Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Keeping Portland Beard

Men can’t resist the urge to compete – in war, sports, love and facial hair.

Beard-World-Championship-2013Historically, beards stood for tribe, class, ferocity and virility. Nowadays, beards are more often symbols of being rebellious, slovenly, chic or a member of the Boston Red Sox.

Like so many things, fashion can be in the eye and on the chin of the beholder, as was evident at last month’s 2014 Men’s World Beard and Mustache Championships held, where else, in Portland.

Out of an abundance of caution, publicity for the event said it was “just for men.” Equality between men’s and women’s beards will have to wait.

Just when you think you have seen it all, here comes an event that stuns into realization you haven’t seen anything yet. The contestants, in what some called the Hair Olympics, didn’t look like the casually stubbled models in magazines or TV ads. Instead, they were men with whiskers in every shape, form and length, some drooping as far down as a man’s knees.

Competition occurred in 17 categories for mustaches, partial beards and full beards. In the full beard category, for example, there was the competition for the best natural full beard, the best full heard with a styled mustache, the Verdi (short and round) and the Garibaldi (broad, full and round, with integrated mustache).

The inducement for letting your hair down was an all-expenses-paid trip to next year’s world championship in Leogang, Austria. Money from this year’s championship was contributed to the High Fives Foundation, which provides financial support for athletes injured in life-altering ways in winter sports.

world-beard-and-moustache-championships-2014-by-greg-anderson-10Competing beardsmen sported everything from delicate, curving Salvador Dali mustaches to vast patches of hair that would make Sasquatch search for a barber. Men made their facial hair do tricks, with curls and flourishes and even Cheetos, that defy logic, good sense and gravity.

After the contest, which included some onstage vamping and exhibitionism, competitors privately confided that maintaining the equivalent of a pet on their face was continuous hard work. One guy with a pleated beard explained how much time it took and complained at how he is unable to eat soup or spaghetti because it would foul his carefully manicured locks. Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

I took notice of this event because I have a beard and mustache. Its origins aren’t all that uncommon – I was sick and too tired or disinclined to shave. When an acceptable amount of hair manifest itself, I declared “I was growing a beard.” I meant, I was relieved to know “I could grow a beard.”

Later came rationalization that my beard was a way to prevent an unpleasant competition between my shaver and my sensitive face. While true, it is the kind of explanation people drum up to justify what they decided to do anyway.

Unlike the contestants at the World Beard and Mustache Championships, I don’t spend much time styling or promoting the growth of my facial hair. What time I do spend is trying to make my beard and mustache look less scraggly. Lately, I spend almost as much time dispatching volunteer hairs on my ears.

At the end of the competition, contestants and audience members were invited a party featuring, all too appropriately, Red Fang and Hopeless Jack & the Handsome Devil.The only thing missing was the great big, bad wolf, though several beardsmen could understandably be confused with the missing wolf.

For women looking for Mr. Right, this would have been a runway show to avoid. But for boosters who want to prove the sitcom Portlandia isn’t far off the mark, this event reinforced the saying, “Keep Portland Beard.”




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