If facial fuzz is a symbol of masculinity, why are the most masculine of men hairless?
I am not a superhero comic book or film nut, but, with the whirlwind of superhero films releasing around us every year, I can hardly ignore these dudes. And that made me wonder — while we are compiling our grooming special, discussing beard waxes and handlebar moustaches, why are all superheroes clean shaven?
Well, okay, not all. Tony Stark (Iron Man) has a French beard, as does Aquaman. Dr. Strange sports a little fuzz, too, and Wolverine has his beastly scruff (does he count as a superhero or a mutant?), but that’s about it. Barring Iron Man, none of the rest are mainstream superhero characters or successful movie franchises. Why does Superman not have a beard? Or Batman? I can understand that Spiderman might have some problems stuffing his beard into that body suit, but what about Captain America? Why not a moustache, at least? Even Thor, who mythologically has a Hagrid-like beard (he is a Norse God, people), has been reduced to a measly stubble. None of the male superheroes, from Flash to Green Lantern, to the old ones like He-Man and Phantom, ever had facial hair.
What meaning do we attach to facial hair? Someone who is free-spirited, a lone wolf, maybe anti-establishment? And because all these dudes want to restore status quo, perhaps they cannot be portrayed as hipster and non-conforming? Batman is pally with the police and Superman is seen as an ally of the President — are they an extension of the government, and thus in some way possessed of the need to project a certain similarity? If you think about it, the last American president to sport any facial hair during his term in the Oval Office was Teddy Roosevelt (1901-1909). Are superheroes, thus, seen as a fictional/utopian extension of the POTUS? Now, that’s what I call a conspiracy theory.
When I was reading up about this stuff online, many chat threads referred to the fact that superheroes have to maintain a secret identity, so sporting a beard is not an option. I doubt spotting-true-identity is the problem here — it is the global idea of male beauty that is at play. A superhero is the ideal man — what Hindu mythology refers to as the maryada purushottam. If you look at Hindu mythological characters (the desi Indian superheroes), you’ll notice that most of them don’t have facial hair either. Globally, the ideal man is fair (which is why most superheroes are white), tall and broad-shouldered, with crisply-cut hair and a shaved visage. Take the example of Disney Prince Charmings — they are all white, ripped and baby-faced. Even Tarzan (I have no idea how) is clean shaven. Growing hair or beards is seen as being unruly, unkempt and disorganised. MNCs around the world force employees to adhere to this construct of physical appearance. Hence, tattoos can only be done in areas that are covered by the shirt. While the “hipster” might be a raging style fad, from superheroes to mid-level executives, men are still feeding into the normative.
One of the superhero nerds I met online did make one valid point — that the artists wanted children to relate to the characters. Children generally associate facial hair with their fathers and adults and so, because the artists wanted kids to latch on to these characters (and drive their parents mad for the merchandise and the movies), making them relatable seemed like the easiest plan. Every white kid in a Superman costume for Halloween would look like Superman, right? Genius.
After all this, the only conclusion I can come to is that superheroes are products of cunning marketing strategies, dashes of racism, unrealistic standards of beauty and prejudices about certain lifestyles and appearances. This is why I don’t buy into this juvenile crap. And you thought this would be some silly rant about Batman not having a beard.