A new study says we may have reached ‘peak beard’


Houston Rockets guard James Harden, the patron saint of awesome beards. (David Zalubowski/AP)

We have some big beards news for you today (by which we mean big news regarding beards, not news about over-sized beards) (this post is off to a great start): When beards become too popular, they are actually less attractive to people, according to science.

My colleague Abby Phillip reports:

When beards are ubiquitous, people perceive them to be less attractive, according to the study in Biology Letters by a team of Australian researchers at the University of New South Wales.

“The bigger the trend gets, the weaker the preference for beards and the tide will go out again,” researcher Robert Brooks told the Guardian Australia. “We may well be at peak beard.”

Let us pause for a moment to bask in the phrase “peak beard.”

So what does this news mean for those of us who cannot actually grow beards (and we could be talking about anybody here, anybody reading or even writing this post, anybody at all)? Well, it means that clean-shaven people are viewed as more attractive when such faces are rare, according to the study.

Walt Hickey at FiveThirtyEight reacted to the study by reviewing Glamour’s list of the sexiest men. Hickey determined that 60 of the 100 men included had some facial hair (though only 11 of the men had a full beard).

A study published last year (by some of the same people behind this new “peak beard” study) said that women viewed faces with heavy stubble as more attractive than heavy beards, light stubble and no facial hair at all, while men said full beards and heavy stubble were the most attractive looks.

But another study in 2011 (which also shares an author with the other two beard studies I’ve cited) found that women surveyed didn’t think bearded male faces were more attractive than beard-free faces, while women and men both said that bearded faces seem to belong to people with a higher social status.

We are clearly going to need another 10 or 15 beard-related studies before we as a society can decide one way or the other how we feel about beards.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.

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Mark Berman · April 16, 2014