestige.” One plumber refused, branding it all a “plot
of the big bosses.”
In India in 1944 five hundred barbers appealed to the government to put safety razors on the contraband list.
Two years later the Ontario city of North Bay
sponsored a Whiskerino Contest and men all over the northland jubilantly vied for the title King of the Whopping Whiskers.
Every year from April to July in Swift Current, Sask., the local men grow beards for July 1 festivities. One year when the beards were finally shorn they made the clippings into hats. Another year each beard grower received a permit, complete with flea and accident clause.
But open rebellion is rare. In fact, for the first sixteen years of his life the human male waits breathlessly for the day he can shave. For the next fifty or sixty he mutely scrapes, suffers and regrets it. Assuming that the average beard grows one fiftieth of an inch per day, this means that a man reaps thirty to forty feet of whiskers in his lifetime.
Actually he brought it all upon himself by being
Facial hair is « male secondary sexual characteristic which accompanies adolescence. From ten thousand to twenty thousand whiskers jut from the average man’s face at an angle of thirty-one to fifty-nine degrees. Rooted in the secondary skin beneath the epidermis, each hairshaft pushes through a tiny crater or follicle. The chief chemical constituent of hair is keratin, an organic material which absorbs water readily. Hair also takes up an oily secretion from the sebaceous glands.
The “tough beard” isn’t only advertising jargon: the number and thickness of hairs really vary with every face. On some beards the whisker diameter averages .009 inches, on others it’s as small as .005 inches. Usually the beard is most heavily concentrated on the chin and upper lip. The number of hairs varies from seventy to one hundred and twenty per square centimetre on the centre of the chin.
Experts can’t agree on the importance of ex-
ternal factors like weather, diet or disposition on l>eard growth. One encyclopedia claims that bad-tempered men have bristly beards, that wholesome food softens the whiskers and dry indigestible food hardens them. George Hoffman, Prime Handlebar of the British Handlebar Club, came to Canada in 1948 behind a mustache with a nineand-a-half-inch wingspan. To reporters he confided, “The food here should do quite a bit for the length and texture but it’s really beer that grows this lovely stuff.”
In Jacksonville, Fla., researchers found that temperature definitely affects beard growth. The daily September beard, at an average temperature of seventy-nine degrees, grew twice as long as the January crop at an average temperature of fiftyeight degrees.
But many dermatologists doubt this. “I don’t think it has ever been proved that hair actually grows longer in the summer,” says Dr. Raymond Smith, Toronto skin specialist. “I think men just aren’t able to shave as closely during hot weather.”
All the experts agree, though, that shaving doesn’t increase beard growth. One American scientist, testing razor blades, has shaved his left arm for twenty years. “Today,” he says, “there is no difference whatever in the characteristics of the hair on either arm.”
A group of American college students reached the same conclusion after shaving one side of their faces every day for two months, saving the whiskers, then harvesting the two-month growth and weighing both collections.
A few dermatologists believe that hair diameter increases slightly with constant shaving. Others report beard growth is more rapid immediately after shaving but it soon slows down to normal.
If shaving inspired hair growth, they say, a number of men would be lathering the tops of their heads.
There are several other methods of getting rid of your whiskers. Where a religion does not permit its adherents to use a sharp instrument on their faces, some use a depilatory. Depilatories soften and dissolve the keratin of the hair. Skin specialists say these preparations can irritate or burn the face. X-rays can be equally dangerous. Thallium acetate causes the beard to fall out temporarily but, in addition to being extremely toxic, this drug takes the hair off the top of your head.
Electrolysis is expensive and often its results are only temporary. The electric needle may not reach the hair root or the patient may not be able to stand a current strong enough to permanently kill the hair.
About twenty percent of Canadian males use electric razors, which shear the face with a series of tiny scissorlike knives.
For the great majority who still use a blade of some kind there is plenty of free advice—none of it guaranteed—on how to get the best results.
A former editor of a cutlery trade journal advises shavers to make faces at themselves in the mirror. “This tightens the skin,” he explains. “Since the hair is set in a yielding base it needs something to make it stand up to the razor.”
Bill Forbes, a Scottish barber who clocks up shaves at twenty-nine seconds each and hasn’t lost a customer yet, says it’s important that the subject sit, lie or stand still.
A barbering handbook published by the Journeymen Barbers’ International Union of America places emphasis on the stroke. It urges its students to master the freehand, backhand and reverse freehand strokes and to refrain from placing “fingers in patron’s mouth while shaving the upper lip.” Barl>ers don’t treat the matter lightly. Some schools train novices on lathered balloons and bottles before turning them loose on faces.
W. B. Wilson, barbering instructor at Toronto’s Central Technical School, says that if men gave their skin proper beforehand preparation, used a good blade and studied the skin, they’d have less trouble.
“I’d fire an employee who shaved against the grain,” says Wilson. “It may produce a closer shave but. in shaving that way and in tightening the skin excessively, you cut the hair shaft very close. Then when the skin is relaxed to normal
that stub of hair drops inside the follicle. On some faces this causes skin irritation and ingrown hairs.”
Shaving "against the grain” means shaving against the slant of the whisker. Because the direction of slant differs according to the part of the face involved, the grain can run in almost any direction. An experienced barber lets his razor follow his fingertips as he determines the grain of his customer’s beard.
Probably the most extensive shaving test ever made was conducted in the Thirties at the Mellon Institute, University of Pittsburgh. Thirty-one martyrs shaved every day for four years with dull blades, sharp blades held at different angles, cold water, hot water and no water at all. They softened and stretched hair, measured razor angles and peered at faces under magnifying lenses. Shavings were rinsed from faces and razors and whirled in centrifuge tubes to separate the whiskers and skin particles, which were then weighed.
At the end of the tests the researchers published a learned twenty-page document which revealed
that, for a close shave, there’s nothing like hot water and a sharp blade. “The best shaving soap devised does not compensate for cold water or a dull blade,” the report added.
Other startling facts included: For every whisker shaved a man gives up some skin. One shaver took off .5 cubic centimetres (about 7.7 grams) of skin to .63 cubic centimetres of hair. Another pared off .3 of skin to .21 of hair. Excessive skin stretching, shaving against the grain and shaving an area more than once were all blamed for this.
A razor-to-face angle of twenty-five degrees was found most effective. The Mellon martyrs learned that any nonirritant soap is satisfactory for lathering. Lather’s major purpose is holding water.
The four-year study also revealed that shaving discomfort and blade wear reach a minimum when preparation time is three minutes or longer. A preparation period of fifteen seconds will net you two shaves per blade; three minutes preparation ekes out four shaves and the thrifty man is rewarded with five shaves a blade if he first soaks his head ten minutes under a hot shower.
Today there would be only one change in the 1937 report, says E. J. Casselman, one of the survey directors. Corrosion of the blade edge between and during shaves has been found more important. There is still no data for the man whose wife cuts linoleum with his razor.
According to the Mellon survey the perfect shave starts this way: wash the face with soap and hot water for thirty seconds, then rinse thoroughly. Rub shaving soap into the face for two to two and a half minutes, using plenty of water. No harm will be done by extending the time the face is in contact with soap by finding other things to do at this time such as brushing the teeth or reloading the razor.
Then shave, if the lather hasn’t hardened to concrete. Be sure to use the proper razor angle, plenty of water, and leave the hardest parts to the last.
Men haven't always shaved the Mellon way but for thousands of years they’ve shaved or argued about shaving. Pogonotomy has figured in love, war and religion. Three-pound Stone-Age flints, probablv used as razors, have been unearthed; before that man probably rasped his beard away with pumice stone. The ancient Egyptians used straight-edge bronze razors. North American Indians yanked out their beards with clam shells.
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warriors were seizing his Macedonians by their chin whiskers, cuing up their heads and lopping them off. while feinting with their own shaven chins.
The Romans adopted shaving about 296 B.C. when Ticinius Mena dropped in from Sicily to set up a barber shop. The idea so captivated Rome that Ovid rhymed:
Let exercise your body brown:
Don’t slobber: see ycur teeth are
Y’our hair well cut and brushed quite
Your cheeks close shaved with razor
Your toga spotless white and neat; Your sandals fitting to your feet.
Monks were among the first to shave regularly in England. The monks of St. Augustine in Canterbury shaved one another regularly until 1266 when they hired a professional barber.
Daily shaving became popular in England about 1660. But the antishaving faction didn’t give up easily. In 1S60 a Cambridge man, who signed himself Theologos, wrote:
While thousands of devout Christians are wending their way to the sanctuary of the church, lo! in every by-street a shaving shop stands open and through the glazed door you see what? A human face, soaped and lathered to the eyes with another immortal being standing at his side, one hand grasping his victim's nose and the other defying the commandment of God with uplifted steel!
Until 1895 self-shaving was a risky business. Then an American traveling salesman named King C. Gillette thought up the safety razor with replaceable blades.
“If the time, money, energy and brain power wasted in the barber shops of America were applied to direct effort,” argued Gillette, “the Panama Canal could be dug in four hours.” The Panama Canal was dug anyway but Gillette’s idea caught on and he was rewarded with a fortune and his picture on one hundred billion blade wrappers. So well known was the face on the blade package that, on a tour of Egypt. Gillette was once surrounded by an admiring crowd of natives who pointed him out by scraping their faces with bent forefingers.
Within fifty years advertising copywriters exulted that the safety razor had changed the face of mankind. Recently a Gillette agent plunged into South America to spread the razorblade gospel among the native tribes and met a savage wearing a necklace of his company's product.
In 1930 Col. Jacob Schick invented the electric razor. A new, relatively comfortable method of sha ving. it whipped promotion men to a frenzy. One pioneer salesman offered a man five pounds to rig up a generator in his_ car. park in London's Piccadilly Circus and shave with an electric razor, but at the last moment the subject lost his nerve.
Still these signs of progress do not move the common pogonotomist. He reads the advertisements, samples new razors and preparations, listens faithfully to his radio and obediently to his wife. And each morning he shaves. But deep within his heart there is no joy because he knows that whether he mows it with blade or electric shaver, sands it down with pumice stone, worries it out with clam shells or soaks it ten minutes under the tap, the beard has him beaten.
Come science, soap or hot water, it’ll all growback by tomorrow morning. ★