Archive for pogonophobia

A Victory for Diversity

Posted in Beards, LGBT with tags , , , , , on May 11, 2014 by telescoper

I didn’t watch the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest last night, but my Twitter feed was full of comments by people who did. That’s how I found out who won!


Conchita Wurst, Winner of the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest

I don’t know what the song was like, but that doesn’t matter at all; the Eurovision Song Contest isn’t about the songs at all. What is important is that Conchita Wurst‘s victory sends out a clear message that there is a world out there that is happy to embrace diversity. Interviewed after the voting, Conchita said “I’m just a singer in a fabulous dress, with great hair and a beard”. That sums it all up, really.

I agree wholeheartedly with the official statement of the Beard Liberation Front:

The Beard Liberation Front the informal network of beard wearers has welcomed the win for Austria’s Conchita Wurst in the Eurovision Song Contest as a victory for a diverse Europe over transphobia and pogonophobia.

The BLF has long campaigned for the right of people to be able to dress and appear as they want.

There will no doubt be those who mock Conchita Wurst (original name Thomas Neuwirth), even within the gay community. But it’s important to remember that the Stonewall Riots of 1969 that galvanised the gay rights movement in the United States into action, paving the way for example to Equal Marriage, began as a  fightback against heavy-handed policing that was predominantly led by drag queens. It takes courage to stand up for the right to be different, and in that respect Conchita is an example to inspire us all.

UPDATE: Here’s the official video made in advance of the contest

P.S. I’m pretty sure that this means that Beard of the Year 2014 is now a foregone conclusion….


Beard Developments

Posted in Beards with tags , , on November 3, 2013 by telescoper

One of the interesting new initiatives here at Sussex University is Sussex Research a new programme for promoting and facilitating interdisciplinary research. The announcement of this new scheme made me think of possibilities of implementing such approaches more widely.

One of the problems facing Sussex University these days is clearly the shortage of beards among academic staff. Since its hirsute heydays in the sixties and seventies the proportion of clean shaven lecturers has increased alarmingly, with corresponding consequences for our position in the international league tables. Only one Head of School has a beard, and not a single member of the Senior Management has any significant facial hair. This is a scandal of major proportions, tantamount to institutional pogonophobia.

Recognizing that in order to return to its former glory the University needs to turn this situation around rapidly, it has decided to introduce a new Beard Development Fund from which funds may be sought to promote the growth of facial hair across all sectors of the University. Such funds might support workshops at which staff can share good practice and form networks with other beard wearers, or to provide training for inexperienced staff and students who are have yet to acquire their first beard, Discussions are also under way with the Beard Liberation Front to provide beard awareness training.

In addition to  the Beard Development Fund there are a range of other initiatives to provide incentives for staff to develop their own portfolio of facial hair. Having previously focussed almost exclusively on teaching and research, promotion panels will now explicitly take hirsuteness into consideration. Moreover, in consideration of borderline candidates, examination boards will be allowed to consider the quality of a student’s beard in deciding the final degree classification.

Female staff and students will be exempt from the new procedures. For the time being.

One a personal level, acknowledging the fundamental importance of beards in the history of Physics, I have produced a detailed three-point guide on Beard Growth for members of my own School, and we shall shortly be running the first ever competition to find MPS Beard of the Year, in which all staff and students in the School will be invited to vote for the winner, i.e. me.

cropped_beardIncidentally, I discovered the other day that Royal Navy Regulations still permit the wearing of beards, as long as they are a “full set” (i.e. beard and moustache joined, not separate). That perhaps explains why someone I met recently described mine (left) as being a “Navy Beard”, and why some have suggested that I resemble Captain Haddock. I’ll do a look-alike as soon as I can procure a sailor’s hat and a pipe…

Trivial Hirsute

Posted in Beards, Biographical with tags , , , , on August 18, 2013 by telescoper

There’s been a lot going on in the world of beards recently. There’s the  Daily Fail story about how “hipster beards” are threatening the razor industry.  I don’t think it will be long before they run a story about the effect of facial hair on house prices. Then of course there’s the fuss about Jeremy Paxman’s appearance on Newsnight with a beard, which unleashed a storm of pogonophobia. Looking on the bright side, this served to generate some very positive publicity for the Beard Liberation Front, regular updated from which you can find on Keith Flett’s Blog.

Of course the Beard Liberation Front is essentially light-hearted in nature, but it does underline some rather serious points about the society we live in. First, is the obvious one. With so much terrible news going on in the world, who cares whether the presenter has a beard or not? In other words, it’s symptomatic of the superficiality of our celebrity-obsessed culture.

But there’s more than that. On the rare occasions I’ve been involved in media work I overheard many conversations about how such-and-such a scientist was no go for television because he had a beard. Why should that be? I think part of the answer can be found in Howard Jacobson’s piece in Saturday’s Independent: in that beards generally make their wearers look older. Nowadays, that, by definition ,means “unsuitable for TV”. You may have wisdom and gravitas, but if you don’t look like you belong in a boy band you’re just a beardy-weirdy and therefore out of contention.

Incidentally, I was of course clean-shaven when I had a few brief encounters with television, but my big chance for fame and fortune lapsed when I did a screen-test for the BBC, only to be told that I “lacked gravitas”. I doubt if a beard would have helped.

Back to my point.  I think I’ve established that bPogonophobia clearly has a significant overlap with ageism. Moreover, because it’s about jumping to conclusions about people based on their appearance  it also overlaps with racial prejudice. Men with beards are of not of course a persecuted minority, which is why the Beard Liberation Front can afford to engage in so much humorous self-parody, but it still succeeds in holding up a mirror to other, more sinister, forms of discrimination.

As for myself, I have no aspiration to become a hipster. I am far too old for that anyway. But I have always hated the chore of shaving in the mornings (and again later if I have to go out in the evening). I have frequently gone as far as growing a goatee beard, only to get rid of it because I didn’t like it much. The first time I grew a full beard was last summer. It wasn’t planned, but a consequence of a fairly long period of ill-health during a large part of which, for various reasons, I was unable to shave. When I began to recover, I shaved off the growth not so much because I disliked the beard in itself, but because it was an unwelcome reminder of what I’d been through. I wanted a fresh start. Having avoided any major recurrence this summer, I decided to have a go at growing a full beard again and am quite pleased with the result. At least it’s more convincing than Paxman’s.

Although not as grey, it has turned out rather similar in style to that of Ernest Hemingway as he is seen in this famous photograph by Yousuf Karsh:


I have to admit, though, that the opinions of others are mixed. The best comment I got was from a work colleague who said that she liked my beard very much, only to add, with immaculate timing, “because it covers half of your face”. I guess I’ll just have to hope that Beard Power eventually carries me through to wider acceptance.

PS. For the physicists among my readers here is an old post of mine about the role of beards in the development of thermodynamics.