As a guy who works for a publication that celebrates beards and those who grow them, I like to think I have a small degree of authority on the subject. When friends want to grow their beard out and don’t know where to start, the questions start rolling in. When someone sees a picture or news story that relates to beards, the texts and screenshots are inevitable. But fellow beardsman, today I heard of something that I have not ever heard of before, and caused me to start frantically Googling for more information.
Two new terms are starting to gain popularity, enough so that entire articles are being written in attempts to define and understand them – “Achievement Beard” and “Retirement Beard”. The beard culture has been permeating mainstream, well, everything for years now – from film and fashion to professional and business settings – but this marks a whole new dimension to beards and their influence, but they may not be such a good thing. The first problem is that with categories like these being created, there is an implication of novelty and fleeting trendiness, but they also create a sense of exclusivity, like certain beards are only meant for certain people at certain times. The second problem is with the very definitions themselves. Of all the articles being written trying to explain differences between “Achievement Beard” and “Retirement Beard”, the definitions end up bleeding together and just creating a kind of Penrose stairs paradox.
The New Yorker recently published an article in which the David Letterman’s new facial hair was the focal point of discussion, and dubbed an example of an Achievement Beard. The piece defined the Achievement Beard as “a marker of triumphant lassitude, the victory lap after a long job well done.” Fair enough. But Details penned their own article in which they discuss Retirement Beards, again singling out Letterman and saying his beard should more accurately be called a Retirement Beard, defined as “an outward acknowledgment of responsibilities shed…After years slaving away for The Man, what could be more liberating than putting away that symbolic ball-and-chain of the corporate world, the razor, a reminder of a grooming task that had to be repeated ad infinitude, a Sisyphean reminder of adult responsibilities?”
And now we can start to see the problem with slapping labels on these beards and trying to make them trendy and fashionable. Both of these definitions are essentially saying the same thing, but aiming to signify totally different statuses – The Achievement Beard is a celebration of a victory and success, and the Retirement Beard is a middle finger to The Man and the corporate world.
However if we look back to my June story about Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and his beard, we see a man who is actually demonstrating both Achievement and Retirement Beard qualities – his victories and successes in his business ventures have allowed him to essentially give the middle finger to The Man and the corporate world. So, which beard does Dorsey have?
The circular argument yields no definitive answer, and even nymag.com published a piece debating the validity of Achievement vs Retirement Beards, with author Allison P. Davis making the very valid point that “upon further consideration, each could just as easily be a neglect beard, a breakup beard, a historical-reenactment beard, a willful-rebellion beard, a depression beard, or an ‘I’ll make you ceramics in exchange for room and board’ beard.”
Instead of trying to differentiate between vague labels, I think we should opt to do just one thing – celebrate beards of all styles and types for being just plain awesome. And maybe leave David Letterman alone.