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."