Survival Of The Trimmest

Cartoon man holding a razor in front of his face

My younger son experienced his first shave the other day. He is fourteen and starting to show faint shading above his lip. It is no longer a milk mustache, as he claims.

I pity him. For most of his life he will now be hacking up his delicate skin with sharp blades of finely machined carbon steel.

Shaving is a barbaric custom that has become ritualized thanks to the vanity of man and the Gillette Company. Surprisingly, man has been shaving since the dawn of time. I guess this explains why most men still shave in the morning.

Primitive drawings discovered in dark, underarm caves in France, depict hairy Neanderthals with unibrows violently thrashing and scraping their faces with flint. Later, Homo sapiens, who were a bit more fit for survival, sharpened the rocks first.

Finally, when man discovered copper could be worked fine and attached to lethal projectiles, he took to manufacturing sharp razor blades to remove his daily stubble before slicing up his less than fit, barber-less barbarians.

Ironically, Charles Darwin didn’t shave. He suggested that facial hair evolved because it demonstrated power and virility, thereby helping ugly men attract women. While this is an interesting theory, it doesn’t explain why I shave everyday and have a beautiful wife and children.

It also doesn’t explain why I have hair on my back.

Despite the evolutionary implications, over time, the popularity of hairless skin has come and gone like the broad stroke of a razor. It has been said that refined Egyptians plucked their faces clean hair by hair, that Alexander the Great ordered his men to shave away hairy handholds for battle, and that the clean Native Americans inspired the English Puritans to explore bikini wax.

And of course, in between we had important bearded role models like Moses, Jesus, Mohammad, Abraham Lincoln, Santa Claus, and ZZ Top.

Nowadays, for men, the decision to shave is dictated by religious beliefs, cultural preferences, class distinctions, hygienic beliefs, and vanity.

For married men, to shave or not to shave is also dictated by their wives.

And for older men, to shave or not to shave is dictated by their willingness to care.

But ultimately, the decision to shave comes down to a single question inspired by Darwin: Do the chicks dig our faces?

All kidding aside, let’s face it: shaving is a dangerous vanity sport. It requires products, preparation, patience, and performance to remove facial hair. This explains why I often leave the house with small wads of blood blotted tissue scabbed to my face in the morning.

Don’t believe me?

Here is a list of common shaving supplies: shaving brush, shaving soap, hot water, razor, sharp blades, tweezers, alcohol, after shave lotion, moisturizing creams, tissue paper, Band-Aids, and tourniquets.

Here is a list of ways in which facial hair is removed: razored, plucked, tweezed, scraped, waxed, lasered, electrolyzed, and napalmed.

Here is a list of potential shaving hazards: razor burns, razor bumps, ingrown hairs, nicks, cuts, abrasions, pockmarks, scars, radiation burns, infections, and death.

Of course, when I introduced my son to shaving I didn’t tell him any of this. In fact, I let him ease into the ritual by sacrificing an electric shaver.

I personally don’t like to use electric razors because I don’t really need the added threat of being electrocuted each time I assault my face. But for his first time shaving, a handheld electronic device was a little more accessible.

I told him it was nothing more than an iPhone Ap. After years of warning him not to run with scissors, I didn’t think it was appropriate to let him experiment on his face with a razor blade.

Like many men, I learned to shave by imitating my father. When I was a curious kid he handed me a shaver with the dangerous double edge blade removed. I lathered my face with soap leaving only my lips, nose, and ears exposed. I methodically stroked the cream from my face with the harmless instrument, exposing swaths of soft fleshy skin down to my jaw line, then up under my chin.

When I was finished I warmed and cleaned my delicate face with a steaming wet washcloth. Then, like the commercials, I stroked my ultra smooth chin inspecting my face left then right in the mirror.

“Take it off. Take it all off,” I said, inspired by the sexy Swedish Noxema cover girl I had seen on TV.

My dad, in the mean time, was bleeding profusely at the neighboring sink. That is when I learned the art of applying stinging astringents and tissue paper to my face.

Years later, after college and already tired of the shaving ritual, I attempted a beard and a mustache. I didn’t date much then. Or at all for that matter.

That is why I want my son to shave.

Because one day, despite the daily threat to his survival, I want to become a grandfather.