To beard, or not to beard? That is the question researchers set out to answer in a recent study on whether men with beards are seen as more desirable than their non-bearded counterparts. Much of what we find attractive on an individual basis is influenced by cultural beauty standards, like what our media consistently presents as “attractive.” As trends like the beard resurge and become more popular, it may in turn influence how physically attractive we find those trends and the people who wear or grow them.
In a study conducted last year, researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia set out to see what role facial hair plays in a man’s desirability to heterosexual women. The study asked 8,520 women to essentially play a scientific game of “hot or not.” The women were divided into three groups and shown pictures of men with different length facial hair, each group analyzing a different aspect of the sex appeal of the men. The pictures showed the same men photo manipulated to have varying degrees of facial hair: clean-shaven, light stubble (five days without shaving), heavy stubble (ten days without shaving), and a thick beard (about one month of hair growth).
Their findings? Overall, women ranked the men with heavy stubble as the most sexy. Short stubble came in second. Both the clean-shaven men and the men with full beards got the lowest rating on their scientific sexy scale. However, that answer shifted depending on whether the women were asked to evaluate for short- or long-term romantic prospects
Is There Hope Yet For The Bearded Man?
As mentioned, each group of women rated a different aspect of “sexiness.” Group one rated overall sexual attractiveness by comparing each stage of the men’s beardedness. The second rated the pictures based on which mean they’d seek out for short-term fling, essentially scoring short-term attractiveness. The final group scored the men based on which appeared the best for a long-term relationship or marriage.
When it comes to longer-term love, having more facial hair fared better. Men with full beards and heavy stubble were rated higher than than the less bearded men when the women were asked who’d be good to settle down with.
What about a one-night stand? Men with light stubble scored there (pun very intended). However, men with heavy stubble were a close second. My sympathies to clean-shaven dudes.
What’s The Science Behind The Sexiness?
The study’s authors theorize that a beard “indicates a male’s ability to compete for resources” and in turn makes the men who sport them more attractive. Barnaby Dixson, a human behavioral ecologist and one of the study’s co-authors, tells the New York Times that men with beards are often perceived as more masculine and older and described as self-confident, generous, and even sincere. These perceptions are true for both genders.
In a different study on facial hair in men, gay men had stronger preferences for men with facial hair than heterosexual women had.
Are You Saying We Should All Grow Beards?
Not all the traits associated with big ol’ beards are necessarily positive. Dr. Dixson says studies have also found having facial hair is tied to less desirable social characteristics, like aggression and social dominance. A 2015 study even found a correlation between men who have beards and sexism, which researchers suggest may have to do with notions about hypermasculinity.
There are many hypotheses, both scientific and less-so, about why men with beards make better boyfriends. As the study from the University of Queensland implies, each degree of facial hair is sexy in its own way. However, I’m still waiting for science to give me an academic excuse for letting my upper lip hair grow in all its glory.