Let’s suppose you’ve never grown a full beard before. You’re a young lad ripe with optimism for your first attempt, or an older gentlemen, a late bloomer of the bearded realm. Maybe you’ve never gone for more than a mustache or goatee, or you’ve been oppressed by your wife, boss, or local culture. Let’s also suppose that while you’re interested in embarking upon the journey of growing a lusciously full face farm, you’re more than a little curious [nervous?] about what’s in store. You wonder, will it be thick, and full? Will it have streaks of gray, be patchy, fire engine red? Will my significant other, coworkers, laugh and poke fun? Will it be wondrous, a thing of beauty, or possibly end up something you want to lock in a box under the stairs never to speak of?
Growing your first beard can seem daunting at times full of uncertainty, but once you commit and push through all the amazing stages it brings, you’ll come out a better man. Or at least a hairier one.
With that in mind, let me present to you, the various stages of growing a beard. And... a few random bits and bites along the way.
Phase #1: In the beginningYou’re full of excitement. You’ve shunned the cultural pressure to shave, the threats from the Mrs. about never kissing you again, the fear of failure, of not being man enough. You’ve committed to growing a full beard. Congratulations. Now what?
Surprisingly, or maybe not so, there isn't much to do now but sit around and wait for those hairs on your face to sprout. Don’t touch them for at least a couple weeks. Don’t shave [obviously], trim, pluck, pick. Wait. You want to avoid trimming too early, which all too often results in a botched job that you must bail on. So many failed beard attempts stem from jumping the gun on the initial trim. Give it some time so you have enough hair on your face to properly judge your lines. There are tons of great videos out there to help you along this path. Travel it cautiously and you’ll do fine.
You’ve given yourself ample time and the hair is doing what it should…growing. Nice job. At this point you’re starting to get some odd looks from family, friends, coworkers. They’re not sure whether it’s intentional, your depressed, or you’ve just grown lazy. This is where we hit the next phase in the lifecycle of your beard.
Phase #2: The awkward phase, also known as WTF is on your face?If you’re anything like me, while at this point (about 2-3 weeks in) you do in fact have a beard, it’s not quite what you had in mind. It’s growing in thicker under the chin, but super light on the cheeks. Your mustache is thickening up, but there’s this gap between where your mustache ends and the growth on your cheeks begin. You’re seeing patches, its purple and growing horns (ok you should probably see your physician about that). It looks scruffy, and you’re sad. You think to yourself, I can’t go out in public like this, I can’t show my face at work, my clients, my wife, my kids.
This is your first major hurtle and another point where many beards are buried. The line of dead beards on Mt Everbeard is long. You must persevere. Speaking from experience, as someone who panicked at this stage, it will get better. Facial hair has a tendency to grow in waves. So just be patient, the sleeper hairs, those that tend to grow later in the cycle, will help fill things in. If you have patchy areas, hair from around those will fill things in as they get longer. The important thing to remember is that this phase is short-lived and you just need to hang on for the ride, avoid the stares, the cries in fear, and you’ll make it. You really are beautiful I promise.
If you’re not comfortable simply letting things grow, now’s a good time for your initial trim. For those worried about appearances at work, cleaning things up at this stage can go a long way to keep you in the game. Don’t go overboard, start with little adjustments until you feel comfortable. I personally like a good fade at this stage – grab some beard trimmers that let you adjust the length. Start at the max length of your current beard and trim all over. Then drop it a notch or two and trim below where your jaw meets your neck. Then drop it again, and trim towards the bottom of the beard, about an inch or so above where your beard ends. Remove the guard and clear up any flyaways above the cheek line or lower on the neck. It can look super funky to simply cut a line between your beard and neck, especially the longer it gets. Fixing a bad fade is a lot easier too as you’ll wait less time for hairs to grow back in the event you mucked it up. Once your beard gets longer, maybe 2-3 months, you can stop shaving under the beard altogether.
It’s about this time where we hit the next phase.
Phase #3: OMG holy SH** it itches so bad dear lord plz help me
You’ve survived your first and second hurdles, but this one’s a doozy. Nobody told me I’d want to tear my face off! Of all the beard related trials and tribulations, this one was the hardest for me. It itched so damn bad, all the damn time. The hairs on your face are sharp, and long enough now to curve back and scratch you all over. Thanks to the jagged edges left by your razor the misery is real. Your skin is now likely covered with this short hair, so there's less sun exposure and more dust and debris getting caught. A critical mass of irritation and discomfort. What is a guy to do?
Well, aside from just hang on for dear life, this is where beard oil comes in (or beard butter or beard balm if you’re so inclined). Yes, it’s a real thing. Yes, it works. Yes, you should buy it. If not from us, from somewhere, or you’re going to be sorry. The mix of oils provided in these products help soften the hair, moisturize your face, minimize beard dandruff, and generally promote a healthy environment for your beard. One of the niceties is also alleviating the dreaded beard itch. It’s not total relief so don’t expect miracles, but it makes a huge difference. If anything, grab a sample or two to get you through the week or so of horror. The good news is it won’t last long. Once the hairs grow just a bit longer you’ll be through this rough spot in your otherwise glorious adventure.
Phase #4: It’s intentionalIt’s official. You’re growing a beard and everyone around you knows it. So far it’s leaving a bit to be desired, but this thing is for real and not just some byproduct of an arduous weekend rife with debauchery. You can strut around a little knowing others are very aware of your purpose in life, your new mission to greatness. Sweet. This is a stage of happiness, things are starting to fill in. You’re getting a better idea of your genes, which by the way are the ONLY thing that will determine your natural growth. You can throw all the miracle products on your face, use the most amazing beard oil, try the new magic goopty goop by <insert the next amazing beard company here>, but it won’t do a dang thing to fill in those patchy areas. Your genes, for better or worse, are what determines the natural volume, texture, color, and overall awesomeness (or otherwise) of your beard. There are tricks to overcome issues in these areas, but no magic pills. Too bad so sad.
Don’t let this bring you down if your beard isn’t quite what you had in mind. There are some amazingly full, rich beards out there, and you’re sure to lust for those throughout various stages of your beard lifecycle. Try to avoid this as it can be unnecessarily detrimental. Trust me, people aren’t staring at your patchy spots on your cheeks and secretly giggling at your inferiorities. Your beard is your fingerprint, it’s unique, and whatever you have you should flaunt it to the fullest with pride. Embrace your beard with open arms and you’ll be glad you did later on. Side note: If you’re like me, you’ll be inclined to pick at various parts of your beard out of habit. Stop it, don’t do that. It not only is about the worst habit to break, but it can cause irreparable damage to your beard resulting in ugly patchy spots that simply won’t grow back. Once I got into the habit I had to fully shave and start over just to break it.
Phase #5: I’m a badass
At or around month 4 things start to really come to life. Your beard is mightily filling in if not completely full. Your mustache is bold and a statement of your manhood. Your coworkers are complementing you often, strangers stare in wonder as you walk by. Your beard is a statement of freedom, of manliness, and you wear it proud. I reached this point and felt like a badass. Yeah, I’ll admit it. Looking back through photos of this period I notice an uptick in scowls and other such facial expressions. I’ve been plagued with a soft baby face my entire life and this new beard changed everything. Sure I looked like I tacked on about 10 years, but I looked less like a 12 year old paperboy and more like a real man. A total upgrade. A man who does more than slouch behind a desk writing code all day. Sure it wasn’t true, but who cares? I looked tougher, rougher, meaner.
Oddly enough, folks tended to be more friendly towards me once my beard reached this stage. I noticed more smiles, more hellos, more respect in general. It was at this point that I embarked on the next phase.
Phase #6: The hard partI don’t mean the difficult, strenuous, or otherwise challenging part. But rather, the ‘hard part’ haircut. The quintessential “I have a beard” cut, where you shave up one side real tight, comb the rest over, and the barber razors in a wicked part. You call it hipster, I call it cool, either way I did it. For me, it was a way of separating myself from the mountain man, or the Amish. Staking my claim as a modern beadsman, with a penitent for style and sophistication rather than axes, cattle and wagons. Whatever your fancy, embrace your beard as a symbol of who you are. Rock the flannel, shave your head, buy a motorcycle. Whatever the beard brings out in you, own it, and have fun with it.
Your beard is big and full now. Often you walk into a place, look around, and bask in the glory of knowing you have the best beard within a reasonable vicinity. Congratulations on making it this far, withstanding so many internal and external pressures to shave. You’ve reached the next phase.
Phase #7: The peacock phase
This is quite different than phase #5. You’ve grown accustomed to your beard being what it is, amazing. You no longer consider yourself a badass, a tough guy. Instead, it’s all glory. You flaunt your beard wherever you go because let’s face it, it’s exquisite. You’ve shaped it into the perfect extension of your face, while retaining all of it’s glory. The colors are radiant and everyone around you is basking in the glow emanating from above your neck and below your head. You are a bearded peacock, and it feels great. This period is how I imagine the golden years of retirement will be. You kick back and reap your rewards.
A hearty congratulations is in store. You’ve succeeded in your endeavors of growing a beard, however it’s not without its own unique complications. For one, if you have kids, don’t dare shave it off all at once. I speak from experience, my kids cried and told me, and I quote, “I will never trust you again”. I was a stranger without my beard. It really does change your face that much. Also, you can never eat s'mores again. Really. It’s impossible to do so don’t even try. I know because I tried countless times, all ending in horror. If you use an electric toothbrush you can enjoy half your toothpaste landing in your beard. Your dinner too (beard crumbs are real, and a real PITA). Not to mention, since your face has avoided sunlight over the last 6 months or so, you can expect the top half of your head to be nicely tan, while the lower half a brilliant white.
At some point you may or may not reach the next phase. A shameful one to some, but inevitable for others.
Phase #8: Contemplating the shaveNow having grown and shaved several beards, I’ve come to realize I actually enjoy the art of growing more than basking as a peacock. For some, this may not be the case. For others, you may reach this point and realize you’re bored with your beard and need a change, maybe you landed an amazing gig and need to fall in line beard free. Maybe you’re wife has grown tired of kissing your fuzzy lips. Whatever the reason, you’re contemplating the shave. Don’t feel ashamed. The internet will have you think that shaving makes you a women, that your balls will shrivel up and fall off, that you’ll live ashamed locked in your bedroom for all eternity. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
As I mentioned, I’ve shaved several beards and while it’s always followed by a brief period of mourning, the excitement around regrowing can never be understated. I will say, if you decide to go for it, you should never skip the following phase.
Phase #9: The belligerent shave partyDo not, I repeat DO NOT simply shave your beard. Where is the fun in that? No no no, you must horrify yourself, or entertain those around you whichever, with some truly unique facial art. Come up with three or four of the most ridiculous, most outlandishly disgusting ideas for your shave party. Gouge some truly terrible patches into your face, carve out that stache you’ve been secretly wanting to try, do the AJ beard from the Backstreet Boys, whatever. Just don’t go out without a party. Drink a few beers beforehand to get the creative juices flowing and absolutely take some pictures for posterity. Heck, post them here for everyone to enjoy!
Never mind phase #10: "Holy F*ck I just shaved, a period of depression”. It will pass quickly. Rinse, repeat.
And that’s all folks!