What Our Fixation on the Beard-and-Man-Bun Combo Really Says About Us
Is there any combination sexier than a man bun and beard?
Uh... no. There is not.
The man bun/beard is enjoying something of a cultural moment, if the multiple Pinterest boards devoted to the style are any indication. And in light of the rise of Instagram celebs like hirsute he-man Brock O'Hurn, it doesn't look like the trend shows any signs of slowing down. But what does our obsession with the bun-and-beard combo say about us?
Why beards are better, according to science: Let's start with the first "B" of the B&B combo. While the authors of a Biological Letters study claimed we hit peak beard in 2014, arguing women find beards less attractive the more common they are, it seems like facial hair is here to stay — and there's a good reason why.
According to a 2014 study from the journal Evolution and Human Behavior Society, men use beards and other "ornamentation" as a badge of dominance to attract a partner. Even people who may not even consciously like beards aren't immune to the Grizzly Adams effect, as having a beard suggests a man is powerful and desirable.
Even when we're sick of seeing men with beards, it seems like we're still attracted to them. In the above Biological Letters study, which asked men and women to rank photos of both clean-shaven and bearded men, the study's participants tended to rank men with full-on beards and/or light stubble the highest, particularly among those who were mostly shown photos of clean-shaven men. Apparently, we all secretly want to boink lumberjacks.
Why ladies care about long hair: Evolutionary psychology also explains why we might find long hair so attractive. In the Evolution and Human Behavior Society study, the lead researcher, University of Western Australia's Cyril Grueter, said:
"In large groups where individuals are surrounded by strangers, we need a quick reliable tool to evaluate someone's strength and quality, and that's where these elaborate ornaments come in. In the case of humans, this may also include phenotypic extensions such as body decoration, jewelry and prestige items."
However, while man buns might be considered another form of primate ornamentation, they have different connotations for modern women. A survey sponsored by West Coast Shaving recently reported on male grooming trends over the past 10 years, interviewing 1,000 women about these trends. When asked about beards, women commonly thought of them as manly, rugged and sexy. Man buns, on the other hand, were considered feminine, trendy and weird. In fact, 60% of respondents said they wouldn't date anyone who rocked a man bun.
Sorry, Harry Styles.
A surprisingly sweet combo: In light of women's preference for beards and overwhelmingly negative feelings about man buns, how is it that two opposing grooming trends can be considered so desirable when combined?
Perhaps it's due to our changing views of what constitutes male beauty and masculinity. According to a 2014 article in the Atlantic, American masculinity is generally somewhat in flux. While the metrosexual has long been declared dead, we've since entered an era of the lumbersexual, in which men sport beards and wear flannel while still continuing to exfoliate and expertly trim their facial hair.
In this context, man buns and beards fall squarely into a new model of ideal American masculinity, one that combines a more androgynous aesthetic with the traditional markers of male gender roles. The man bun/beard combo might be the most confusing and subversive grooming trend yet.
"Straddling both masculine peacocking and historically feminine hair length, the man-bun wearer knows that he is inviting the heteronormative female gaze — and he doesn't shy away from the glances of gay and bisexual men" Tshepo Mokoena and Megan Carpentier wrote in the Guardian. "They embody a gender subversion without being arrogant or pretentious. When a man sweeps his hair into a bun and walks out the house, he says something — 'Yeah, this is me, and my face, and most likely my neck' — in a manner we're used to seeing on women with long hair."
So does being obsessed with guys with buns and beards mean we're evolving past tired old stereotypes associated with masculinity? It's hard to say for sure, but it seems that way. And while a new grooming trend is guaranteed to show up in the next few years, for now we can enjoy this oxymoronic coupling anywhere we can.