Complicated beauty rituals are no longer a purely feminine preoccupation. The current male beauty standard demands a level of effort and curation that men have not been exposed to in the past. The pressure to attain this image ideal is even higher with social perceptions and stereotypes.
Hair politics arguably extends to the perception that many Africans harbour of beardless men. Barnaby Dixson, a human behavioural ecologist at the University of Queensland and co-author of a study of beard length, explains that both sexes judge men with beards as older and more masculine, and describe them as generous, sincere, industrious and self-confident.
As the metrosexual clean-shaven beauty standard ebbed, #BeardGang was born. This is a campaign to encourage men to grow a full, luxuriant beard as a symbol of their "manliness". Unlike the metrosexual aesthetic, which men could easily dismiss, the "lumbersexual" aesthetic is a brawnier beauty standard that puts pressure on men to physically prove their masculinity with a fit physique, well-groomed, lush beard and urban lifestyle.
Artificial fashion accessories, long the purview of women, are now being explored by men to attain this male beauty standard. Not only are men an emerging market for beard oils, creams and supplements, they are also buying newly available artificial detachable hair pieces, moustaches and beards made from real human hair.
"What is happening these days can be linked to socialisation, influence and the power of technology; these factors can also influence a person's real self. For example, if a man has a role model, there will be some features he will admire in that person, and until he starts seeing those features in himself, there will be tension and anxiety in him. So, if he admires the full beard in his role model, until he gets that artificial beard, he will not be satisfied," Professor Oni Fagboungbe, a psychologist at the University of Lagos, told Saturday Punch.
The cruel irony is that men are feeling the same pressures that women have been feeling for generations - to conform to an incredibly specific beauty ideal. A repercussion of this - one that women know all too well - is a diminished sense of worth when you are unable to achieve it. Men are being taught to feel inherently less desirable, even less manly, than the impossible-to-replicate images of male Adonises flooding social media with their singular stories of "perfection". At a time when men are confessing to feeling sexually invisible and desperate for validation (or even acknowledgement), being told that there is only one way of being sexy is damaging to the masses who are unlikely to become the ideal.
Tips for problematic beards
It is easy to say that women will be attracted to you regardless of whether you fit some ideal image of perfection, but for those men who nonetheless want to achieve the coveted lumbersexual aesthetic, here are a few tips to help you out:
The secret to a great beard is a solid base.
Just like your scalp, facial hair thrives on the moisture of the skin it grows from. Building a daily skin care regime is not only good for you even if you have no beard but it is the basis for a flourishing beard. A routine has three simple steps:
Cleanse your face and shampoo your beard using beard-specific products.
Exfoliate every other day to get rid of dead skin and flaking to leaving your skin fresh and smooth.
Moisturise your face and use beard moisturisers and oils to keep your beard, and the skin beneath it, hydrated.
Throw in an all-purpose toner or mask like aloe vera gel before you moisturise to help even out dark marks caused by ingrown hair and refresh the skin.
Healthy diet, healthy beard
As is the case for healthy hair and other physical gains, good beards are made in the kitchen. Keeping your diet balanced and healthy while staying hydrated are the main ingredients for an epic beard.
Work with your facial hair
Growing a beard is an investment of time and some take longer than others to become long or full. Don't let your patience run out and ruin what progress you have made. Regarding that fresh stubble itch, remind yourself that your face will get used to facial hair and the itch will subside eventually. The daily routine outlined above will help with the itch as you adapt.
Don't forget to embrace each new growth phase by experimenting with new styles and enjoying the journey from stubble to substantial growth.