At no other point in time has the beard looked so good. But a new study now warns that the more fashionable beards become, the less attractive they are to women.
Researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia found that women rated clean-shaven men more attractive after being shown a series of photos of bearded men. Likewise, women who were shown photos of clean-shaven men in succession then tended to find men with beards more attractive.
The study was conducted with 1,453 bisexual and heterosexual women who each looked at and responded to 36 images of men’s faces. The first 24 photos were exclusively bearded or clean-shaven men, while the remaining 12 were a mix of facial hairstyles. The women were then asked to rate the attractiveness of each man.
Overall, the study found that the rarer the trait, the more attractive it is. In scientific terms, this phenomenon is referred to as “negative frequency dependence.”
Lead researcher Robert Brooks told the Guardian Australia, “The bigger the trend gets, the weaker the preference for beards and the tide will go out again. We may well be at peak beard.”
Beards have become increasingly popular in recent years, so much so that surgeons have even reported a surge in interest in facial hair transplants. However, another study published in the journal Biology Letters suggests that a trend reversal may be just around the corner.
“These trends usually move in 30-year cycles from when they are first noticed but, with the internet, things are moving a lot faster,” said Brooks.
But despite research, beard supporters claim that the UNSW study is “one dimensional” and makes “heterosexist assumptions about who men with beards might be attractive to.”
Beard Liberation Front founder Keith Flett told the Telegraph, “Many men have beards for reasons entirely unrelated to sexual attraction, sometimes even the most basic one of not being bothered to shave. There is no actual evidence that beards have peaked or are in decline as a fashion statement or anything else.”
Researchers at UNSW are now working on a follow-up study that focuses on the link between facial hair and masculinity.
“We still don’t really know the primary function of the beard,” Brooks explained. “Some women are attracted to it, some are repelled. It is clear it is a sign of manliness, it makes men look older and also more aggressive. How much women like that depends, in a way, on how overtly masculine they like their men.”
Whether we’re at peak or not, it seems beards won’t be going out without a fight.
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