Highlands & Islands

Face saving: When beards are more than a lifestyle choice

Sean Conway
Image caption Sean Conway at the end of his Land's End to John O'Groats swim

For some people having a beard is much more than a simple decision for a change from being clean shaven.

More than 130 days after embarking on an epic swim, Sean Conway emerged from the chilly Pentland Firth looking like a shipwrecked Viking.

Water dripped from a full, red beard as he strode ashore at John O'Groats having swum the length of the UK coastline from Land's End.

And it seemed that his hirsute look - he was clean shaven when he set off from Cornwall in June - was something he needed to explain away pretty quickly.

After answering a couple of questions from the waiting media at John O'Groats about how he felt, he told reporters of his encounters with jellyfish.

Image caption Sean Conway was clean shaven when he set off from Land's End

"I had to grow a ridiculous beard to stop the stings," he added, explaining that the thick wiry hair of his beard had acted like shield against the creatures' stinging tentacles.

Others have grown, or sported fake, beards in the face of adversity.

In 2007, the Royal Air Force Regiment relaxed its restriction on the growing of beards in preparation for a deployment to Afghanistan.

Elements of RAF Lossiemouth's 5 Force Protection Wing (5FP) were preparing to spend six months defending Kandahar airfield.

Beards are considered to be a sign of status in the country and the air force hoped that allowing some of its personnel to grow them would boost relations.

Royal Marines were also sporting beards during tours in Afghanistan for the same reason.

Growing a beard is contrary to RAF regulations, but the wing asked permission from higher up the chain of command.

A senior officer said at the time: "British personnel who have served in Afghanistan, particularly in the south of the country, found that a beard represents strength and virility and also age.

Image caption A feminist group in France wear fake beards to make a statement against inequality

"When guys were out on patrol it was found that Afghans would go to the guy with the beard because they considered him to be the elder."

The RAF gunners were given three weeks to try and grow a beard.

A parade was then held and the commanding officer selected 14 with the best growth.

A group of French feminists has chosen to fight inequality with sarcastic humour and fake beards.

Called La Barbe, the group's members infiltrate high-level, male-dominated meetings.

During the proceedings they get to their feet and silently don false beards before one of them reads out an ironic statement congratulating the men on their supremacy.

The emphasis on facial hair ridicules antiquated male attitudes, according to the group.

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