Grooming the Face in the Early Middle Ages

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In the contemporary world, the significance and associations of facial hair are plain to see, but nonetheless complex for that. Though the years after c.2010 have seen an unexpected return of the beard to western fashion, by early in 2015 something of a backlash against such 'hipsters' had begun. In the context of radical Islam too, Orientalist perceptions of beards should not be overlooked (Awan and Zempi 2015; Culcasi and Gokmen 2011); facial hair is an easy touchstone for the 'Othering' of ethnic groups (see Pohl 1998; Said 1978).

Moreover, traditional attitudes regarding whether men in positions of power should sport beards have continued to hold traction in the west; the USA has not had a president with facial hair since W.H. Taft (1857–1930), while the last US Head of State to sport a full beard was Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901). In the UK, the response to the reporter Jeremy Paxman growing one was forthright (Marsden 2013). So deep-seated is the western world's association between trustworthiness, professionalism, and a clean-shaven chin that it is easy to think that this is natural, a human universal. But one need only look back to the 19th century to see that it has not always been so, even in Europe and North America, where the advent of the safety razor provides an excellent case study in the inextricability of technological and social change (Herzig 2015, 119-27).
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternet Archaeology
Publication statusPublished - 21 Nov 2016

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