an ode to beards

This is a post from Fraylie.  Remember her? She has occasionally written about the time right after college, for ETDC. She worked as a waitressconsidered grad school,  tried to get an office job, and went shopping for an appropriate outfit for interviews. When she did get an office job, she didn’t have time to write me awesome posts anymore, but just the other day, she sent me this one, about dating. Yay! Welcome back, Fraylie! 

I’m fairly new to New York City. I began my job in the West Village nine months ago, moved to Brooklyn six months ago, and began a semi-regular latte routine at a SoHo coffee shop about one month ago. When my friend introduced us, I shook hands with the barista and said pleasure to meet you. Then he smiled and replied the pleasure is all mine. It took five words for me to become hooked like a school girl. After many failed attempts on OKCupid, the novelty of meeting a kind human being in real life was overwhelming. I started to buy painfully expensive lattes twice a week, always making sure to tip, and blushing profusely during the few times I received the drink for free.

There’s a trickiness about the area South of Houston. As it seems, the space presents itself as a gated enclave for models cat walking between shoots. Light shines on their cheekbones as though higher powers hold a perpetual mirrored clamshell before their faces. Women purse their lips on Crosby Street just so. Their hair is coiffed in the perfect ballet bun. They wear fur and black leather. And there’s always a few of them curling their long arms down the wooden counter in the coffee shop.


At the tender age of twenty-three, I’ve only ever given my telephone number, without prompt, to a chef from Massachusetts and that barista. Both, irritatingly enough, look so similar to each other and to the insurmountably attractive stereotype of the urban woodsman that it makes me want to kick my shins and pull out their beard hairs. I don’t like to think that I’ve curated a “type,” but here we are.  Mast brothers, marry me.

To bring things to the next level of weird – I used to be terrified of beards.  Not bearded men, mind you. To my five year old mind, beards were possums in the daylight or that face-sucking creature from Aliens. The hair obscured what I probably imagined to be the “true” man behind the hair. And now I’ve found myself typing “beard” into the search field of OKCupid? I’m a walking stereotype.

It’s probably got something to do with facial hair signifying maturity, or at least the guise of being less of a man-child. It’s the idea that a man sporting a beard might harbor a bedrock of emotional sincerity while simultaneously possessing the ability to chop down maple trees and build a boat. A man with a beard is wild and loving. His imagined role in my life comes from the fictionalization of my increasing anxieties about age, companionship and living like an island in New York City.

But there are rules here. For instance, I find the perfectly twiddled mustache man to be an insincere pastiche of jazz-age swim trunk models. Either that, or he reminds me of the guy who ties the damsel to the train tracks. And please, no goatees or “soul patches.” What’s attractive is what my ex used to refer to as “inaction more than action.” The “maybe I’ll find a clan of gnomes or a small continent in there” kind of beard.

So, the beardy men with my phone number? The chef and I drank a beer at the bar of his restaurant, talked long into the night, and never spoke since. That was a year ago. The barista – well, I’m still waiting to see if anything comes of it. There’s only so much small talk to make when you visit a guy at work that the thought of just one more latte makes your pride shrivel up like a prune. (Did you know they’re rebranding prunes as dried plums so as to tackle the snack’s octogenarian association? Really, look it up.)

I wonder who else he has given free lattes to. It’s one thing when the SoHo women exist on the glossy pages of magazines and the flickering soft-core banner ads of popular blogs. In those moments, improbably thin and beautiful women are cast into the realm of the uncanny and the mechanizations of Photoshop, image culture and media frenzy. They are easily dismissed as not real. Yes, these depictions produce wholly real reactions in everyday life – little girls are marketed bikinis at the age of seven, ladies begin to believe that flowers from a man imply she must give sex in return, and terrible things like this happen between mothers and daughters. Sometimes people lose faith in bearded baristas.

I’m not downplaying the media’s bastardization of female sexuality or its implications on women today. I get that. What I mean to say is that it’s different when these women are standing right next to you, in a coffee shop, flirting with the one guy whose free lattes and statement of well if you have a long train ride, does that mean you’ll think of me supposedly signify a mutual connection.

I’m sure these women are wonderful creatures. I know nothing of their private lives, and I do not mean for this to be an attack on pretty girls. This is simply a way to talk about how a five foot seven inch girl weighing in at a whopping one hundred and thirty pounds can feel short and pudgy in the shadow of beauty ideals legging around in designer jeans. That it takes the physical presence of such a woman to make me feel viscerally unnerved while the two dimensional reproductions evoke a laugh or an eye roll. If I can project a fear of insincerity onto a man’s jawline, I can most certainly project a fear of my own body onto the bodies of others. It’s just the greatest when both anxieties conflate in a small space where the heat is turned up, and I’m slowly blushing under far too many layers of clothing.

So what is there to take away from this? Perhaps it’s just the realization that anxieties often surface during loose examinations of trend spotting and beauty culture. (I dare you to stare into the intricate swirls of a thick black beard and not notice something staring back. Eat that, Roland Barthes.) Conversely, perhaps I have too much spare time at work and should just chill out, have a ladies night or something. Either way, I think I’ll put a moratorium on that coffee shop and its bearded barista because he still hasn’t called. Beyond the possibility of sharing a moment of flirtation in the face of women I deem so much more physically appealing, there’s no good reason for coffee after five, right?

*  *  *

Fraylie’s unroast: Today I love my legs in white jeans and leather boots.

Updated bio: Fraylie is a girl living in Brooklyn. She works in marketing by day and is a writer and a photographer by night. She really enjoys butter cream cupcakes and making eye contact with strangers.


Kate on February 16th 2012 in beauty, guest post, relationships

11 Responses to “an ode to beards”

  1. Melanie responded on 16 Feb 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    I, too, have a love of the beard. I am inexplicably drawn to Zach Galifianakis. I know a lot of that has to do with the beard.

    I am betting that some of those “thin women in designer jeans” are looking at you and thinking what you are thinking about them. “What an impossibly pretty woman. This barista is in no way interested in me when she’s sitting there.” Even if you don’t believe it, that thought is going through the mind of almost every woman, everywhere, at one moment or another.

    Great guest post.

  2. Isabel responded on 16 Feb 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    I used to hate beards as well but as I grow up, I find that I like them as well. I think it makes the difference between a teenage boy, and a man.
    Melanie is so right too! Even if you are on the other side, being tall and super skinny you always think someone else is better, maybe they are wishing that they could bring themselves to eat cupcakes and drink lattes instead of black coffee and celery, without feeling guilty.

  3. Beauzeaux responded on 16 Feb 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    ETDC Educational Technology Development Center (A.T. Still University; Arizona)
    ETDC Expeditionary Theater Distribution Center (part of an Air Force test where Airmen can deploy from their home)
    ETDC Electronic Test and Development Centre
    ETDC English Teaching Development Course (Australia)

    A clue, please? Because I don’t have one.

  4. Krystina responded on 16 Feb 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    B. Eat the damn cake.
    I love a guy with a full beard. I use to think that I was weird but now, not so much. :)

  5. Kellie responded on 16 Feb 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    ETDC Eat The Damn Cake

    Fraylie, your writing is sublime, the descriptions highly satisfying and very relatable. Though I am a woman in her late 40′s living in safely suburbia, I feel like I am there with you! All I can say is I am thankful I don’t have to deal with models in coffee shops on a regular basis, if ever, and I like the idea of the possibilities that gnomes reside in beards. I am going to have to look more closely the next time I see one. And I am going to try that eye contact with strangers thing too!

  6. katie responded on 16 Feb 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    Though beards do nothing for me (since I’m a lady’s lady), I totally connect with the feeling of constant comparison to those lithe beauties wandering about and making me feel chunky and unkempt.

  7. Jo responded on 17 Feb 2012 at 5:19 am #

    Fraylie, you and Kate are such eloquent writers. Thank you!

    I’ve always found beards a bit bizarre, I think it’s the thought of them getting in the way of kissing!

    And why is it that it’s women who sap the confidence of women, albeit often unintentionally?

    Or is it that we allow our confidence to be sapped?

    My “gremlin” looks like Rene Russo in her character in the Thomas Crown Affair – much like the women you describe here. Keeping it in its box is a constant challenge, but I must if I want to live fully.

  8. Sooz responded on 18 Feb 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    Ummm….Fraylie….your picture leads me to believe that you are beautiful and have no need to feel insecure around anyone…though I do understand how you feel. :)

  9. an ode to beards, or all the women from soho are from outer space | paralleling responded on 22 Feb 2012 at 9:19 am #

    [...] Originally featured on [...]

  10. lauren responded on 27 Feb 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    beautifully written piece! also, bearded baristas? sigh. my first crush in college was a gorgeous bearded barista. still not over it.

  11. Eat the Damn Cake » co-independence responded on 18 Apr 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    [...] This is a guest post from Fraylie. I love the way she writes, which is why I have her on here so often. [...]