“Evolution: it’s a thing,” is one of my favorite video lines on the internet.
My trivia team took a turn for the biological last night. About ten minutes after I sat at the table and started chatting with my computer sciencey teammates, the conversation came to beards. Specifically, my teammates wanted to know if I knew why men grow beards.
And I thought about it. It turns out that I do not.
It’s an interesting question. Vast swaths of the world’s men don’t grow beards, for one–so it’s not like the bearded have outcompeted their clean shaven brethren. There are no survival rations stored in facial hair.
In addition, growing a beard requires time and energy that doesn’t really do anything. The beard (unlike pubic hair and pits) doesn’t store pheromones. Best we could tell, beards are just some sort of secondary sexual characteristic that can get selected for if women perceive it as manly (thus explaining Burt Reynolds).
So, you know, go beards! (Except not. Bearded musicians aside, not a fan.)
As we had a few more minutes to kill before the trivia game started (and as I didn’t care about the discussion concerning golf courses that my teammates had moved on to), I looked on the internet, adding “why do men grow beards?” to “Japanese apple,” “on vanity plastic surgery,” and “removing green from jewelry,” in my recent search history.*
And the internet delivered unto the trivia team the best beard theory of them all:
A bushy beard also may make a man appear larger, cushion his face against blows in a fight, and hide scars from previous altercations. (emphasis mine)
There is something uniquely delightful to me about the idea that beards evolved due to bar fights. Evolution, like life in a small Northeastern fishing community in a bad novel, is full of drunken brawling. God bless us, every naturally-selected one.
* Here’s hoping the US never subpoenas my records.