On beards, taxes and the laws of attraction

It’s 5 September, the day back in 1698 when the good Tsar Peter the Great of Russia, in all his wisdom, decided the macho, fully bearded look sported by most of his fellow countrymen, was simply too out of touch with the times, and that Russian men really ought to follow the example of their European counterparts and cut their beards.

Rumour has it that, after returning from a trip to Europe where he was most impressed by the forward-thinking, clean-shaven Europeans, he personally cut off the beards of the men in his court. He obviously couldn’t take it upon himself to clear all the bearded Russians of their facial hair, so to make them take his request a little more seriously, he imposed a ‘beard tax’, announced on 5 September 1698, which meant that any man who opted to keep his beard would incur a hefty tax penalty. Luckily for the more rustic farmer-types, the tax was only imposed in the cities, so they could keep their beards while on the farm. If and when they needed to go to the city, however, they also had to shave, or pay a fine to keep their beards.

Bearded blokes actually had to carry with them a token showing that they had paid their beard tax. To further remind them of the silliness of their facial hair, the token was inscripted with the message “A beard is a useless burden”, or something to that effect.

Paying taxes to keep your beard is enough reason to be a bit depressed. And now it turns out the ladies don’t like ’em either…
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Turning to modern times, I recently came across the results of a study conducted by a team from Canada and New Zealand, investigating the reactions of men and women to bearded and beardless men. Nineteen men from New Zealand and Samoa were first photographed with 6-week old beards, in two sets of photographs – one where they looked serious, and another where they were asked to make an angry face. Their beards were then shaved off, and they were again photographed in the same poses. According to the feedback from respondents, women were more drawn to the beardless men, while men considered the bearded men to appear more important and imposing. So, it seems you have a choice – do you want to impress the guys, or charm the ladies?

Further in the same article, however, there’s mention of a study where the reactions of women to bearded men was extended to also include chaps with 5 o’clock stubble. It appears that this may be the magic option from the attraction point of view – as the article notes, it seems women like men who can grow beards, but don’t quite do. Perhaps these men are seen as suitably masculine, yet not quite out of touch with their feminine sides.

I have also found a report on a recent survey of more than 2,000 men and women conducted by Lynx, which gives some rather conclusive anti-beard statistics – while 63% of the men surveyed believed their facial hair improved their manliness and attractiveness, no less than 92% of the women preferred a clean-shaven man. In fact, 86% went so far as to say they found beards unattractive.

Perhaps that can be taken as some modern form of Peter the Great’s beard tax. In Tsar Peter’s case, men were allowed to keep their beards as long as they were willing to part with their money; nowadays you can keep your money, but you may well have to say goodbye to any romantic possibilities!

Read my lips – the invention of non-smear lipstick

Today we’re discussing a subject that’s on many women’s lips – we’re celebrating the birth of Hazel Bishop (17 Aug 1906 – 5 Dec 1998), an American chemist, cosmetic executive, and the inventor of non-smear lipstick.

The saying goes that “gentlemen prefer blondes”, but research shows that if her lipstick is red enough, he may not notice her hair.
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While the impact of this invention on the progress of humankind may be limited, it certainly left an indelible mark on the cosmetics industry.

Interestingly, it is said that Ms Bishop got the idea while working as an organic chemist for Standard Oil Development Company, after discovering the cause of deposits affecting superchargers of aircraft engines. She set about on a quest of relentless experimenting with various mixtures of staining dyes, oils, and molten wax until, in 1949, she perfected a lipstick that stayed on the lips better than any existing product available at the time.

Knowing she had a winner on her hands, she founded a cosmetics company, Hazel Bishop, Inc, manufacturing non-smear lipstick which was introduced to the public at $1 per tube. It proved a runaway success, with her company’s lipstick sales skyrocketing from $50 thousand in 1950 to $10 million in 1953.

Sadly, she lost control of the company in 1954 after a proxy fight with her stockholders. Not allowing this to get her down, she went on to start a research laboratory, became a stockbroker specialising in cosmetics stocks, and finally, in 1978, a professor at a fashion institute.

The story of lipstick is an interesting one. It’s use dates back to ancient times, with some very, uhm… interesting ingredients used. Ancient Egyptions used a mix of sea-based algae, iodine and bromine, while Cleopatra preferred the hue she got from the deep red pigment in crushed carmine beetles, with crushed ants used as a base. Over the years, ingredients used in lipstick have included beeswax, plant-based stains, fish scales (for a shimmering effect), deer tallow, and castor oil, to name just a few.

Through the ages, the use and acceptability of lipstick varied – in certain eras it was associated with high class and royalty, while other times saw its use confined to actors and prostitutes. Since the early 20th century, however, its use has become generally acceptable among all levels of society.

In a recent research project, studying men’s responses to women in the first 10 seconds after seeing them for the first time, researchers found that men are drawn to the lips more than any other facial feature. The extent to which the lips dominated their attention depended quite strongly on the use of lipstick.

In the case of a woman wearing prominent lipstick, men’s eyes would be fixated on the lips for between 6.7 seconds (pink lipstick) and 7.3 seconds (red lipstick) out of the first 10 seconds – less than one second was spent looking at her eyes, and even less studying her hair. Without make-up, men still paid attention to the lips, but in this case things were more balanced, with the gaze being shared almost equally between the lips, the eyes and the rest of the face.

It was found that men also preferred fuller lips, but the appeal of thin lips increased by 40% once lipstick had been applied.

It seems to me that the simplest solution to hiding any facial flaws is simply an abundant splash of red lipstick – men at least would seem unlikely to look at anything else. However, for women who consider their eyes and the rest of their faces worth looking at may want to hold back on the lipstick!

I cannot help but wonder whether the study focussed on only the first 10 seconds of the men’s gaze, because after this their attention moved to other parts of the anatomy? Perhaps that’s a topic for further research…