Why the current beard craze? Today’s men lack shaving skills
I was training my latest personal-care attendant — I have a profound, lifelong disability called spinal muscular atrophy — when I had this realization: The current beard craze isn’t so much a statement of fashion as a cry for help.
It came to me because I rely on others — mostly young men — to keep me clean, dressed, neat and active. To my surprise, many of them not only have no idea how to shave but are utterly mystified at the concept of doing it on a regular basis.
To be sure, shaving another person isn’t the same as shaving oneself. But these kids — I’m 55, so anybody under 35 is a kid to me — don’t even possess the basic skills. Sadder still, I get the sense they feel they should know how. It’s a little like the embarrassment some men feel when they can’t change a flat tire or fix a leaky faucet.
Like many men of my generation, I was introduced to the art of shaving by my father. I’ve never had the musculature to raise my arms, but I used to have a little more hand strength than I do now. So when, in high school, my chin began sprouting whiskers, my dad stood beside me in my wheelchair at the bathroom mirror and proffered his Gillette. I can’t remember if I asked him or if he just volunteered. In any case, his demonstration seemed a natural progression, a proud rite of passage.
Since I wasn’t physically able to wield the safety razor, Dad then got me a lightweight Norelco electric model that put me in mind of a Star Trek phaser. On its maiden run, I must’ve spent an hour slaving to remove four or five stubborn stragglers before slathering on copious amounts of the Old Spice he’d also bought me.
“This room smells like a French whorehouse!” my mother shrieked when she happened by. I guess I knew what she meant. Too much Old Spice.
From this experience, however, I learned two important points: Shaving takes practice, and electric razors — no matter how fun to use — aren’t right for me. My skin turned red and raw, though the aftershave lotion might’ve had something to do with that.
My dad’s instructions notwithstanding, it was in college where I truly learned to master the blade. That was thanks to Chalo, a part-time aide from Paraguay (or was it Uruguay?), who proved the exception to my long line of inadequate groomers.
In Chalo’s hands, my bristles were like butter. He’d start by massaging my face with hot water — not for a few seconds but for several minutes. Then he’d rub soapy foam or shampoo into my physiognomy with the tips of his fingers, as if scratching a dog behind the ears.“You have to make the hairs stand up,” he explained, before putting razor to flesh.
When he was done, I was baby-smooth and didn’t need to shave again for nearly a week.
In the years since, I have tried to impart Chalo’s technique to his successors. It’s a losing battle. In fairness, de-bearding is not exactly my top job requirement. More important are dependability, patience, a willingness to listen, and brawn.
Perhaps, you may say, I should give up my clean-shaven appearance. I have nothing against facial fur per se. But I don’t think that will help. Beards need to be tended. And many young people don’t know about that either.
When asked, my current assistant conceded that he gets his chinly growth trimmed by a barber, which is to say roughly once a month. It sounds quaint to me, like something my grandfather would do, only he’d probably do it more often. It shouldn’t have surprised me, really. Effortless convenience is a hallmark of the millennial generation. If there were an app for shaving, I daresay they’d indulge frequently.
Still, I can’t help feeling these hirsute hipsters are clamoring for a kind of comfort level we used to take for granted. Instead, they’re almost afraid of the blade, as if shaving were best left to professionals. I’ll admit, I’ve never tried pitting a qualified hair-smith against my mandibular foliage, and maybe I should. Then again, I brush my teeth between dental visits, don’t I?
I may never fully embrace the trend. But now that I understand its cause, I’ll try to have more patience with my depilatorially challenged helpers.
Meanwhile, can somebody please enlighten me on the buttoned-up-while-tieless-and-untucked-shirt trend?
Ben Mattlin lives in Los Angeles.
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