When I walk--particularly in the evenings--I engage in idle calculations. Nothing of any importance, mind you--usually I'm figuring out such things as how long it is until Christmas, or the amortized daily cost of opening the store, or something else that serves no particular purpose other than to give me some numbers to mentally juggle. Tonight, for some reason, I began calculating how long I have been clean-shaven as compared to how long I had a beard. Turns out that I have been clean-shaven just a almost exactly half my life; I had a beard for a total of twenty-five years and eleven months, and I've been beardless for a total of (taa-daa!) twenty-five years and eleven months. Of course, the latter figure includes the first twenty-one years of my life plus a few months, so it wasn't like I particularly had a choice for much of that time.
I first grew a beard beginning in May of 1975, just after I finished student teaching, primarily to make me look a bit older. I knew I'd be teaching juniors and seniors in high school in three scant months, and I figured that I'd best do something to camouflage the fact that I was only about four years older than the students I would be teaching. Once I grew the beard, though, it became a fixture of my appearance; students knew me as the teacher with a beard (at a time when most teachers had no facial hair), and gradually my circle of friends came to include virtually no one who had ever known me beardless.
Twice I tried shaving off my beard when I was in my fat-Elvis phase, and I really hated the way it looked; my face was round and flabby and my jawline was ill-defined. Of course, that's because I was pretty round and flabby. Once I lost almost seventy pounds, though, I decided that it might be nice to see what was hiding underneath the facial hair; so, in the spring of 2001, I shaved the beard off. And that's when I discovered that, as unappealing as my face might be, I liked it better sans beard. It took very little time for me to get used to the change; of course, I spend relatively little time looking at my face. I have no idea how long it took others to get used to the change, but most of my friends seemed to adjust to the new look pretty quickly.
Today, someone asked me if I'd ever considered growing a beard; that made me aware that there are now a number of my acquaintances who have never known me with facial hair. The answer to the question, though, is "no." Maybe it's a "been-there-done-that" sort of thing, or maybe it just reminds me of the fat days, but I don't feel like a beard kind of guy any longer. Now I'm pretty adamant about shaving before I face the world, in fact; since I've decided not to have a beard, I've also decided that I don't want to give into the too-lazy-to-shave stubble look, either. (Of course, other things have changed since the picture to the left was taken; I've cut my hair, so it's actually closer to the hair length in the bearded picture than any of the others... and alas, there's much less of it on top as well...)