If we want to understand this relatively new word manscaping, men’s *beards are not the only things we need to know about. Manscaping, a word in use since 2003, means the trimming or removal of body hair for the purpose of enhancing a man’s appearance. The word is a mixture of the words man with landscape. And it is what a lot of cool guys are practicing nowadays, and also an excellent way for barbers to renew their professional skills in creative ways and also charge higher prices.
Moustaches grow by themselves during a certain developmental stage in adolescent males. It’s what men do with them that make moustaches interesting. They have gone through a variety of phases of acceptance and rejection, just like beards. Moustaches have been around for thousands of years. We can see Egyptian princes depicted with moustaches dating back to 2500 BCE. But to begin with more recent history, moustaches were important enough that in the late 15th centuries and early 16th centuries, some of the medieval knights had their armor made with moustache compartments to accommodate them. I can only imagine that the steamy interior of their helmets hydrated their moustaches efficiently.
When you visit a museum and see all those portraits of men painted between 1500 and 1600, you are going to have a hard time finding one without facial hair, and that would most likely be both a beard and a moustache. That was a period in history when people of both genders were practicing bloodletting and purging to cure themselves of just about everything. And many people came to believe that facial hair was actually a form of excreta, in other words, a waste material generated by the masculine body. And people thought that was a result of heat in the testicles. Facial hair probably became linked to masculinity because of this belief that facial hair was linked to men’s testicles.
When the British Beard Tax was levied in 1535, the cultivation of moustaches flourished. When Russian Emperor Peter I did the same thing in 1698, more moustaches began to proliferate. The Russian tax wasn’t lifted until 1772.
But things had changed a little before that in other countries and a clean-shaven face became the new look as a sign of open minded, enlightened thinkers. When steel began to be mass-produced in the mid-1800s, it resulted in new shaving blades for men and heavy advertising campaigns to accompany them with messages to shave everything “on philosophical principles.”
However, there was one exception because of a popular British poet named Lord Byron, who was kind of a bad boy poet-revolutionary. He became a celebrity poet in Europe in the early 1800s and it happened that he used a very slender moustache, different from anything that other men were using at that time. He led a short but flamboyant life, filled with daring deeds and love affairs with both men and women, including his half sister. But he was also a leader in the Romantic Movement. Probably the fact that he went against the tide with his moustache just as did in just about everything else in his life was one of the reasons he was so popular. He died when he was only 36, but his Byronic moustache style was popular long after his death.
The Anglo-Russian War also promoted the comeback of moustaches because the British military decided to rebrand itself with a more masculine image. They invoked a moustache regulation, and British soldiers were not allowed to shave their upper lips. At first it was relatively well accepted because the British Military were seen as conquerors and explorers, and this encouraged men all over the world to imitate their moustaches. But after that rule was finally revoked in 1908, British (and European) men didn’t want to grown moustaches for quite a while.
Adolf Hitler came into the spotlight in the mid 1900s, using a “toothbrush” moustache. After he became the most hated man in world history, most men began to boycott his moustache style. Another personality of the mid 1900s, Salvador Dalí, seems to have been known as much for his moustache as for his Surrealist paintings. In 1954, he published a book dedicated solely to his moustache. When his body was exhumed in 2017 because of a paternity suit, guess what? His famous moustache was still intact, proving that can take some things with you.
About the time that the women’s rights movement of the 1960s took off, having a moustache began to symbolize rugged masculinity. American movies also influenced moustache styles; thin Italian-style moustaches made popular by gangster and mafia movies, the sinister Fu Manchu moustaches and etc.
Some members of gay communities adopted full moustaches, such as singer Freddie Mercury in the 1970s. It made sense for Freddie, who was born in Zanzibar and named ફારોખ બલસારા (Farrokh Bulsara) to use that big moustache. Because of the 1964 Revolution, Freddie and his family fled Zanzibar when he was 17 and immigrated to England. After he co-founded the rock band Queen in 1971, it was only natural that he would grow a mustache that looked like the ones that had been popular in the parts of the world where he had spent his childhood.
Freddie Mercury’s parents were born in India, a country where a man’s facial hair is a sign of his virility. Freddie was born in Africa, but he spent lot of time in India as a child. The British Raj had ended just a year after Freddie was born. That was the period between 1858 and 1947 when Great Britain ruled India. And that was also the period when British officers began to cultivate a lot of facial hair. The British arrived in India clean-shaven, but had problems maintaining authority because they were not seen as manly because of their lack of facial hair. They began to grow moustaches and other facial hair to gain respect of their troops, and that is the India that Freddie saw when he attended boarding school there.
As a rock star, Freddie Mercury was three things; flamboyant, gay and successful. Some say that his very masculine moustache, mixed with his devil-may-care attitude, opened doors for gay men to adopt whatever image they felt comfortable with and his moustache in particular gave his gay fans a kind of elasticity to display the masculinity that was hidden inside their femininity.
Of course there were countless gay men who used moustaches before this period, but for the most part, they were not very open about their sexual orientation or as high profile as Freddie Mercury was. Freddie Mercury did wonders for moustaches, music and attitudes towards homosexuality.
Tattoos have been around for more than 5,000 years. Egyptians, for example, used tattoos to differentiate between peasants and slaves, a kind of social branding. But ink art, which is what some fans like to call tattooing, has really exploded in the past 25 years. But not all of us have succumbed to this fad. And many of us who don’t have a tattoo have a favorite mug. Having a tattoo or becoming attached to a mug are not dissimilar. According to research, 60% of Americans say they have an emotional attachment to a favorite mug. And about 40% said their special mug was irreplaceable, and about 1/3 of those said they would be devastated if it broke. Personally, I think that most of these people don’t have tattoos. Mugs and tattoos are both an extension of our personalities, and both express the way we would like the world to perceive us. That is not to mention, of course, that those of us who have tattoos or mugs are often irrationally attached to them.