Later On

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How beards put a brave face on threatened masculinity

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Interesting idea that being clean-shaven shows a man doesn’t feel his masculinity is threatened—with the corresponding idea that growing a great bushy beard is protesting too much. Christopher R Oldstone-Moore, a senior lecturer at Wright State University, where he focuses on gender and masculinity and author of Of Beards and Men: The Revealing History of Facial Hair (2015), writes in Aeon:

In the West, for many centuries, shaving has identified a good man properly oriented to a higher order, whether divine or political. Defying this regulation meant being ostracised. But on occasion, a general reorganisation of masculine norms has interrupted the shaving-respectability regime.

Alexander the Great established shaving as the ideal in Greco-Roman civilisation when he imitated classical depictions of eternally youthful gods. Though there was a brief resurgence of beards inspired by Roman emperors, the Alexandrian style held well beyond the Empire’s fall. In medieval centuries, men of the Church made the tonsured head and shaved face marks of holiness and goodness, going so far as to inscribe these practices into canon law. Laymen followed suit, cutting back their beards to be worthy in the sight of God and man. After Renaissance men embraced hairy nature over holy shaving, beards were again curtailed by new codes of gentility enforced by royal courts, which had effectively replaced the Church as guardians of the moral order.

The breakdown of the clean-shaven order in the middle of the 19th century offers a valuable comparison with our own day. At that time, men on both sides of the Atlantic had new reasons to boast, but to also feel uneasy, about their status as men. Revolutions in Europe and the United States declared the rights of man, investing power in a sex, rather than a class. This gave men reason to assert their manhood with pride and, as one might expect, the most radical republicans and socialists were also the most enthusiastically bearded. By the middle of the century, the decline of radicalism uncoupled the link between radicalism and facial hair, allowing men of all classes and persuasions to assert their manly pride. No one expressed this new spirit more vibrantly than Walt Whitman, whose 1855 hymn to physical vitality, ‘Song of Myself’, declared ‘Washes and razors for foofoos … for me freckles and a bristling beard.’ Copies of the poem were sold with a full-length drawing of the poet, to show him true to his word.

As Whitman suggested, beards were liberating and empowering, and were accordingly embraced by men of every rank, from patricians to day labourers. Behind this pride, however, there was an undercurrent of worry. Even as the male sex was granted higher political status, masculine dominance was challenged by nascent feminism in both the private and public spheres. This challenge reinforced men’s determination to abandon razors. Those who championed beards praised them for establishing an unimpeachable physical contrast between men and women that demonstrates male superiority. The authors of a manifesto for facial hair, written in 1853, argued that nature assigned to women ‘attributes of grace heightened by physical weakness’, and to man ‘attributes of dignity and strength’. Men’s work, they insisted, is outdoors in wind and weather, and nature provides them suitable protection. Women’s work is of a different order.

The problem with this line of argument was that, even in the 1850s, the London journalists who penned these words were hardly outdoorsmen in need of beards to guard them from the tempests of Fleet Street. Yet this was precisely the appeal of the beard to urban men both then and now. Disconnection from nature and the increasing irrelevance of physical strength, along with the gradual rise of women in public life, threatened to destabilise common understandings of manliness at the very moment when manhood had achieved new political status. Facial hair served as a tangible symbol of gender difference that was in danger of becoming intangible. It is fair to say that a beard made the man.

Like the 1850s, today there is a renewed gender uncertainty that erupts in peaceful times when older constructions of manliness lose relevance. Then as now, war was limited and distant, and not available as a universal definition of masculine purpose. In the 1850s, the athletic ideal was in its infancy. In our time, sports have become so pervasive that they have begun to lose their specific association with masculinity. Even more than in the 1850s, it has proven difficult to police the boundary between the masculine and the feminine. Politics, business, sports, war, even masculinity itself, are no longer unchallenged male preserves. People born female are asserting their claim to be men, whether altered by surgery or not. Still others are declaring they have no sex or gender at all. Some men have navigated this fluid environment with remarkable aplomb. David Beckham openly embraces his ‘feminine’, fashion-conscious side, while at the same time always sporting a masculinising beard. With facial hair, he can have an effective physical presentation of contemporary manliness.

As they did in the 1850s, men of every region, race, class and political persuasion are again growing beards to declare the reality of masculinity, as well as their own masculine identity. While there is diminished confidence . . .

Continue reading.

From the very beginning of his book:

One thing is certain: changes in facial hair are never simply a matter of fashion. The power of beards and mustaches to make personal and political statements is such that, even in the “land of the free,” they are subject to administrative and corporate control. That Americans do not have a legal right to grow beards or mustaches as they choose was confirmed by the Supreme Court’s 1976 ruling in Kelley v. Johnson, which upheld employers’ authority to dictate grooming standards to their employees. Such infringements of freedom are a strong hint that something more than style is at stake. In fact, beard history fails to reveal fashion cycles at all, presenting instead slower, seismic shifts dictated by deeper social forces that shape and reshape ideals of manliness. Whenever masculinity is redefined, facial hairstyles change to suit. The history of men is literally written on their faces.

Judith Butler, one of the luminaries of gender studies, has argued that our words, actions, and bodies are not simply expressions of ourselves; they are the way we form ourselves as men and women. Our identities, in other words, are made and remade by what we do and say.2 [In other words, our identities are constructed from a selection of memes. – LG] In this sense, cutting or shaping facial hair has always been an important means not just to express manliness but to be men. Society enforces approved forms of masculine personality by regulating facial hair. We arrive, then, at the first principle of beard history: the face is an index of variations in manliness. As religions, nations, and movements formulate specific values and norms, they deploy hair, as well as other symbols, to proclaim these ideals to the world. When disputes arise about contrasting models of masculinity, different treatments of facial hair may indicate where one’s loyalties lie.

The idea that facial hair is a matter of personal choice remains popular despite abundant evidence to the contrary. Choosing to wear a beard in modern America, for example, can still get you drummed out of the military, fired from a job, disqualified in a boxing match, eliminated from political contention, or even labeled a terrorist. This reality relates to the second principle of beard history: facial hair is political. Because ideas of proper manliness are bound up with social and political authority, any symbol of masculinity carries political and moral significance. This explains why facial hair has the power to outrage and why it is subject to social controls.

Another misconception holds that shaving or not shaving is a matter of convenience, and that developments in razor technology explain the prevalence of smooth chins over the past century. The truth is quite different. Shaving is as old as civilization itself, and the absence of modern conveniences has never prevented societies from taking advantage of the symbolic power of removing hair. We arrive, then, at the third principle of beard history: the language of facial hair is built on the contrast of shaved and unshaved. Using this basic distinction, and its many variations, Western societies have constructed a visual vocabulary of personality and social allegiance.

I’m going to find this book very interesting. I had a beard for three decades, and the Aeon article has caused me to consider why: was I defending my beleaguered masculinity?

I don’t think so. I really did hate to shave, so as soon as I got away from small-town Oklahoma to college in the East, I grew a beard. In those days having a beard was uncommon, so that when I went home I had to endure comments about my having joined the House of David basketball team. (And those rather modest beards shown in the photo were shocking to small-town Oklahoma at the time.)

Reading the essay made me delve for other reasons for my not shaving other than hating it, and I do recognize that my (somewhat domineering) mother hated my having a beard, so there’s that. But I truly did hate shaving, and only when I started shaving again for my new job responsibilities did I consider figuring out how to make it something I enjoy. And even now, when I am retired with no need to shave, I still begin each morning with that pleasurable ritual which, in my experience, has a very positive cumulative effect.

So for me, I believe it’s more that I’m drawn to the pleasures of shaving than I’m focused on issues regarding masculinity. And, as I note in the book, the pleasures go beyond the simple sensual pleasures of the shave: there’s the appeal of the gadgetry, for example.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2019 at 9:49 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Shaving

The excellent Parker slant and Bathhouse aftershave with lather by D.R. Harris

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D.R. Harris always makes a great lather, and this morning was no exception, thanks in part to the Maggard Razors 22mm synthetic shown. And I have to say I love the Parker slant (which they call a “semi-slant,” presumably to make it less frightening to the inexperienced shaver—but it is a slant, and quite a good one), though on the whole I think I would like the plain handle’s appearance better than the graphite handle shown.

Three passes and a BBS result, and then a good splash of Bathhouse witch-hazel-based aftershave, which has the very interesting ingredients shown. Unfortunately, they no longer make it, but then they never did: they sourced it from a supply company, from which you can buy a gallon for $34.30—either a lifetime supply or the first step in an excellent DIY collection of Christmas presents. They even have a suggestion on how to proceed:

Private Label Tip

To enhance with essential or fragrance oils, combine preferred oils with a 1:1 ratio of Polysorbate 20 at 0.25%-0.75% of your final product’s weight. Start small and build from there, as you cannot remove fragrance if you add too much.

Formula: Product Weight x Percent you are scenting at = Amount of essential oil to add to your formulation.

Example: 104 oz. x .25% = 0.26 oz.

Package true to your brand’s aesthetic in a cosmo or boston round bottle with a narrow mouth for ease of use.

You can print your own labels and Bob’s your uncle: nifty Xmas gifts.

The ingredients are shown on the label, but from the link, two versions:

Common Names:
Organic Aloe Leaf Juice, Phenoxyethanol, Witch Hazel Water, Malic Acid, Citric Acid, Tartaric Acid, Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, DMAE Bitartrate, Glycerin, Organic Alcohol, Organic Sugar Cane Extract, Organic Bilberry Fruit Extract, Organic Sugar Maple Extract, Organic Orange Peel Extract, Organic Lemon Peel Extract, Organic Cranberry Fruit Extract, Organic White Willow Bark Extract, Tea Tree Leaf Oil, Bergamot Peel Oil, Tea Tree Leaf Oil, Roman Chamomile Flower Oil, German Chamomile Flower Oil, Geranium Oil, Polysorbate 20, Polysorbate 80, Organic Alcohol, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate
International Nomenclature:
Organic Aloe Leaf Juice (Aloe Barbadensis), Phenoxyethanol, Witch Hazel Water (Hamamelis Virginiana), Malic Acid, Citric Acid, Tartaric Acid, Glycolic Acid, Lactic Acid, DMAE Bitartrate (Dimethylaminoethanol Bitartrate), Glycerin, Organic Alcohol, Organic Sugar Cane Extract (Saccharum Officinarum), Organic Bilberry Fruit Extract (Vaccinium Myrtillus), Organic Sugar Maple Extract (Acer Saccharinum), Organic Orange Peel Extract (Citrus Sinensis), Organic Lemon Peel Extract (Citrus Limon), Organic Cranberry Fruit Extract (Vaccinium Macrocarpon), Organic White Willow Bark Extract (Salix Alba), Tea Tree Leaf Oil (Melaleuca Alternifolia), Bergamot Peel Oil (Citrus Bergamia), Tea Tree Leaf Oil (Melaleuca Alternifolia), Roman Chamomile Flower Oil (Anthemis Nobilis), German Chamomile Flower Oil (Chamomilla Recutita), Geranium Oil (Pelargonium Graveolens), Polysorbate 20, Polysorbate 80, Organic Alcohol, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate
It’s quite a nice aftershave. Bathhouse doesn’t seem to have added any fragrance, but I think I would go with lavender.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2019 at 9:36 am

Posted in Shaving

De Vergulde Hand and the 102 with another Prospector Co. aftershave

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De Vergulde Hand (The Gold-Plated Hand) is a shave stick from the Netherlands. I didn’t find it at a US store, but it’s readily available in Europe. (The link is to a shop in Cadiz, Spain.) A good lather, and with the Maggard 22mm synthetic brush, easily worked up.

It’s always nice to use the iKon Shavecraft 102, which is the second slant that iKon made, following the stainless steel model used in the previous two shaves (one DLC coated, one uncoated). The shave is always smooth, easy, and trouble-free and always leaves a totally smooth face in its wake.

A good splash Prospector Co.’s K.C. Atwood aftershave finishes the job. Its ingredients:

Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Distillate, Organic Aloe (Barbadensis), Distilled Water, PolySorbate 20, Vegetable Glycerin, Citrus Sinensis (Grapefruit), Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree), Citrus Sinensis (Sweet Orange), Coriandrum Sativum (Coriander Seed) Oil, Juniperus Communis (Juniper Berry), Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavendar), Vitis Vinifera (Grapefruit Seed Extract), Phenoxyethanol.

The name is from a grapefruit magnate of the 19th century, and the fragrance honors that heritage: “Witch hazel and aloe build a solid foundation for the invigorating grapefruit and sweet orange properties in this aftershave. Citrus and Coriander bring everything together for a crisp, tightening finish.” It’s a very pleasant aftershave.

Both the Prospector Co. aftershaves, lacking alcohol, do not have the instant-cooling effect, but they are nonetheless pleasant, and I know that many men prefer not to use alcohol-based aftershaves on their skin. Tomorrow we’ll continue to explore the witch-hazel world of aftershaves.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2019 at 8:52 am

Posted in Shaving

iKon’s stainless slant again and the start of a witch-hazel series

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I’m sure that this is an Erasmic shave stick, an inexpensive shave stick from the UK, and again I was able to get the lather to work well with a badger brush. That convinces me that the difficulty I had a few days ago was because I simply did not get enough soap scraped onto my stubble. That said, I do find that the synthetic brushes work better and more easily bright forth the lather from a shave stick.

This razor is essentially the same stainless-steel iKon slant I used yesterday, except that the head has had a DLC coating applied to (I’m sure) eliminate the tea-stain problem that occurs with some brands of blades. Like yesterday’s razor, this head has excellent acoustic properties, magnifying the sound of the cutting of the stubble to a marked degree, which for me adds to the pleasures of the shave, engaging another sense in the process.

Three passes, total smoothness, a tiny nick on the upper lip (from the ATG pass), which My Nik Is Sealed sealed. Then a good splash of the first witch-hazel-based aftershave in a new series: Prospector Co.’s Peary & Henson:

Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Distillate, Organic Aloe (Barbadensis), Distilled Water, PolySorbate 20, Vegetable Glycerin, Pimenta Racemosa (Bay), Commiphora Myrrha (Myrrh), Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary), Eucalyptus Globules (Eucalyptus), Pinus sylvestris (Pine), Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavendar), Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree), Phenoxyethanol.

They describe the fragrance as “Witch hazel, cedar water, and aloe bring the bay to life and fresh coriander adds a sharp bite.” A very pleasant finish to a good shave.

In case you see only the shaving posts, I want to call your attention to a very interesting and well-done move, “The Game Changers.” The page at the link lists sites that stream the movie (including Netflix), and it’s a movie worth watching. Moreover, that page has a link to the recipes for the enticing meals shown in the movie.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2019 at 8:40 am

Posted in Food, Movies & TV, Shaving

Speick and the original iKon slant, with a Rooney Style 3 Size 1

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I wanted to try again a natural-bristle brush with a shave stick, given the (minor) problem from day before yesterday, so this morning I used this Rooney Super Silvertip with a shave stick that I am morally certain is a Speick shave stick. The lather was fine—effortless and of excellent consistency—so the problem earlier was not the brush, it was just that I didn’t get enough soap on the stubble.

This is the first iKon slant, stainless steel that unfortunately shows tea stains from interaction with the various blade steels—Gillette Rubie was particularly bad, as I recall—so iKon moved to avoid the problem by first using a DLC coating on the head (and I have one of those) and then the B6 coating, which turned out to be better. The B6 coating is what you find on this razor today. It’s a marvelous slant, and it will appear more frequently as I shift to a slant-heavy rotation.

It was rather too smooth on the first stroke—no blade. I put in a Bolzano blade and finished a perfect shave. I do like this razor a lot. I remember I was blown away when it first came out. I believe it was the first modern slant to appear.

Three passes, perfect result, and a splash of Speick’s wonderful aftershave finished the job. Great start, though the day is rainy.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2019 at 8:27 am

Posted in Shaving

Valobra’s excellent shave stick and the Game Changer

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The Valobra shave stick is one of the best. It’s triple-milled, so has a very long life, and the fragrance is extremely nice, as is the lather. It’s great for travel, and you can use an appropriately sized plastic prescription pill bottle to carry it protected. I forgot about my plan to use a Rooney brush this morning—that’ll happen tomorrow—and the RazoRock synthetic made a unbeatable lather quite easily.

Three passes with the Game Changer .62-P left my face totally smooth and undamaged, and a splash of Floïd finished the job with a warm fragrance and a cool feel (from the touch of menthol).

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2019 at 6:51 am

Posted in Shaving

Badger vs. Synthetic for shave sticks, with the Rockwell 6S R3

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My Rooney Finest is an excellent shaving brush but it not do so well with this shave stick as do the Plissoft/angel-hair synthetics, in part (I think) because the synthetics absorb no moisture. I rubbed the Razor Emporium against the grain all over my (washed, wet) stubble, and I did note that it perhaps was not depositing so much soap because the paper was too high.

When I tried to bring up the lather, the brush eked out only a film of lather on my face, with no noticeable lather in the brush itself. I tore off more of the paper, and went at the stubble again, making sure that plenty of soap was scraped off, and I rewet the brush. This second effort did indeed produce a good lather, and the brush was filled for the later passes, but it was more of a struggle than with the synthetics I’ve been using. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll try badger again, with a different shave stick, and see how it compares. Another of this set of Rooneys, I think.

Well-lathered, the shave itself was man’s play: three passes with the Rockwell 6S using the R3 baseplate, using the brush’s reserve to lather prior to the second and third passes, left my face effortlessly smooth, and a splash of Annick Goutal’s Eau du Sud finished the job and start the holiday morning very nicely.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 October 2019 at 8:14 am

Posted in Shaving

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