Commentary  Life Lines: This year, read beyond the bearded cover

“In the course of history, men with facial hair have been ascribed various attributes such as wisdom and knowledge, sexual virility, or high social status…”

The above is taken from one of today’s most popular, most approachable, and most widely circulated sources (Wikipedia) and thus should be given its due attention. It goes on to name the number of great figures who have sported this epitome of manhood, notable ones including Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, and Brad Pitt.

Although the online encyclopedia fails to mention it, I too have joined the ranks. For the past month or so I have not touched a razor to my face, growing this remarkable thing they call the beard (which, in case you forgot, is said to represent sexual virility). Wikipedia continues and talks about the converse effect, something about how beards can be related to filthiness, crudeness, and an eccentric disposition. But we all know how fickle the Internet can be and since a beard – which I happen to have – typifies sexual virility there is no way it could mean such things.

Tongue-in-the-cheek aside, I have been continually surprised at the different reactions to the new addition to my face. Yes, I now have a fiery red (non-patched) collection of hair that deems my neck invisible. Yes, I have a mustache, which I have to smooth to the side to stop it from filtering any liquids I take in. But it seems that, according to those strangers who don’t know me well, I also have an added feature to my character.

Sure I crack more “I just shaved this morning” jokes than normal, and now and then, I pretend that I’ve converted to one of the many religions that endorse beards but in general I’m still the same person I was a month ago. Yet judging by the different way I’m treated by air hostesses, waiters, casual acquittances, and the like, you would think I had had a total personality makeover. I was asked for three ID’s at the airport as opposed to the usual one. It is harder to make small talk with a waiter after I’ve ordered, and frankly, I am having a lot less eye sex in the hallways.

Now it’s not as if my beard is horribly upsetting. Throw me an email and I’ll prove it. But it’s big and very much there. And it has led to my fascination with how much people, quite possibly subconsciously, treat other people on mere face value. Now I know it has been said a million times. In fact calling it a cliché is in itself a cliché, but nevertheless, let’s try not to judge books by their covers in 2009.

This is not an attempt to get more waitresses to talk to me, I’m actually enjoying observing this change in people’s behaviour and am blessed with wonderful friends who might love me even more with the beard. This is merely a shout out to all of us, including me, to continue to be aware of the human behind the veil. For me, it has been an amusing experience; for others it could very well be frustrating to know that the perception of their true personality is undermined by some physical factor.

In 2009, let’s read our books through before making our minds up about them.

Johanu’s column appears every Monday. Send him your non-patched collection of hairs and shaving jokes to