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Why Singaporean Men Are So Obsessed With Growing Beards And Why I Chose To Shave Mine Off

How to grow a beard in Singapore

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Image adapted from: Dion Lim

Keeping a beard is usually a quest at some point in a man’s life. With reasons from wanting to look more mature to emulating the look of my childhood idol, I committed to growing out my facial hair at 25. 

Disclaimer: I’m one of those men incapable of growing a full-fledged beard so a moustache and goatee is all the beard you’ll see below. But by my own personal standards, I had hit my #beardgoals. And yet, after a little over 9 months of wearing my beard, I shaved it all off. 

Common reasons why men grow a beard

Historically, men around the world have held a universal concept of the beard despite ethnic and cultural differences: the exhibition of machismo – a.k.a. masculinity. Not only was it a sign of power and authority, it was a representation of a man’s virility. Basically, the thicker your bush, the, ahem, “mightier” your manhood. 

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Image credit: The School of Life

It’s also often associated with intellect and having great wisdom. This probably explains why most philosophers and academics of the past were often spotted with a long beard that they would stroke while thinking. Hence, the act of stroking our imaginary chin hair while pondering a thought.

Why I wanted so badly to be a bearded man

Personally, looking more masculine wasn’t the reason that fueled my fervent desire for facial hair. It was the other “M”: Maturity. This pursuit saw me take on the “gentleman aesthetic” to look older than my then-25-year-old self.

“Why?”, you might wonder. Well, I vividly remember an occasion when an auntie asked if I was from National Cadet Corps (NCC) when I was in my army uniform whilst serving my National Service. That was the first time I was alerted to the woes of a “baby face” on a man.

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The late Mr. Leslie Cheung
Image credit: lesliecheung4vn

Okay fine, on top of the fact that I was sick and tired of razor burns, I was also partially influenced by my great admiration for the late Mr. Leslie Cheung. My love for him as an actor transcended the screen, extending to even how I wanted to look.

Finally sporting some semblance of a beard

The initial stages of growing my facial hair out was a breeze. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. No longer was I saddled with the inconvenience of a daily morning shave. I bade farewell to stinging pain I’d had to endure from countless razor cuts and burns. I was free.

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My early days of sporting facial hair = a real mood. Am I close to looking like Leslie?
Image credit: Dion Lim

After 3 weeks, I finally found myself sporting a “beard” I was pleased with. It felt surreal looking at myself in the mirror. It was a life goal attained; an achievement unlocked.

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Image credit: Dion Lim

The feedback I received was polarising. Some loved the look, while others thought I looked more haggard, because the beard didn’t quite suit my youthful face. But most of all, I could sense an obvious difference in the way strangers responded to me during our interactions – I was now taken much more seriously.

The reality behind having a kempt beard

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My arsenal to battle my beard
Image credit: Dion Lim

However, I soon realised just how much effort goes into keeping a beard. The “goodbye, good riddance” speech I had given my razor and electric shaver had come back to bite me in the ass. There I was, still fishing them out from the recesses of my bathroom cabinet on a weekly basis for trimming and grooming. 

In fact, the entire beard grooming process had started to take up just as much if not more time than full-on shaving ever did. If a clean shave is mowing a lawn, then maintaining a beard is shaping a bonsai. It was a less frequent affair, but each process required patience and precision.

My 20-minute weekly ritual involved:

  1. Going through the beard with guard no.3 on an electric shaver for even hair length.
  2. Plucking unwanted hair with tweezers, especially on areas with sparse growth.
  3. Shaping the beard with no guard on an electric shaver for more defined lines.

The decision to shave it all off

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Image credit: Dion Lim

The decision to shave my beard off was a symbolic one. The 9-months that I kept my beard turned out to be a tumultuous time in my life and as crazy as it sounds, growing it reflected the accumulation of negative emotions I had during that period.  It wasn’t the beard’s fault, of course – but I desperately needed to shed everything away, wipe the slate clean and start afresh.

More than that, I also realised that there was little meaning behind my efforts to look more mature. Instead, my newfound maturity came from pulling myself through the tough times in my life. Not by me growing a beard. 

A person’s disposition and values do not change with the way they look or merely by growing a few patches of facial hair. Beard doesn’t maketh man, but manners and kindness do.

The casual action of picking up the dusty Gillette from my shelf left me with emotions I never felt before. Each stroke of the blade against my skin felt bittersweet yet somehow cathartic.

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Clean-shaven me

I’m glad I grew it out, and I’m glad I shaved it all off. I now know that my appearance never did define me, and I can always go back to whichever look I prefer, whenever I feel like it.

While most men are stereotyped for trying to look more masculine when growing facial hair, my personal advice is to stand by whatever personal reasons you have for your look – be it a clean-shaven face or a scruffy aesthetic.

Smooth shaving with Gillette SkinGuard

Gillette SkinGuard

I’ve since packed my electric shaver and tweezer away and gone back to the razor life. Having used the Gillette Fusion ProShield shaver prior to and after having the beard, I had some pre-existing expectations of the new Gillette SkinGuard.

This model features a polymer SkinGuard between the blades, which ensures they are raised slightly from the skin to minimise skin contact. It provides the skin with better protection from micro-cuts, the usual cause of razor burns, which is why it’s extra useful for those with sensitive skin. 

Gillette SkinGuard

To put it to the test, I tried it out to see if it really delivered its promise. The shave was seamlessly smooth; I could feel a greater reduction in tugging and pulling as compared to other shavers. The improved lubrication strip certainly helps with gliding the blade across my skin well. 

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Using the single-bladed precision trimmer

To get rid of sparse hairs without the use of a tweezer, you can also flip the razor around and use the single-bladed precision trimmer at the tip to shape your beard. It provides a clean-cut for tight and hard-to-manoeuvre spots. I expected to see a couple of razor burns after but to my surprise, there weren’t any. A first in my shaving journey.

Most importantly, when I had to prepare for the work week, daily shaving didn’t result in skin irritation anymore. 

Gillette SkinGuard

Available at all major supermarkets, pharmacies and online retailers, the Gillette SkinGuard retails for just $16.50 for a razor, and at $28.50 for a 4-blade pack. 

Existing Gillette Fusion users can just pick up the SkinGuard blades, as it fits all Fusion handles.

Looking neat and trimmed on the outside is also indicative of where I am in life now, as I fully embrace my daily routines of grooming. Who knows if I’ll ever make a return to my scruffier days – never say never. But for now, fresh face, fresher beginnings right? 

Find out more about the Gillette SkinGuard here

This is a partner post brought to you by Gillette. The perspective is the author’s own.
Photography by Nadia Loewito and Pichan Cruz.