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the facial divide
5 reasons why we change our appearance
by joe procopio (@jproco)
pop culture

Late in the fall I grew a beard. But not just any beard -- the sexiest, angriest, swarthiest beard that ever dared cover the chin of any man. I didn't even so much grow it. I just wasn't paying attention, and before I knew it, the beard happened.

By force.

But look, I'm not going to insult you by pretending for more than four sentences that you will read 1000 words about my beard. And furthermore, it would take that long to even explain the awesomeness.

The reason I'm writing all this down is that my beard has taught me something. What actually happened during those first few heady days, in what now seems like another lifetime, is I became a beard guy.

Not only that, but during the transformation, I discovered the secret of the impulses that cause us to bring sudden and dramatic changes to our appearance.

Yeah, I know. You're picking little pieces of your mind up off the floor right now.

So why don't we talk about the beard.

My beard came about during one of those 2-3 week periods in my life where everything starts going at top speed and things like returning emails, appointment television, and basic hygiene kind of go out the window.

It's not like I stopped showering, although I did come uncomfortably close to asking "where else can Right Guard go?" on a few mornings. Mostly, I found that by the time I was supposed to be in the car, something had to get left undone.

Thank your lucky stars it was shaving.

I'm also the kind of guy for whom it doesn't take too much thinking to grow a decent beard. You want one, come see me in three, maybe four days, I'll have at least a draft, maybe even something you can work with.

So I've had beards before, they've come and gone, and we've had good times. But this beard, this beard stuck. Like magic. Like love. Suddenly, I wanted to know everything I could about this beard, why it had returned with such a vengeance and why it kicked so much ass.

I started researching, and I found out there's basically five impulses that make us decide to change our appearance. My beard will dumb them down for you:


So seriously, what do you got?

For some reason, it's human nature to equate taking on the man with coloring your hair blue. I don't know why this is, but somewhere between the ages of 13 and 18 is when we get our first impulse to make a sudden change. It's hormonal. And those hormones are screaming for justice -- in the form of tattoos, goth makeup, and gold teeth.

In my case, it was my beard rebelling against things that suck.

Defense Mechanism

This is the kind of thing you see in movies, when someone gets beaten down or otherwise worked over by a boyfriend or controlling mother or the government and he or she gives him or herself a haircut with, I don't know, hedge trimmers or something.

But my beard isn't the result of a defense mechanism, it IS a defense mechanism. It's also illegal to conceal it in Washington, DC.


This is the opposite of Defense Mechanism, and also happens in movies. This is where a woman leaves her douchebag boyfriend/mother/senator and starts over and gets a spray tan and a perm to a John Mayer song in montage fashion. It's also, oddly enough, the ZZ-Top "Legs" video.

Z. Z. Top.


While the change in appearance isn't sudden, the moment is. This is more of a general attitude towards life that gets all soured into "You know what? Cheesecake."

Mid-Life Crisis

We're all familiar with this one. And I probably have a little of this in me. But if it has come to this, well, the beard is cheaper than a Porsche. it also redlines at higher RPMs.

But those are just the impulses, the inceptions. Not everyone who dyes their hair blue looks in the mirror and says to themselves, "That's it. I'm a blue hair guy. I've always been a blue hair guy. Life makes sense now."

No. There has to be a moment of acceptance, a moment where you look at this change and walk into another life, a life where razors and shaving cream don't make sense anymore. A life you knew you always wanted, but never knew you could lead.

When I think about it, I think about the guy who disobeys the beard, who hacks it away one morning and then stops and asks himself what he might look like with a mustache. And when he gets there and has that moment, that "I'm a mustache-guy moment."

And then I thank my beard for being so insistent.


Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

more about joe procopio


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jeff miller
1.3.11 @ 11:25a

This kind of surface-level introspection is right up my alley. I recently discovered that my earholes (that's right I said earholes) were still more than willing to accommodate a couple of mid-life hoops. So in the hoops went and I'm all the better for it. Maybe it's rebellion, maybe it's defense. I don't care. These little silver circles are bitchin.

robert melos
1.4.11 @ 12:33a

I think the mid-life crisis point is good. I've done the goatee, but discovered I'm not a beard guy. I am a tattoo guy. That might seem extreme, but it worked for me.

joe procopio
1.4.11 @ 7:21a

Embrace it, boys. Some people stroll through their entire lives in polo shirts, khakis, and a respectable haircut.

adam kraemer
1.4.11 @ 10:30a

My beard will dumb them down for you:

I disagree, Joe. I think your beard actually elevated the level of discourse.

jeffrey walker
1.4.11 @ 1:19p

Sadly, some of us are unable to beard.

mike julianelle
1.5.11 @ 1:14p

"But my beard isn't the result of a defense mechanism, it IS a defense mechanism."

The End.

joe procopio
1.6.11 @ 12:17p

Nice one. Now will you stop emailing me? For the last time, I'm sorry I forgot to mention your nipple ring.

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