Masculine Backlash Against the Metro-Sexual Male
Scientists at the University of New South Wales decided to test this hypothesis for men’s facial hair – recruiting volunteers on their Facebook site, The Sex Lab. In this experiment, 1,453 women and 213 men were asked to rate the attractiveness of different samples of men faces.
Some were shown mostly ‘full’ beards. Others were shown mostly clean-shaven faces. A third group of people were shown an even mixture of all the four varieties – clean-shaven, light stubble, heavy stubble and full beard men.
Both women and men judged heavy stubble and full beards more attractive when they were rare than when they were common. And likewise for clean-shaven faces.
In the 1970s it was handlebar moustaches. In the 80s it was Magnum PI moustaches. In the 90s we saw a lot of clean shaven men, and now again, big bushy beards are back. Both beards and clean-shaven faces became more appealing when they were rare, the research said. This pattern mirrors an evolutionary phenomenon of Darwin –
“Negative frequency-dependent sexual selection”, or to put it more simply “an advantage to rare traits”.
The bright colours of male guppies vary by this force – which is driven by females’ changing preferences. “Big thick beards are back with an absolute vengeance and so we thought underlying this fashion”, one of the dynamics that might be important is this idea of negative frequency dependence,” said Prof Rob Brooks, one of the study’s authors.
There is a wonderful paper studying photographs of men from 1871 to 1972 in the Illustrated London News. Sideburns moved on to moustaches, then full beards. The recent boom may have its roots in the financial crisis of 2008, Prof Brooks suggests. “I think one of the reasons beards have made a comeback now is that it’s a difficult time.
Young men are competing to attract someone when work is not easy to come by. So we might expect some aspects (of masculinity) to get turned up to eleven. One of the paradoxes of evolution is that genetically strong traits favoured by one sex do not simply become fixed in the other – a level of diversity is often maintained. Though beard styles in males are of course not spread via genes, there may be other visible human traits which are.
The more beards there are, the less attractive they become – giving clean-shaven men (metro-sexual) a competitive advantage, say scientists in Sydney, Australia. But, when more and more people get onto the bandwagon the value of being on the bandwagon diminishes, so that might be why we’ve hit ‘peak beard’.”
When “peak beard” frequency is reached, the pendulum swings back toward lesser-bristled chins – a trend we may be witnessing now, the scientists say in a published study . “Heavy stubble in males seemed to be the best in our last study. Maybe a 5 -10 day growth. But those describe average tendencies,” he said.
“Luckily in real life, we never mate with an average. We mate with an individual”.
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