Tuesday, November 20, 2012

On Facial Hair, or Shaving Ordinances

(Disclaimer: I started writing this post before I saw BCC's similarish post, so please don't get after me for intellectual infringement or anything. kthanx)

Well, it's that time of year when some guys grow out mustaches to raise money for testicular cancer (Movember), some guys finally get that rugged mountain man look they've been going for (Novembeard), and some just realize that they can skip shaving for the month in order to devote more time to studies, Netflix, etc. (No Shave November/Noshember).

As I pondered the power of November on shaving, I was thinking how great it is that any and all church leaders as well as male students here on the BYU-Idaho campus are so clean shaven. After all, a clean shave is the height of professionalism.

Right, Don?

Oh wait, what I meant to say was that a clean shave was the height of professionalism in the 1960s. Looking over the commonly shown pictures of all the LDS Presidents of the Church, you can see that David O. McKay was the first after seven presidents in a row to ditch facial hair. He became president in 1951 and held the office until his death in 1970. His change was perhaps the catalyst for the beardless LDS congregations so prevalent today.

In Old Testament times, they had the opposite problem: no beard = no honor (Leviticus 21:5, 2 Samuel  10:4-5). Not that the Old Testament is the greatest resource for justifying anything, but it's a point to consider. Samson's particular and famous covenant included growing out the hair on his head (Judges 13:5). It was part of a vow made by Nazarites--a vow by which Samuel also lived (1 Sam 1:11).

While the common argument that prophets, Jesus, and prior LDS Church presidents had beards is often brought up, I find it to be a less than satisfactory argument in favor of beards because times change. What about modern men?

A quick Google image search of "CEO" shows a number of clean shaven men, but also a number of mustachio'd, goatee'd, and even 5'o'clock shadowed men, not to mention this gem:

CEO Barbie is the height of professionalism?

The search for "CFO" returned a lot of graphics about what a CFO is, one asian guy (clean shaved), and one guy with an awesome goatee.

While shaving is still prevalent in society, the fact of the matter is that a clean shaven appearance is no longer necessary to appear professional. So why the strict rules? Why do our Bishops, General Authorities, and BYU students have to shave (excepting the few lucky enough to get a beard card)?

So I posed this question in a veritable meeting of the minds: on facebook.

Christiana said, "My dad had to shave his mustouche (sp?) when he got called as a Temple worker. I had never seen him without one before in my life. It was weird... I am definitely pro when callings are involved because it is a sign of respect (nowadays) for our Lord. It is also weird to picture a prophet of God with a goatee or even a moustouche (I really have issues with that word.) Sometimes men look like pedophiles when they have facial hair and that is not the sort of look a leader should be going for."

I do agree that some guys do just look creepy with mustaches. As for showing respect, I feel that perhaps it can be a show of respect, but we can't assume that anyone who doesn't shave for a calling or even just for church or temple attendance isn't showing respect.

Austin said, "...the other day my wife and I were driving and we passed a placed that was advertising a really good deal on a home loan. My wife told me what a good deal it was. I told her I would not go to them for a loan because of how messy their business looked. There were weeds growing everywhere, and there was trash spread here and there. So in my opinion, the nice, well-kept business helps me feel like a business is trust-worthy, just like a clean-cut, well-dressed person has a more inviting feel."

"Whaddya mean you're 'not interested?!' "

Maybe Austin has a point, but Kevin countered, "I don't shave very often at all, and I sometimes get some stares at church and stuff. But I don't shave because of a medical condition where it looks like someone attacked my face with a morning star flail because it breaks out so bad. I am not against people that shave. If you can do it, you should, but you shouldn't base an entire judgement of someone just because of their facial hair." Facial hair is ≠ unprofessionalism or lack of worthiness.

Kevin has a great point, you shouldn't judge those who don't and/or can't shave for various reasons. In my own opinion, you shouldn't need a beard card just to say that your beard is justified. Corey Sherwin, the bearded RM from the beard card article linked above, said, " 'It's totally normal for a dude to have a beard. You come here [BYU] and it's, Aw . . . bad.' ... Professors and administrators, he said, don't pay much heed, but peers look at him sideways."

Why so judgmental, students? For some reason, the honor code can cause flame wars with little or no effort. As Casey said (in jest, mind you), "The chin is the window to the soul; hence, facial hair indicates you have something to hide. Probably grievous sins." Hernan wisely said, "Thinking than morality is somehow connected to facial hair... is just moronic."

Which must mean that Kenneth the Page has no soul.
"I've seen larger chins on a premature baby!"

Every time I take Casey on campus with me we get weird looks and questions, some pressing to see if he's in an upcoming play--all looking for a reason as to why he could possibly grow a goatee and dare to show it on campus. One time we were there on a Saturday and a woman asked how on earth he grew that much facial hair in just a day or two. I just don't get the "shaving ordinances" mentality.

Back to the facebook comments, Adam pointed out that the current shaving standards were a reaction to the 60s and 70s counterculture movements wherein dudes were letting all their hair grow long. He said, "Now, I don’t know how everyone else feels, but I don’t see hippies as being a big problem around BYU anymore (and honestly, I’m not convinced they ever were, but I digress). Yes, you’re going to have people with different social and political ideologies here, but if you have a problem with that, maybe you shouldn’t be going to college. It’s supposed to be that way (and, honestly, I think it’s going to take a lot more than beards to break up the homogeneity of BYU)."

"Um, sir, do you have a beard card for that?"

Natalia and Alexis argued that those going to BYU have signed an honor code and know and expect that rule, which is a valid point. Adam responded, "I think it [the shaving rule] was an overreaction even at the time, but I can see where they were coming from when they enacted the rule. People were rejecting authority, so you address that. Thing is, the problem they were adressing is not really an issue anymore (or, at least, if it is, it's changed in such a way that it should be addressed in a different manner). ... Yes, I agreed to the standards of BYU when I enrolled, and I will continue to shave as long as they require it of me. But if someone asks me my opinion on the rule, it would be not only obtuse of me, but, I think, irresponsible to not give a well-reasoned, and honest opinion regarding that rule, whatever my opinion happens to be."

Maybe the rules could change--as Mormons we have been behind the learning curve in the past. The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 but the Priesthood wasn't extended to "all worthy males" until 1978. I know this is a completely different issue, but the 14 year lag is not insignificant.

For now, it's about obedience--to a point. Elder Anderson said of the Honor Code, "To some, these rules will appear childish, but they are time-tested and proven." I feel that this is an overgeneralization. We're not suggesting that the beard rule is childish, but perhaps it is outdated. I personally feel that the stigma attached to the current rule suggests that a clean shave is equal to righteousness, and a beard is a sin. My facebook mess proved that I'm not the only one who sees this.

On BCC, one commenter said, "I’ve always found it funny that as a BYU professor, I am permitted to sport a horrific ‘stache that most people associate with porn stars, but a well-groomed beard is considered subversive because it reminds some elderly gentlemen of 1960′s counterculture." (Romni, comment #15). Addy, in the facebook fray, said, "i do agree that lots of guys on [BYU-Idaho] campus have NASTY mustaches, but as long as they have good hygiene and take good care of themselves then I don't see a problem with it. they can still be 'clean' with unshaven faces."

"Um, Mr. Selleck, you realy need to shave. No,
the mustache is fine, it's your chest that's the problem."

Casey said, "The unfortunate thing about the way we often talk about the Honor Code is that it leads us to think of it as Hair and Hemline Guidelines (and a bunch of stuff about honesty etc.) when it should be exactly the reverse. The outward actions are ancillary to everything else. So I guess that's where the line is drawn: everybody seems to agree to follow [the honor code] if you say you will, but whether to question the rules is less settled."

In the end, I suppose you either agree with Alexis, "Why kick against the pricks?" or Megan, "I don't care if a man has facial hair just like I don't care what kind of clothes you wear. It's just for looks."


  1. I'll admit I'm lazy and not up to reading the BCC post that might answer this question, but what's the cultural history on shaving for various quotidian positions? You mention the appearance constructed by prophets and other general authorities, but is anyone familiar when the Church started inviting or mandating temple workers and bishopric members to observe "shaving ordinances"? I feel like that came well after the 1960s and 1970s. Am I wrong in thinking that came in the 90s or even after 2000?

    If so, is there another historical narrative that we might be overlooking? A moment of crisis that came much later but which prompted re-entrenchment in the 1960s countercultural narrative.

    Or is it a matter of such hair issues becoming antiquated that then necessitates a rehearsed historiography of where our preoccupations with hair come from?

    1. That would be interesting to look in to, the BCC post only talks about Mormons loving Movember, there's not really any history or anything there either. All I've found is mostly speculation as to the counterculture movement having to do with the absence of beards at church. Could you do a bit of googling and I will too and we'll see what we can find?

      As for historiography, Anderson's talk discusses the "time-tested and proven" rules of the honor code, which I find to be a silly statement because plenty of honor code things get changed all the time--like girls and pants was changed more recently than the enactment of the current facial hair standards. So I guess I just don't know.

  2. First, how dare you write a marginally related post on an issue that has been discussed ad infinitum on the bloggernacle already just days after the original post at BCC. For shame.

    Second, Allan, you are not missing much. BCC specialises in stupid throwaway posts - or at least I do.

    Third, you have some amazing friends.

    Fourth, brief history, as far as I understand it. Pres. McKay was a little vain - hence the white suits, beautiful locks, and clean shaven appearance - and was keen to appeal to the American public. His effort to look suave created a step-change in how Mormons began to embody Mormonism but there were a number of other major factors.

    BYU honour code. Pres. Wilkinson introduced the beard restriction into the honour code as an attempt to distinguish BYU students from the counter-culture movement found across campuses during the 60s. Apostles and other prominent leaders started give talks at BYU on the beard rule at BYU which then began to slowly filter out into the general discourse of the church.

    Missionaries. Around this time, after drawing on the advice of various consultancy firms the church worked far harder to develop a brand. Part of this was to homogenise their public representatives, i.e. their missionaries, and make them more appealing - serious and open. They decided probably based on fairly good assumptions at the time, that young men with beards and causal clothes were not taken very seriously and so developed the missionary rules that have existed almost unchanged since that time. Over time this became a brand for the church and so it is unlikely to change.

    The accretion of these three dynamics (shift in trying to make oneself physical appealing to the general public by the leaders, the BYU honor code, and the missionary dress standards) have now bled into other areas of the church. For example, Bishops were required in the 70s (and more recently in some places) to shave when called. This is no longer a specific requirement although encouraged. The Temple worker ruling is relatively new - it was in the last few years - and represents, in my view, the gradual accretion of this cultural hangover from the 60s. The issue here is that because it has become a marker of obedience it signifies higher levels of righteousness and therefore has some congruence with our temple rhetoric.

    Anyway, that is my 2c.

    1. I'm very interested in what you said about the missionaries, that it was a type of branding. I've never heard that, but it makes complete sense--whenever you hear people talk about male missionaries, they always say some version of "They're nice, clean-shaven young men in suits." That slightly changes the meaning of something Elder Holland commonly says to missionaries, "The Church doesn't have an official symbol, but if I had a say in it, I'd pick you."

    2. http://frontview.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/black-fax.jpg

      The official symbol of the Church.

    3. ARGH. I just wrote a whole huge long comment and now it's GONE. Ugh.

      Anyway, in short--Aaron R, it's great to see you around the blog, and I'm glad you didn't just come to condemn me for copying you. Not that I thought you would...

      Thanks for sharing the history, the branding totally makes sense. Hopefully we see a shift in the generally held paradigm of missionaries (as I've discussed before) thanks to the age changes, but I don't expect the shaving rules there to change any time soon. Elders are supposed to look like young men anyway, and shaving just so happens to add to that. Sisters should definitely shave too, but just so they don't make the rest of us Mormon girls look bad.

      I just think that when it comes to Bishops, Stake Presidents, and other high positions of Priesthood authority, the shaving rule is just unnecessary. Like Casey said below, some people are just looking for extra rules to follow; it doesn't make sense that the rest of us are forced to comply with the extra mile. I guess shaving seems extra mile-ish to me.

  3. I have trouble with the "being clean shaven as a marker of obedience" angle, which Aaron mentioned above, as well as one or two people in the original FB discussion that sparked this post. For me, it ties into larger questions about how we look at obedience -- that obedience to arbitrary, often unspoken rules has virtue in itself purely as a gateway to blessings.

    I first became really aware of this on my mission, with elders who seemed to actively seek more rules to follow: Need 10 daily contacts? They's get 20. P-day ends at 6? They end it at 3. Dinner can only last an hour? 30 minutes. Not that there's anything wrong with those things, but inevitably their stories would circulate in zone meetings and mission trainings, and before long the "higher" standard was either an official or tacit policy, essentially subverting the entire point of doing more than what's expected. Instead of rewarding exceptional effort, it led to rule-creep.

    I started calling folks who proscribed "higher" obedience on others 11-percenters: people who reason that if God expects 10 percent tithing, they'll pay more just to ensure they receive more blessings. For facial hair, practically everybody admits that it has no bearing on spirituality, but because GAs shave nowadays, our new higher standard calls for us to as well! Why? Err...because the GAs do it, which makes it good. And, you know, counter-culture and stuff. Basically it's a circular and self-perpetuating argument. I reject that: most rules, even ecclesiastical ones, can and should have logical, rational explanation, otherwise what's the point of being, you know, logical and rational beings?

    Now, I think there is a place for arbitrary tests of obedience in our theology, otherwise stories like Abraham make no sense. But those situations are rare and exceptional, and should be treated with extreme caution. I'm not really sure what makes for a proper Abrahamic test (for example, Joseph Smith was said to have propositioned some of his apostles' wives when rolling out polygamy, which may have been an Abrahamic test or may have simply been cruel), but regardless I don't think a cultural consensus on the (un)desirability of facial hair is anywhere in the ballpark. It's just inventing rules for the sake of having something to follow, a skinner-box lever for more blessings. To me, that's not the point of obedience at all.

    But maybe I'm wrong and am just too proud to shave my goatee :)

    1. You may be wrong, but if nothing else you're cute. ;) And I like the goatee.

  4. This is a topic that has long annoyed me, lots of inanity attached to this debate, imo. I say that because there is no solid ground for the "must" be clean shaven side. I prefer a clean-shaved hubby, but don't actually care if men keep facial hair, as long as it is groomed and clean. Have never understood all the brouhaha.

  5. Markers of obedience in this way serve a social function. The guy (I will just focus on men but I this applies to women as well) who is clean-shaven and wears an IBM suit is instantly recognisable to others as faithful. God probably does not give a fig but it becomes a social marker of identifying with the community. In areas where there is high levels of geographic mobility this becomes a very useful way of signifying trustworthiness and faithfulness to visitors and also to you others when you are a visitor.

    In particular, when this rule began to develop most of the interviews for stake level callings and even Bishops, I think, were conducted by GAs. This meant that when you come to an area where you know few if any people you need these markers to show you who are the faithful and reliable. In this sense they are more social markers of commitment to the community than a manifestation of Gods will.

    1. 1 Sam 16:7 - "...the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart."

      This scripture is drilled in Sunday School over and over, and yet it doesn't take... Why bother teaching us that the Lord's "looking on the heart" matters if we still get the idea that judging each other by the outward appearance is OK?

  6. Bill "hey babe...wanna be an intern" Clinton was clean shaven. Christ wasn't. Some prophets were, some prophets weren't. So....logical conclusion: Beards have nothing to do with your spirituality or worthiness...wonder if they argued about this back in the old testament? Wonder if there are any scriptures stating that God doesn't look on the outer appearance...I am sure not...that would be just crazy.

    1. Very succinct of you, can we disseminate this gem? I come off as sarcastic here, but seriously, I don't understand why this is such a hard concept for so many.