Different cultures view the simplest of things in a variety of different ways. In the West, giving someone the ‘thumbs-up’ is a sign of appreciation or approval. Whereas the same gesture could see you imprisoned in the Middle East. Likewise, perceptions of beards are just as varied the world over. Come with me on a little journey and discover the Beard Culture Worldwide.
Beard Culture in India
India has a past steeped in religious tradition, and beards were always a regular part of their culture. However it was socially expected that one would keep their beard simple and trim, without unnecessary extravagance. This attitude stemmed from Indian culture’s standards of masculinity, where to have a flamboyant beard was suggestive of one who perhaps wasn’t spending his time in an appropriately manly way.
This is all changing, however, as a new generation of Indian men start to break free from the constraints of tradition. The men’s grooming market in India has risen by billions in the last five years alone. Men are also creating ‘Beard Clubs’, where they can meet and bond over their shared passion for facial hair styling.
In some parts of the Middle East, having a beard is so closely tied to concepts of masculinity that broad character judgements will be made of you depending on your beard, or lack of one.
It is common practice in Saudi Arabia, for example, to assume that a cleanly shaven man is a homosexual. So much so, in fact, that going clean-shaven has become a common way for gay men to identify each other. It’s a country where homosexuality is punishable by death.
Followers of Judaism view the growing of a beard as a process of experiencing the divine energy of God. They view the beard as one of the channels through which humans receive divine mercy.
So much so, in fact, that the Bible clearly forbids allowing a razor to touch your face. This has been circumvented in recent years with the invention of the electric razor, but the beard is still a powerful symbol in the Judaic religion.
For the Ancient Greeks, beards were a symbol of manhood, wisdom and virility. It would be unthinkable for a man of status to be seen without a beard, and their importance in the culture was paramount.
Greek men would chop their beards off as a sign of mourning following the death of a loved one.
It was also considered a method of torture to cut a Spartan prisoner’s beard. Such were the importance of beards to the Spartans of those times that having your beard chopped off would have been the ultimate dishonour.
Amish communities in Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania use the beard to communicate certain ideas to other members of their community. Among the Amish, it is common for a young man to be clean-shaven up until the day he gets married. By growing a beard upon becoming married, the man uses his new facial hair as a sign to other women that he is already taken.