The Many Faces of Facial Hair

Cullen Murray Kemp

I know it may sound a little pretentious, but while the rest of the world struggles to find an answer to the fiscal cliff and to avoid adding to a $16.4 trillion American debt ceiling, I stand peering into the mirror—faced by the daunting task of finding the perfect facial hairstyle.


In my defense, facial hair is a really big deal for us guys—the type of big deal that parallels other guy-big-deals like fantasy sports and greasy food. Men can attest—sporting facial hair that doesn’t fit your style is like wearing ripped jeans tucked into knee-high Looney Tune Socks with an unzipped fleece that exposes bare chest… It just doesn’t work.


That said, two months ago I decided it was time to try my hand at the facial hair life, and I grew a beard. 


Admittedly, my beard has its flaws. One being it is straight-up red in color. Now, having a ginger beard doesn’t necessarily come with all the scrutiny that being a full-bread Pippi Longstocking ginger does, but I still get smug comments like, “Dude, why is there ketchup all over your face?… Oh wait, that’s just your ginger beard.” But I’m going to refrain from going into an epic ginger rant and just say that it’s hard out there for a red head.


Unlike red hair, mustaches are almost always cool, and when you’re talking premium facial hair, it doesn’t get much better than the Ron Jeremy '80s porn star mustache. Unfortunately, the hair that graces my upper lip is about as thick as the hair on top of my dad’s head (sorry, Dad)—and nothing like the thick, voluptuous fur that calls home just below Ron Jeremy’s orgasm-educing nose. The greatness of mustaches should not be disregarded. Just the other evening I was at a house party when the loud rap music suddenly changed to grand entrance theme music. Just then, a man with a full-bodied Fu Manchu walked through the door. Instantly, curious whispers stirred about the fine piece of facial hair—we were captivated. And the Fu Manchu man seized the opportunity: “Did anybody want to take some sake shots?” he asked. The place exploded with laughter and cheers for the coolest guy at the party. Okay, that was a bit embellished, but come on—you can picture how cool this motherfucker was.


Your mustache may portray confident wit, as it did for just about every '90s anchorman, or mysterious genius, like it did for Sherlock Holmes, or perhaps it makes admirers think, “Whoa, I know that guy is drinking a piña colada at a night club, but see that mustache? Yeah, I wouldn’t mess with him.” Whatever the case, a solid stache always gives a strong impression of unpredictability.


Let’s move on to the soul patch. On a soul patch’s best day (which was probably sometime back in the '90s on Venice Beach), they are professional yet edgy. Perhaps there was even a time when they could have been considered avant-garde. On a bad day though, soul patches are trashy, weak, sorry excuses for facial hair. By themselves, they scream boy band. But despite the negatives, I’ve found that they can accent other facial hair growths very nicely. So, the soul patch I keep.


Goatees are a thought, though the real, raw, full-bodied goatees that you see on Hells Angels members or on cage fighters may be a little outside of what a lanky basketball player/writer like myself can pull off. There’s always the goatee scruff that we see on the red carpet with wannabe badass actors like Colin Farrell, but that just seems forced. Yet, I can’t throw the goatee out the window because I have to play to my facial-hair growing strengths, and the chin hair is of the best I got.


Sideburns can be very, very tricky. You certainly don’t want to offend Elvis, The King, with subpar sideburns. There’s also a comical style of sideburns like muttonchops, but chops with more beefiness than Warren Sapp eating Chunky Soup aren’t realistic in terms maintaining any sort of professionalism. At the same time, there is a style of sideburn that is a subtle extension of the hair, which I adore. These subtle sideburns let the world know, “I can grow facial hair, but I don’t feel the need to flaunt it. I’m cool, confident and, perhaps, well-endowed…”


There are so many faces of facial hair that must be fully evaluated scientifically and sociologically before I’m confident enough to wear them. The truth is, beards change us, and I really don’t want to find myself with legs crossed, commenting on topics that I know nothing about while stroking my beard. Waving a finger I’ll probably say something like, “ahhemm tisk, tisk Mr. Garey (my roommate). Your prior statement was awfully apropo, wouldn’t you say?” (In a 1920s, New York Times, thinking-I’m-more-well-versed-than-I-actually-am accent.)


But for now, I’ll be wearing ketchup on my face with pride.