Illustration by Sibel Ergener

I Have Reverse Beard-Envy

In my Persian family, scruff is the opposite of cool

I learned to shave when I was 13 years old, when there was hardly any hair on my face—just a few pube-like strands. Most high school boys use their pathetic whiskers to try to flex a not-yet-potent masculinity, but not me—I wanted my milk mustache gone as soon as the hairs began to seek refuge on my upper lip.

Before you beardless, whiny, forever-pubescent men judge me, understand that this indignation toward my own facial hair is not instinctual—it was learned. Like young girls taught to shave their legs and armpits, I gathered at an early age that beards were bad — or rather, that they brought up bad memories, from what my parents and grandparents would call a bad time.

In my family, facial hair is a symbol of the religious fanatics who drove them out of their home in Iran and forced them to begin a new life in the U.S. It represents the 1979 Revolution and riots in the streets of Tehran. The bearded man is the man who overthrew their king and upended their way of life. It’s why I’ve never seen my dad sporting a five-o’clock shadow. It’s why my grandfather—who can hardly walk, and who can only breathe using an oxygen tank—still makes the time to shave his beard. It’s why my other grandfather whistles every single morning as he liberates himself of facial hair.

Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Iranian Revolution

Sometimes I get lazy, and after a few days the stubble starts to feel good, manly. Friends and colleagues who don’t understand my beard baggage tell me I should keep it growing, so I do. And it feels rebellious, like getting a detention for a dress code violation. Then, with a single look, my grandpa will remind me that if I loved him, really loved him, I wouldn’t let it grow for one more day.

It’s sad because by nearly any standard, my beard is what you might call perfect. It grows quickly and evenly; the hairs are straight, soft, and of a single color. And in the right light, the tips shimmer as though glittered with gold. Nearly every forum, article and advertisement I’ve seen suggests that I may in fact be the only unappreciative asshole on the planet who’s ever complained about being able to grow a fully fleshed-out beard.

None of this is to say that I’ve never tried. In fact, as of writing this, I’m currently flexing a mid-life Logan in preparation for a ski trip. But getting to this point hasn’t been easy, nor free of disappointed looks.

This is what it feels like to grow a beard you wish you didn’t have.

Week 1: My mom struggles to tell me that she hates stubble on most men, but on me, she “kinda likes it.” But this is my mother; she would still love me if I got a teardrop tattooed on my face.

Week 2: I go to dinner at my maternal grandparents’ house. My grandma kisses me on the cheek but as she pulls away she makes an offhanded complaint, in the absolute most heartbreakingly sweet tone, about how fuzzy my now-overgrown stubble is. I go to greet my grandfather, who’s sitting in his chair. Before I can speak, he motions me in close for what I think may be a dying man’s final wish. “I have a fresh blade in the bathroom. Use it,” he says with a smirk.

Week 3: My paternal grandparents are having dinner at my dad’s house, and I’m late joining them. As I walk down the stairs, scratching the left side of my now-full beard, I wonder for a moment what it would feel like to shear the hair on my face with my fingernails. Too late. I see my grandfather smile at me like a loving father whose son has just informed him that he plans to be an artist and has no intention of taking over the family business. “Sorry,” I say, giving him a kiss on the cheek and a hug that’s grossly overcompensating.

Week 4: At this point, I can hardly look at myself without cringing; I hate this beard. It’s dark and full of terrors. I meet my dad for dinner. His face is perfectly smooth, likely the result of his second shave of the day. He doesn’t say anything about my beard; he never does. But he knows what I’ve known all along… it’s time to cut the shit.