Photo above: According to Mohd Hafiz (right), facial hair adds masculinity to his baby-faced look.
From boys to men…
After 20 years, I have to admit – the only reason I attended Royal Professor Ungku Aziz’s lectures in Universiti Malaya way back then was because I thought he looked cool with his snow-white beard – my Malaysian version of Santa Claus. And I actually paid attention in class!
But my fascination with facial hair never went beyond that. I thought the clean-shaven Hugh Jackman was eye candy in Kate & Leopold. In X-Men, his Wolverine hair and sideburns was still within my acceptable standards.
However, in Les Misérables, the scruffy and heavily bearded Jackman was just too much to bear (which probably explains why I didn’t finish the movie).
To shave or not to shave, is a question that plagues many Malaysian men. Some believe that it is more of a liability than an asset; while others attribute their success to having facial hair for good “feng shui”.
A personal take
M. Azizi Yahaya, an executive at a leadership and capability development department, decided to keep his facial hair upon graduating from Universiti Putra Malaysia, as he wanted to look older.
“Facial hair does help me in terms of my confidence level during work interviews. It gives people the perception of a mature, more intelligent person,” claims Azizi.
Among human resources and employers, there is a never-ending debate as to whether facial hair will affect one’s professionalism in the workplace.
Asked if he felt facial hair would be a disadvantage, Azizi says, “I don’t think so. I once shaved off my facial hair and I got awkward looks from my friends.
“Honestly, having to grow it has given me confidence to deal with people.
“In fact, I would say that by having facial hair, I gained an advantage. I can experiment with different styles – the likes of David Beckham or Johnny Depp, just to feel and look different.”
Here’s my personal take on this: Having facial hair is not something that you can break down into right or wrong.
There is a place and time for everything, depending on the end objective you want to achieve.
But first things first, you have to at least make facial hair look good on you!
The shape of your face
Just as girls use bronzers to contour their faces, men can utilise facial hair to make their faces look narrow or broad.
If your face is relatively short and round, go a bit longer at the chin to add length. This will visually make your face look slimmer.
According to Azizi, “Another reason why I kept my facial hair is because I am quite a fat person. Without it, I look really chubby. Facial hair helps me to deviate this focus.”
If you have a long and narrow face, facial hair can act as a focal point to distract viewers and take the attention away from the jawline. A long face requires a beard which is fuller on the sides and shorter on the chin.
With a square face, a goatee is a good option. Just keep your facial hair fuller on the chin and shorter on the sides. This will add length to your overall face.
Let’s look at some of the ‘messages’ that can be interpreted by people looking at your moustache and beard.
1. Facial hair and maturity
The ability to grow facial hair is a sign of physical maturity in men, and perhaps wisdom too – think Gandalf, Saruman and Dumbledore. I am sure our very own poet, A. Samad Said, will not look the same without his signature white beard.
If you have a baby face and there is a need for you to look older, keep your facial hair. It can add 10 years to your age.
2. Facial hair and aggression
Unless you have Santa Claus’s white bushy beard, it would be difficult to hold a job as a kindergarten teacher if you have thick and dark facial hair.
Moustache and beard are signs of active testosterone. Men with facial hair are often seen as angry and aggressive.
So, if you are in a police force or if you work as a bouncer, then wearing a moustache would definitely make you look more intimidating!
3. Facial hair and cleanliness
I once had this guy with really long strands of hair from his mole, packing my buns and bread at a bakery.
Being me, I couldn’t take my eyes off his hair, worried of what “extra ingredients” might accidentally drop into the bag.
There is a reason why companies in the hospitality or food industry ban facial hair at their workplaces. It is a perception issue.
When you greet your guests, or when you serve at a table, you have to look good. When people see someone with thick moustache, long beard or unkempt stubble, apart from issues of feeling intimidated, they would subconsciously assume that you are too lazy to take care of your own hygiene and upkeep.
4. Facial hair and your likeability factor
While facial hair may give a man added masculinity, a study at University of Hertfordshire concludes that there is a drop in the level of care, cheerfulness and generosity.
Bearded men are perceived as 38% less generous, 36% less caring, and 51% less cheerful than their clean-shaven brothers.
This may perhaps tie back to aggression which facial hair is often associated with. But if you are in a sales profession, this factor may be worth thinking about.
Surprisingly, facial hair can also alter your own behaviour and self-image.
There have been studies suggesting that clean-shaven men, when asked to wear moustache and beard, rated themselves as more “masculine”, and this led them to behave in a more assertive manner.
Mohd Hafiz, a business development executive, says facial hair adds masculinity to his soft, baby-faced look, and he finds it easier to communicate with clients when perceived to be more matured.
Similarly, those struggling with anger management issues are advised to shave off, as the brain will calm down when the mirror image shows a less aggressive self.
Facial hair is here to stay, be it due to religious reasons, style, perception, etc.
The long and short of it? To beard or not to beard is very much dependent on:
- The person looking at you.
- The person hiring you.
If facial hair is something you can’t live without, do keep it trimmed and styled.
If the person looking at you is someone gentle, then too much facial hair will work against you.
If the person hiring you insists you should be clean shaven, then respect that, or move on.
Wendy Lee is president of Mabic (Malaysian Association of Brand & Image Consultants) and a director of BII (Brand Image International Institute). She is a firm believer that with style… there must be substance! To engage Wendy for personal branding and grooming in your organisation, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Image Matters articles, click here.
First appeared on Leaderonomics.com. Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 27 June 2015