to beard or not to beard – eccentricities

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building up the nerve to stop hiding

I’m locked in my bathroom with clippers in hand, tracing the grooves on the power button. I’m not sure if I’m about to shave off my beard or leave it to survive another day — at the moment both options seem equally possible. My indecision isn’t being helped much from an over-extended happy hour and ensuing befuddlement.

My mom’s been convinced that I should shave my beard since the moment she first saw stubble lining her baby’s face. During my visits home from school she almost didn’t recognize the child she raised. In a way she was right, because I’m not that kid anymore. But what my mom doesn’t get is that the beard serves a vital function. It hides me.

If I shave, I might be left with a face that’s embarrassing to show the world — removing a mask that I’m not so sure I can do without. As Tyrion said, “Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.” When you feel fat, you never forget you are. Even when you want to, classmates chime in that compared to your student ID photo, it looks like “you ate you”. Kids can be cruel, even when they’re all grown up. Luckily for me, my armor grew in the next year.

Now if I shave, I might not recognize myself without my guard. Beneath the shield might be someone subpar — the face looking back will be one better suited behind some fuzz. Armor doesn’t erase the vulnerability, it only provides cover.

I’m afraid the more people see, the less they’ll find worth seeing.

So here I am, defensive beard equipped, facing the world and my mirror with a face obscured behind years of hair brambling over years of disappointment. I’m afraid that if I cull the briar all that’s left will be a mistake.

Even now I wish my shield would protect me from the judgement I greet myself with. I’ve unknowingly put my life on pause until I uproot the fear. But the trouble with such an ingrained vulnerability is that it’s not deracinated so easily. That takes a seasoned gardener to weed out, and I’m a hobbyist at best.

Meanwhile my beard isn’t even doing its proper job anymore — not when strangers can see right through it. Three hours into meeting me, a friend’s mom asked: “Do you think you have an eating disorder?” Huh, I thought I was guarding myself. Turns out some people are incisive enough to pierce right through my resistances. Or it could just be a mom thing.

Maybe at this point the armor is just weighing me down. My insecurities have become fixed in place by the very thing meant to shield me from them. Perhaps my beard is just another holdover from the days of needing to hide myself. Maybe it’s time for a change. I can keep waiting for the luxury of fearlessness, or I can muster some nerve and turn on the clippers.

But then will come the looks — people staring as I order coffee, or awkwardly locking eyes on the metro. God forbid when people look at me across a meeting table. Those are perfect setups to read the worst into what they could be thinking. First I’ll imagine the meanest things these strangers or colleagues or friends must be thinking. Then I’ll bludgeon myself with their commentary. Unless they actually comment. If they hate it — thanks for being honest at least. If they like the clean shaven look — liars or delusional or both.

In some ways, my beard reflects the distance between who I was and who I am. Without it I might find someone I thought I left behind. I don’t want to be the same lost boy I was years ago, back when I felt uncomfortable traveling because I didn’t belong anywhere — back when I didn’t know who I could become.

It’s silly to imagine that dropping a beard will magic me back to who I was a decade ago. But no one said insecurities have to be sensible.

Or it could go great. Maybe the person beneath all this will greet the world with earned confidence. Through these years I have grown underneath my beard, becoming a “complete person”, as a friend once said — praise high enough to crack through my flippant defenses.

I can always just go for it and see what happens. Even if what I’m left with is a face only a mother could love — that could be enough.

— There and not, schrodinger’s beard

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