I first noticed them about a decade ago: Men with beards. Something that had been a fashion faux pas for long rapidly became a common sight. From the streets of Berlin and Amsterdam to the beaches of Tel Aviv, beards budded everywhere. It wasn’t long before I made the leap and grew a beard myself. As strange as it may sound, the joy of seeing other men with beards was overwhelming. Seemingly out of the blue, men who were complete strangers eagerly complimented me, and the beard resulted in many a brotherly interaction.
And I witnessed something else happening around me. Thanks to the success of #MeToo and the LGBTQ rights movement, ideas of toxic and fragile masculinity started to permeate society. Reports showed that a lot of men didn’t identify with the images of masculinity that society had provided them with, and often ‘the male mind and body were in a turmoil of shame, pain and self-denial…’ (The Guardian, February 2022). As a queer person I could certainly relate, but my straight friends also started to speak out against the impossible expectations of masculinity that had shaped their lives.
Fashion reflects our times. On a sultry Berlin summer night, I reflected on the relationship between our current love of facial hair and our craving for healthier ways of being a man. I took to the streets looking for answers. First in my hometown, and later in other big cities like Amsterdam, London and Tel Aviv. I talked to hundreds of men, from all different ethnic, socio-economic, sexual and gender backgrounds. *
The men I encountered were brave enough to open up to me. While I listened, they shared the stories that have impacted their lives. About not being allowed to be vulnerable, about the loneliness of boys that will be boys and of boys that never cry. We talked about fathers. And about love.
They told me about their beards. About the ways they had found to subvert the norms in reclaiming power to fashion their own identities, in all its unique forms, often rife with contradictions and complexities. About how the act of growing and grooming has helped them to connect and to become the kind of men they envisioned themselves to be.
Beards of Berlin is a work in progress. If you would like to join our conversation, I’d love to hear from you.
Gideon Querido van Frank
* Straight and queer; cis, trans and non-binary; white and BIPoC.
Beards of Berlin is:
Gideon Querido van Frank (words), Elvin Boer (photos), Ilse Josepha Lazaroms (edits), Dave Nice (translations), Edwin Hanssen (design), Mark Prinsen (website), Bas van Haren (website).