Lee Pitts: The Revolt Against The Whisker
Have you noticed that any self-respecting adult male has some sort of facial hair these days? These trends run in cycles, for example, between 1861 and 1913 all but two presidents wore either beards or mustaches during their tenures. Abe Lincoln was supposedly influenced by a letter he got from an 11 year-old girl to grow a beard to improve his chances of being elected. Then beards and mustaches suddenly fell out of favor when health officials warned that men’s beards were infected with TB. So the clean-shaven look became a symbol of the new middle-class man and Harper’s Weekly labeled this trend “the revolt against the whisker.”
I’d guess at least 90% of my cowboy friends have a load of hay on their faces. I heard of one one cowboy who was so wooly PETA people poured a can of paint over his noggin. On cowboys I’ve seen everything from handlebar mustaches with waxed tips so pointy they could be used as a leather awl, to wool crops that remind me of a cartoon walrus of my youth. I’ve seen beards so coarse they could sand furniture and sideburns, mustaches and goatees so stylish they looked like they were trimmed in salons that serve cappuccino and play sounds of seawater crashing over rocks.
Personally, I’ve never had facial hair. No mustache, beard or even sideburns. I don’t even know if I could grow such things but judging by the hair that grows out of my nose and ears, I think I could. I was in a coma once for eight days and when I awoke I had the start of a pretty good mustache and soul patch, that little piece of facial real estate under your bottom lip. The first thing I wanted when I woke up was a razor because I like the feeling of being clean shaven. Although I absolutely hate shaving, it’s such a waste of time that has to be repeated daily. I hate shaving so much I’ve considered doing what the priests of ancient Egypt did and pluck out every hair on my head. Ouch, ouch, OUCH!
Members of some Indian tribes are incapable of growing facial hair and I envy them, and not just because they own casinos. Most Indians are also very distrustful of white men with facial hair and if I was a native American I would be too.
If I was a tech billionaire I’d probably have a shaver on staff but I wouldn’t let he or she use one of those grotesque straight razor things like barbers use because they come entirely too close to the aorta for me. Plus I have seizures with no advance warning and I’m afraid my headstone would read, “Here lies Lee. He died of a jerk and a straight razor.”
My grandpa called mustaches “cookie dusters, flavor savers and soup strainers” and he shaved every day. The only time I saw him with an unshaven face was when we went to Bridgeport in the High Sierras for our annual two week vacation. Like many western towns Bridgeport had a “whiskereno” contest every year around the Fourth of July to see who could grow the best beard. Most men participated but if you choose not to you had to a buy a badge that proclaimed, “I am a sourpuss.” My Grandpa was a sourpuss every year except the year he and my Grandmother were Grand Marshals of the big Bridgeport July 4th parade. It just wouldn’t have looked right for the Grand Marshal to be a “sourpuss”.
Although I am clean shaven I never looked down on those with facial hair, although after reading a hefty book by Bill Bryson called “A Short History of Nearly Everything”, I do look upon the bearded class differently. In the book Bryson says that science indicates that how fast a man’s beard grows is partly a function of how much he thinks about sex because thinking about sex produces a surge in testosterone which causes one’s hair, including facial hair, to grow faster.
I’m not saying every man with a long beard or muttonchop sideburns is a pervert, mind you, but it does explain why lonely cowboys who live alone in line shacks for weeks on end with no human contact have so much facial hair.
Outtagrass Cattle Co cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the Aug. 13, 2022, edition of Tri-State Livestock News
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