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EDITIONS
Monday, 18 November, 2002, 12:23 GMT
Are you a beardist?
Robbie Coltrane from Harry Potter
Has Robbie Coltrane betrayed the bearded?
Did you go to see the new Harry Potter film over the weekend? You could have been unwittingly supporting beardism, say facial hair campaigners.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets may seem like a spot of harmless family fun, but the film could set back the cause of beard wearers at a vital time of year for the long-suffering hirsute man.

The Beard Liberation Front (BLF) objects to the "obviously false" facial hair sported by Robbie Coltrane and the late Richard Harris in the fantasy movie.

Such "end of a broom" fakes give beardists ample ammunition to taunt bearded men, who are particularly targeted for abuse in the run-up to Christmas.


Karl Marx
History of beards:
  • Beards, fake and real, were fashionable in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome
  • 4th Century BC: Alexander the Great ordered his soldiers to shave to avoid having their beards seized during combat
  • 1587: Sir Francis Drake boasted to Elizabeth I that his raid on Cadiz harbour "singed the King of Spain's beard"
  • 1895: William Gillette's invention of safety razor put beards in greater peril
  • 1960s: CIA said to have considered using depilatory on Castro to rob "El Barbudo" of his famous beard
  • "The Santa season is the worst time of the year for beard wearers," says Keith Flett, driving force of the BLF. "The taunts from children and comments we get from White Van Man get worse."

    While the BLF let the first Harry Potter film open without protest, the continued lack of real beards in the second instalment has prompted it to call a boycott. Well, almost.

    "Some BLF supporters said they would be given hell by their children if they weren't taken to see Harry Potter," says Mr Flett, who since his teens has worn a "Karl Marx" beard (once cruelly called a "garden gnome affair" by the Evening Standard).

    "Now we're just asking our few hundred supporters to hiss and boo when the fake beards come on the screen."

    Though the BLF admits its rather shambolic boycott is "light-hearted", there is a serious side, says Mr Flett.

    It is argued that beard wearers not only face mockery in the streets, but more entrenched discrimination - so-called "beardism".

    Labour Party strategists advised Frank Dobson to shave off his beard if he wanted to win the 2000 London mayoral election. He told them to "get stuffed", and lost.

    Get ahead, lose the beard

    Coincidence? A survey in the image-conscious United States suggested bearded politicians polled 5% fewer votes than clean-shaven opponents.

    A beard can also be a bar to holding even humble posts, like manning the supermarket deli counter. In 2001, an employment tribunal upheld Waitrose's right not to employ bearded men on food counters because facial hair posed a "significant" health risk to customers.

    Beardism is also permissible in TV adverts, said the Independent Television Commission when it dismissed 25 complaints about a commercial suggesting the perfect world would be free of facial hair.

    Frank Dobson MP
    Lose the beard, Mr Dobson? "Get stuffed!"
    "The content of the advertisement was too far-fetched to be taken seriously and unlikely to cause deep or widespread offence," the ITC ruled.

    However the Home Office has reportedly woken up to beardism, asking its managers to consider prejudice against facial hair as a form of discrimination.

    Beards have ritual significance in several religions, a symbolic importance which has come into sharper focus in the wake of 11 September.

    Following a spate of racist attacks, some American Sikhs reportedly shaved to avoid being mistaken for Muslims, who bore the brunt of public anger about the al-Qaeda terror attacks.

    Free to shave

    The Taleban's much-vaunted enthusiasm for facial hair meant that when the regime fell, Afghan men celebrated their freedom to shave again.

    Taleban and al-Qaeda suspects taken by the Americans to Camp X-Ray also lost their beards involuntarily - something criticised by some observers of the detention camp.

    Beard facts
    Men have about 15,000 facial hairs
    Beards grow about five inches a year
    Even in more normal prisons, inmates are fighting for their beard rights. In California, Orthodox Jews and Muslims are opposing a ban on facial hair - imposed after a prisoner fooled guards and escaped San Diego County jail by removing his customary beard.

    The BLF says its campaign doesn't stop at the chin. It is defending the rights of all people not to be judged on their appearance or forced to dress and groom in a way dictate by others.

    So the BLF defends anyone's decision to hid their face under whiskers? "Well, it might help our cause if Richard Branson shaved his beard off," says Mr Flett.


    Spot the beard

    (Get the answers by placing your cursor over the picture. Alternatively, answers in full are at the bottom of the page.)

    1. Which one are Ali G?

    A. Michael (Beppe) Greco, B. Sasha (Ali G) Baron Cohen, C. Craig David

    2. Which one is George Bernard Shaw?

    A. George Bernard Shaw, B. Charles Darwin, C. Buster (Uncle Albert) Merryfield

    3. Which one is Brian Blessed?

    A. Brian Blessed, B. BBC recreation of what Jesus might have looked like, C. Star Wars' Chewbacca

    4. Which one is a government minister?

    A. Sir Richard Branson, B. Brad Pitt, C. Leader of the House of Commons, Robin Cook MP

    Answers

    1. A. Michael (EastEnder's Beppe) Greco, B. Sasha (Ali G) Baron Cohen, C. Craig David

    2. A. George Bernard Shaw, B. Charles Darwin, C. Buster (Only Fools and Horses' Uncle Albert) Merryfield

    3. A. Brian Blessed, B. A BBC recreation of what Jesus might have looked like, C. Star Wars' Chewbacca

    4. A. Sir Richard Branson, B. Brad Pitt, C. Leader of the House of Commons, Robin Cook MP

    Have you experienced beardism? Some of your comments so far:

    I don't understand other people's problem with beards. Beards are a natural feature of the adult male human. Scraping mine off makes me look silly and makes my face sore so I leave it alone (although I do trim it and tidy its edges). For anyone else who can't live with that, it's their own problem.
    Phil, UK

    Every time I shave my beard off (about once every two years) I'm told to grow it back. So I'm getting it in reverse!
    Jason Hutchinson, UK

    Sorry, but as a child I read "The Twits", so I find beards a definate turn off!
    Sarah, UK

    I have indeed experienced beardism in the two months since I stopped shaving. I have learnt to put up with comparisons with famous or infamous beard wearers from friends and family, but when a complete stranger at my barber's told me I looked like an infamous mass murderer from the 1970s I had to rethink. Beards certainly invite unthinking prejudice and a cheap laugh.
    Austin Lane, UK

    There's a mobile phone advert at present that condones beardism. In an multicultural society - with many religions that require men to grow beards - this discrimination should be regarded in the same way as sexism or racism.
    James, UK

    Upon changing career from teaching - where a beard had never been a problem - to IT. I had several interviews over a period of weeks without any success. I shaved my beard off and was offered a job at the next three interviews. Coincidence?
    Eddie, UK

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    See also:

    12 Mar 00 | Politics
    18 Nov 02 | Entertainment
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