Label me if you must…but all this time I was just growing a beard to hide my weak chin.
“You look like a real man!” she exclaimed. I had just returned to my senior year of high school following Christmas break, donning, for the first time in my life, a chinstrap that fully connected and served to accentuate my undefined jawline.
“Oh, the chin strap? I just got lazy over break,” I casually responded. “It’s just something I’m trying out.”
Like most lies, this one was built on a foundation of insecurity and fortified with the uncertain arrogance only a sixteen year old possesses. I purposefully grew a chinstrap because a) I could and b) Jason Wahler from Laguna Beach had one and I think he got laid a lot. Nevertheless, it was the beginning of a long lineage of beards I would grow as my own.
Fast forward to November 2014, almost ten years later. I found myself at a bar in Soho for a co-worker’s going away party, drinking impossibly expensive Bud drafts and feigning interest in conversations about native ad revenue or something equally vapid when a young brunette approached me with unwavering aplomb; “Hi, I’m [insert name that I want to say was Lindsay here]. I just wanted to tell you that you have an amazing beard. I love this whole lumbersexual trend happening right now.”
“Lumbersexual?” I replied, caught off-guard by this confusingly neurotic sounding portmanteau. Initially, I thought she was insinuating I was aroused by trees or into lumberjacks. In retrospect, I kind of wish she was. A tree fetish is a much more interesting conversation topic than an inevitably fleeting fashion movement.
She explained that lumbersexual was a new trend, an off-shoot of Americana, where men wore unkempt beards, flannel shirts, and leather work boots even though they worked their days at a desk in the tech industry. I mustered up a playful smile as I looked down towards my feet. The same feet that were covered in Thorogood Leather Work boots even though they worked their days at a desk in the tech industry. I excused myself to the bathroom, where a half-broken graffiti-covered mirror put me face-to-face with reality: I was the epitome of lumbersexual.
My first reaction was to be combative. I would often conflate lethargy with righteousness when people asked about my bushy chin quilt, “Growing a beard is the most honest thing a man can do!” I’d passionately contend. In reality, I was just a lazy man with a weak chin. And my beard did an excellent job of serving both of those traits. Inevitably, once combativeness slowly gave way to acceptance, I realized decisions had to be made.
I often thought about shaving it all off, ridding my face of this newly fashionable, symbolic badge. I knew I wasn’t my job, but was I my facial hair? Realizing my identity was wholly entangled in my mouth mane, I was forced to come to terms with my own lumbersexuality. A lumbersexualness that wasn’t new or de rigueur, but one that had always existed deep within.
One phrase/lyric from the famed white man/Detroit resident Eminem wouldn’t stop resonating deep within my psyche: “I am whatever you say I am, if I wasn’t, then why would you say I am?” And guys, he was right. It didn’t matter what I thought about myself. All it took was one girl at an overpriced bar in Soho to brand me a lumbersexual, and I was, because it was her truth.
So go ahead and label me if it makes you feel better. Our world is frightening, and people often need to generalize and categorize in order to make sense of the chaos. Me? I suppose I find stability and comfort in my thick luxuriant flavor saver. After all, it’s the most honest thing a man can do.