Clean-Shaven

November 1, 2011 | 53 comments
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I shaved today. My beard (of at least the last two-and-a-half years) is gone.

Why, you ask? Was it a calling? or guilt? or professional pressures of some sort?

No, no, and no. Notwithstanding the near-constant Sturm und Drang that Mormons seem to feel about beards, I don’t believe for a second that anybody outside of BYU actually cares.[fn1] And that argument has been beaten to death, in any event, in the bloggernacle, to no solid conclusion.

As for professional pressures: I’m a professor.[fn2] I can wear a beard.

So why shave? Because it’s Movember. Which is an excuse to grow a mustache. The last time that I remember having a mustache was my senior year at BYU.

Which brings me to why I’m posting this on a Mormon blog: whatever you think about beards (the BYU Honor Code calls them “unacceptable”), mustaches are (apparently) perfectly acceptable in even the strictest Mormon circles.[fn3] Even you BYU students can have them.

So anybody else out there up for a mustache this month?[fn4] The mustache has an odd, acceptable place in Mormon culture and society, but we don’t often embrace it. It’s not an #occupy movement, but it is a perfectly acceptable way to set ourselves apart this month.[fn5] Plus, in December, you can grow your beard back.

[fn1] Note that this assertion is entirely anecdotal, based largely on the number of bearded fellow Saints I had in New York and, even moreso, here in Chicago. In my current ward, as of Sunday, the bearded in my ward included: a member of the bishopric, the EQ president and one of his counselors, a Sunbeam teacher, a nursery teacher, an EQ teacher, a ward clerk, and at least one other. (Clearly, with my having shaved, we’re one down on that list. For now.) Also note that I do know you can’t work in the temple or be a missionary and have a beard.

[fn2] Not that professors are the only professionals who can wear beards. The head of my department at a major law firm in New York had a beard for all six years that I knew him.

[fn3] I don’t, of course, vouch for their acceptability viz-a-viz your significant other, of course.

[fn4] But come on, it’s only a month, and I’m sure she can deal with it for a month.

[fn5] I was going to make a cheesy joke about putting the Mormon back in Movember, but I wisely decided against it.

53 Responses to Clean-Shaven

  1. Steve Evans on November 1, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    You look better with the beard.

  2. Jax on November 1, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    What? No pics?

  3. Matt W. on November 1, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    mustaches are (apparently) perfectly acceptable in even the strictest Mormon circles

    oddly enough, our temple has a no mustaches rule for temple workers…

    So did my mission, for that matter…

    Facial hair makes my already corpulent face emphasize its rotund nature.

  4. Syphax on November 1, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    #mormonmustache ftw

  5. Sam Brunson on November 1, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    Thanks, Steve. For better or worse, my wife agrees.

    Jax, if I can pull it off, pictures may come. But not until I actually have a mustache.

    Syphax, I like it. Maybe we can light Twitter up.

    Matt, I don’t know what to say, except, who cares for one month?

  6. Jack on November 1, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    I’m clean shaven — and I keep my hair drawn back in a ponytail to emphasize it.

  7. Andrew S. on November 2, 2011 at 12:18 am

    I don’t know where this movember came from…it’s really No-Shave November. Beards > mustaches.

  8. Peter LLC on November 2, 2011 at 2:32 am

    mustaches are (apparently) perfectly acceptable in even the strictest Mormon circles.

    Not in my hometown southern California stake. About five or six years ago, being clean shaven became a test of obedience, a veritable article of faith among the leadership. All of a sudden, long-serving and faithful Brother High Priest Group Leader and Brother 100% Home Teaching started showing up at church looking like drowned rats, shorn of the mustaches that had accompanied them throughout the better part of their adult lives. I don’t live there anymore so I don’t know what the status of the current policy is, but I haven’t seen the mustaches come back yet on my occasional visits.

  9. Alison Moore Smith on November 2, 2011 at 3:09 am

    My husband was a college professor for a decade and never sported a beard. Thank heavens.

  10. Sam Brunson on November 2, 2011 at 6:32 am

    Alison (and others who know), I’m curious as to why so many Mormon women are opposed to beards, etc. Anecdotally, I’ve had plenty of Mormon friends who have come up to me while I’ve had a beard and told me they’d love to grow one, except that their wife objects. (Note that this happened more often in NY than in Chicago but, like I said, we’ve got a huge bearded contingent in Chicago.)

    Like Steve said, I look better with a beard, and my wife prefers when I wear a beard. And maybe U.S. women in general don’t like beards, though, based on who I see around, I don’t believe that’s broadly true. But it seems to be largely true among Mormon women.

    And Peter, with luck, in the future when a no-mustache policy becomes a de facto test of obedience, those with mustaches can point to my anecdotally and lightly-sourced assertion that mustaches are perfectly acceptable in Mormondom and soften the hearts of their accusers.

  11. Ben S on November 2, 2011 at 7:13 am

    I couldn’t do a mustache if I wanted to. I did manage a scraggly grad-student goatee for a year or so, but I just don’t have the follicular density. And I’m happy that way, honestly.

    My brother, on the other hand, has to have a beard for his Middle Eastern job.

  12. Tim on November 2, 2011 at 7:45 am

    A good friend of mine at Utah State would come down to visit my friends and I at BYU. He’s a big guy, and wore a full beard. His hair was a bit long too. He’d get suspicious looks whenever he was anywhere close to BYU campus, and a good friend of mine told me she was scared of him (solely because of his appearance). She was from Northern California.

    On the other hand, plenty of members in my last ward in the Midwest had beards or long hair (including a member of the bishopric). On my mission in Europe, I served in one branch where the majority of the men over the age of 25 had either beards or ponytails or both. The first counselor in the branch presidency had both.

    I’m pretty sure, like is mentioned above, that the prejudice against beards in the Mormon world is, at least in part, regional. California and Provo have a much different approach than most of the rest of the world.

  13. Jack on November 2, 2011 at 7:55 am

    When it comes to things like beards, BYU treats its students like children.

  14. Stephen M (Ethesis) on November 2, 2011 at 7:58 am

    There is a lot to be said for a beard. I’ve been growing them on and off for a long, long time.

    Mustache? Mine is much too light in color. Afraid I’m not going to do that again (though, to be honest, I only grew mustaches in the past by shaving off a beard and leaving the mustache behind).

    First serious beard I grew was my senior year of college as I grew it as part of what was necessary to have the gravitas that got me the departmental honor on graduation. I’d grown beards before then, but not for any serious purpose.

    These days I have a beard for work, though I shave it from time to time (also for work).

  15. brandt on November 2, 2011 at 8:36 am

    The beard (or, more notably, the late-90′s goatee) seems to be a right of passage for returned missionaries as soon as they get home from their mission.

    I got really sick of the hipsters at both BYU campuses that wore the moustache because they could, and because it was different. However, I was always jealous of the beard-card holders, and wish I would have known about the inner-workings a bit better to get my mitts on one of them.

    My wife likes me with a beard, but it comes and it goes – sometimes she likes me clean shaven, sometimes with a beard. Others, on the other hand, view beards as a matter of worthiness, probably due to the BYU code as well as the temple grooming requirements. Does anyone have any insight as to why male temple workers must be clean-shaven?

  16. E.D. on November 2, 2011 at 8:39 am

    I wouldn’t mind DH growing a beard/mustache combo but he doesn’t have enough facial hair to make the beard happen. He has threatened to grow a mustache, but that’s a little too 70s for me.

    My father has had a beard/mustache my entire life and the entire time he has known my mother. A few years ago, he shaved it once so my mother could assess the situation. I saw a photo – NO NO NO!!!

    It was always interesting around Hill Cumorah Pageant time – the men with existing beards always got the first pick of parts if they wanted to participate. To me, the BYU restrictions are mind-boggling.

  17. SilverRain on November 2, 2011 at 8:48 am

    I can answer why many women don’t like beards/mustaches.

    BYU rules aside, kissing a man with facial hair is like kissing sandpaper.

  18. Romney / Huntsman 2012 on November 2, 2011 at 8:49 am

    I think it can be explained by this, which I read on the New Republic website:

    “Brigham Young University mandated a business haircut for men in the 1960s, the same decade Mitt Romney was a student there, and the rhetoric of church leaders grew increasingly hostile toward popular culture.”

  19. dangermom on November 2, 2011 at 9:18 am

    My husband grows a beard every winter. I like the variety. There is a very prickly stage while it grows out, between a nice scruffiness and when the beard gets soft, but otherwise it’s no problem at all. He looks horrible with a mustache, and a goatee makes him look like a 1998 tech geek with a startup (and we’ve BTDT), so he sticks with the beard.

    I’ve never noticed that anyone cared much about facial hair.

  20. Bryan Stiles on November 2, 2011 at 10:05 am

    I grew a beard last month and just shaved it for my Halloween costume (Dr. Who didn’t have a beard. At least not the 10th one). My wife isn’t opposed to facial hair and when we got married she said she liked goatees but not a beard. (The full goatee that covers your upper lip too. Not the chin only one). When I grew this most recent beard for no apparent reason at all I think she decided she liked it.

    I think every other girl I dated had a strong aversion to facial hair. I too wonder what makes Mormon women so averse to beards (Though I can understand why one would be averse to mustaches… unless you’re Tom Selleck. It still boggles me that mustaches are considered OK at BYU). I can understand the prickliness factor, but that only lasts less than a week for most people, then it’s much softer.

    On a side note: I also have noticed that I have a strange fascination with using parenthesis in my writing. I had to stop myself because this whole post was becoming purely parenthetical.

  21. Janell on November 2, 2011 at 11:07 am

    As a Mormon woman, I’m not adverse to facial hair on men. Frankly, I don’t get what the big deal is providing a man keeps his face groomed. (Would anyone like to tell Brigham Young through George Albert Smith that they they failed a higher standard of facial hair?)

    As a woman, I prefer kisses to not be accompanied by a facial exfoliation.

  22. Chiekos Tacos on November 2, 2011 at 11:11 am

    My stake in Washington is highly facial hair averse. You won’t find a single male in a leadership position with a beard, mustache, long side burns, or long(ish) hair. In the last bishopric I served in, the other counselor was an engineer (read: got a hair cut 3x per year, because his wife told him to) and was frequently told by stake leadership to get his hair cut. On his part, it wasn’t an open act of rebellion, simply a reminder that he had hair on top and should do something about it. Now that I think of it, he didn’t usually comb his hair either.

    FWIW, I think mustaches make men look like pedophiles.

    As for me and my head, the only visible hair is on my eyelashes and eyebrows (and my ears, if you look close). Hair is itchy.

  23. Chiekos Tacos on November 2, 2011 at 11:12 am

    I refuse to comment on what women with mustaches look like.

  24. Alison Moore Smith on November 2, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Alison (and others who know), I’m curious as to why so many Mormon women are opposed to beards, etc.

    It has nothing to do with being Mormon and everything to do with (a) enjoying kissing without having to stick my face into a bunch of hair and being scratched up and (b) thinking beards are just darned ugly with almost no exceptions. :P

    Would anyone like to tell Brigham Young through George Albert Smith that they they failed a higher standard of facial hair?

    Yes, if the standard you’re talking about is aesthetic. :)

    He’d get suspicious looks whenever he was anywhere close to BYU campus

    Of course he does, because he looks like an “outsider.” I get those looks on campus, too, just because I’m old. Although I’d say it’s more curiosity than “suspicion.” Like, “Wow, what’s somebody’s mom doing here?”

  25. Tim on November 2, 2011 at 11:26 am

    No long side burns? Are we talking violation of BYU standard or violation of missionary standard? BYU limits the length to that of the ear, while the mission handbook limits it to halfway down the ear (assuming the rules haven’t changed in the past couple of years).

  26. Tim on November 2, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Alison–not only did he look like an outsider, but I had a female friend tell me he looked scary. Big difference.

  27. SilverRain on November 2, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Yes, but once it’s softer, it’s feels rather like it might if one were to kiss a hairy goat. Not as abrasive on the skin, but it still gets up your nose.

  28. Sharee Hughes on November 2, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    I like the look of men with beards (and mustaches)and I’ve never had a problem kissing one. I don’t know why BYU doesn’t allow them, but I think it’s rather silly. I’ve even had bishops with beards. I know way back in the 60s it was associated (for some strange reason) with the drug culture, but a lot of men have beards that aren’t into drugs (then and now).

  29. Ben S on November 2, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    There’s Elder Oaks statement from back when he was President of BYU (I think.)

    Dec. 1971 New Era

    “The rule against beards and long hair for men stands on a different footing. I am weary of having young people tell me how most of our Church leaders in earlier times wore beards and long hair, which shows that these are not inherently evil. Others argue that beards cannot be evil because they see bearded men enjoying the privileges of the temple. To me, this proposition seems so obvious that it is hardly worth mentioning. Unlike modesty, which is an eternal value in the sense of rightness or wrongness in the eyes of God, our rules against beards and long hair are contemporary and pragmatic. They are responsive to conditions and attitudes in our own society at this particular point in time. Historical precedents are worthless in this area. The rules are subject to change, and I would be surprised if they were not changed at some time in the future. But the rules are with us now, and it is therefore important to understand the reasoning behind them.
    There is nothing inherently wrong about long hair or beards, any more than there is anything inherently wrong with possessing an empty liquor bottle. But a person with a beard or an empty liquor bottle is susceptible of being misunderstood. Either of these articles may reduce a person’s effectiveness and promote misunderstanding because of what people may reasonably conclude when they view them in proximity to what these articles stand for in our society today.
    In the minds of most people at this time, the beard and long hair are associated with protest, revolution, and rebellion against authority. They are also symbols of the hippie and drug culture. Persons who wear beards or long hair, whether they desire it or not, may identify themselves with or emulate and honor the drug culture or the extreme practices of those who have made slovenly appearance a badge of protest and dissent. In addition, unkemptness-which is often (though not always) associated with beards and long hair-is a mark of indifference toward the best in life.”

  30. SusanS on November 2, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Of all the issues surrounding the church, I’ve always felt this is the most ridiculous. Move on.

  31. Paul on November 2, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Interesting quotation from Dallin Oaks. Thanks, Ben.

    I remember while I was a student at BYU in the late 70′s I heard that Pr Oaks had actually petitioned the board of trustees for a relaxation of the hair rule (don’t know if it extended to beards or not).

    When I was called as a bishop for the second time a number of years ago, I had a full beard. (I had also had a beard the first time I served as bishop in Latin America; it didn’t occur to me at the time that there was any issue.) I asked my stake president if I should shave and he told me it was up to me. I chose not to for the first year and a half or so. When I did shave it, it was my choice. No one asked me to. I know at the time we had another bishop in the stake with a full beard, and one member of the stake presidency had a mustache.

    We have a new stake president. None of the bishops in the stake has a beard today, nor do members of the stake presidency or high council. I imagine it is coincidence. (Our ward’s EQP does have a beard.)

  32. Todd on November 2, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    My son, who was attending BYI-I, was met at the door of the chapel by a Rexburg Stake President who told him he wasn’t allowed to participate in Sacrament meeting because he had facial stubble (week-end growth), a clear violation of the BYU honor code.

    I was frankly appalled at the overreach by the SP. Since when did adherence to the BYU honor code become the standard for being allowed to take the sacrament?

    It’s been more than two years since my son told me about that experience, and it still chaps my hide!

    What’s worse? Having facial hair, or denying someone from taking the sacrament because of facial hair?

  33. Paul on November 2, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    #32 Todd, your story rankles me a bit, too. Is it published anywhere else at BYU-I that dress code violations will result in expulsion from church? One wonders how that gets handled now that SA wards are no longer pinned to universities…

    What did your son do that day?

  34. Tim on November 2, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    #32–Wow. I was in a BYU singles ward in Provo where several of the men (none of them actually BYU students–I think most of them attended UVSC) had long hair and/or beards. It wasn’t an issue at all.

    Any stake president who denies people church attendance for stubble has some serious issues, regardless of whether he’s in Rexburg or not.

  35. Alison Moore Smith on November 2, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    …but I had a female friend tell me he looked scary…

    Old people look scary, too. Trust me on this. ;)

  36. KLC on November 2, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Why has Rexburg become the home of the Mormon Taliban?

  37. Amber on November 2, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    I knew guys in my BYU-Provo ward (in 2000) turned away from the testing center for having a 5 o’clock shadow. None were kicked out of Sacrament, though.

    I’m just wondering when they are going to require the women to wear their hair a certain length…

  38. Diane on November 2, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    10)

    This Mormon Woman is not opposed to beards. I happen to think some men actually look better with a beard than without one. but, the fact of the matter is the issue becomes about face burn. A lot of women’s faces are sensitive to men’s facial hair. My cousin was one of them

  39. Tim on November 2, 2011 at 9:16 pm

    Amber–my freshman year at BYU a girl in my ward was kicked out of BYU because of a too-short haircut. That was a little over ten years ago.

  40. Hans in California on November 2, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Well, I’ve worn a beard and mustache since 1973. I belong to the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas (FORBS) and have been a Santa Claus since 1984. Back in the 1970s, when I lived in Salt Lake City, I had shoulder length hair and a beard that looked like Joseph F. Smith’s. I was never turned away from attending the temple. No one has ever suggested to me that I shave my beard and my wife likes it. If a man’s beard is too rough or coarse, just use some hair conditioner on it; it softens it immediately. My beard is on The National Beard Registry:
    http://www.nationalbeardregistry.org/beards/Beard-details.asp?ID=1413

  41. Rachel Whipple on November 3, 2011 at 7:35 am

    The honor code does indicate that compliance is required at all times, not just while on BYU campus. My husband teaches at BYU, but he took a break from shaving on the weekends until he got called into the bishopric. He was told in his orientation meeting that he needs to be clean shaven for church meetings. He also had to buy a suit and white shirts to go with his calling, but that’s a different issue.

  42. queuno on November 3, 2011 at 8:33 am

    My uncle is a non-teaching staff member in one of the colleges at BYU. I saw him yesterday at a funeral wearing a full beard. Apparently even BYU doesn’t care anymore.

  43. Sam Brunson on November 3, 2011 at 9:00 am

    He was told in his orientation meeting that he needs to be clean shaven for church meetings. He also had to buy a suit and white shirts to go with his calling, but that’s a different issue.

    Do you mind if I ask a couple questions? First, who told him he needs to be clean-shaven? As we can see, both from my experience and the experience of several commentators, it’s not a Church requirement that bishops or bishoprics be clean-shaven. (Moreover, other than Peter’s unfortunate former stake, mustaches have rarely been looked at sideways.)

    Second, on what basis did they make that assertion? Is it because he teaches at BYU or because he’s in a bishopric? I’ve looked through the Handbooks, and neither mentions beards or mustaches. (They only make glancing references to white shirts, for that matter.)

    Finally, to get back to my original point, this is the month of mustaches. And I’m trying to get a not-so-critical mass of people to become mustachioed for the month. Call it #occupytheupperlip or #mormonmustaches or something. So far, though, nobody’s with me. But it’s not too far into November yet: anybody game?

  44. buraianto on November 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    Matt #3, I have a friend who was asked to shave his mustache or he wouldn’t be allowed to play the organ in the temple. This was within the last year or two.

  45. Glass Ceiling on November 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I think that since Mr. Smith in The Matrix, our dress code actually does us harm. Beards and colored shirts are a welcome change. After all, traditionally, Mormon men have one element of fashion that is negotiable: the color of the tie. Sad.

  46. Alison Moore Smith on November 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    When our good friend was called into the stake presidency in Florida, he was asked — by the stake president — to shave off his beard. (The SP first asked if he had a medical condition regarding the facial hair. His response, “Just ugliness.:) I didn’t recognize him.

    I HATE white shirts. Can someone inform the upper levels that this is not doctrine?

  47. Alison Moore Smith on November 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    Hans, that is awesome. :)

  48. gst on November 3, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    For what it’s worth, U.S. Army grooming regulations permit mustaches. And I say, if it’s good enough for driving a bayonet into someone’s belly, it’s good enough for home teaching.

  49. Bradley on November 3, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    #3, I hope they keep a razor by the east door.

  50. gst on November 3, 2011 at 11:12 pm

  51. gst on November 3, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    Sorry, I got my open tabs confused and meant to post that clip over at BCC. But it makes sense anywhere, really.

  52. palerobber on November 4, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    18. Romney / Huntsman 2012

    “Brigham Young University mandated a business haircut for men in the 1960s, the same decade Mitt Romney was a student there, and the rhetoric of church leaders grew increasingly hostile toward popular culture.”

    yes, and that’s why all popular brands of apparel and accessories have also been banned from campus. as well as all trendy music, film, literature, electronics, bicycles, and food. it’s all about steering clear of “popular culture.”

  53. Petra on November 4, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    I’m not convinced it’s just Mormon women who are anti-beard; I’ve heard a fair amount of my non-Mormon friends express the same sentiments, and even a cursory Google search turns up plenty of message boards with all sorts of women complaining about scratchy kisses.

    In any case, I guess I’m not a typical Mormon women here because I encourage my husband to have a beard, mostly since otherwise he looks 12 years old and I look like a cougar, and not the friendly BYU kind. Plus, his beard is bright red, and that’s hilarious. I don’t generally mind the beard when we kiss, except at the very beginning when it’s still scratchy and when it reaches six or seven inches long, at which point I start waking up with beard in my face when I try to snuggle up to him at night. I also insist now that he trim his mustache; last year he was very proud about having a mustache so long that is reached the bottom of his lower lip, and that was gross.

    And Hans in California, your beard is amazing, but I am definitely not going to tell my husband about the National Beard Registry.

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