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Beards, baldness and body hair - why men are hairy

31 May, 2017
Man with fabulous hair

Men and women have some obvious differences for obvious reasons, normally related to reproduction and the gender roles that spawn from them. However, some differences aren’t as readily apparent. Why, for instance, do men grow beards? Why are they more likely to go bald? And what’s up with all that body hair?

Why men have beards

While some of guys might act like it, their beards don’t have the same value as a peacock’s feathers or a baboons’ shiny, red behind. The beard isn’t there to attract a mate – too many studies over the years have shown contradictory results about the preference for beards for that to be the case. Instead, the beard acts more like a lions’ mane; it’s not about the ladies, it’s about the competition.

When competing for the attention of a female, a male has to be more dominant than his peers: and that’s where the beard steps (or grows) in.

Both men and women see men with beards as being older, stronger, and more aggressive.

Meaning guys with beards are less likely to be messed with by guys without.

This has had some interesting impacts on culture and style as well; a study that went from 1842 to 1971 saw that, when there were more men competing for less women, beards and moustaches were more likely to be in fashion.

So now when you see a big, curly walrus moustache from the 1800s, you can understand the context.


Why men go bald

In the past, it was noted that boys that were castrated kept their naturally high-pitched voices and never went bald in later life – something to think about next time you worry about your loss of hair.

Testosterone is to thank for why men go bald and women don’t. When enzymes convert testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, it makes hair shorter and thinner. The other party member to thank are androgen receptors – the more you have, the more likely you are to go bald.

It’s been hypothesised that baldness may have an evolutionary advantage. As a sign of age, it tells younger males that they’re less likely to be competition, and females that they’re less likely to be aggressive or prone to seeking multiple mates.


Why men are hairy

Throughout our evolutionary stages, men and women were much hairier than we are now. In fact, we can see today that the similarities in the amount of hair follicles both men and women have that we’re as hairy as one another – the difference comes down to colour and coarseness.

Hair on our head and eyebrows is known as terminal hair. Vellus hair is the almost invisible, fine hair that we find on other parts of our body. Again, testosterone is to thank for men’s abundance of terminal hair, where its impact is most apparent when the hormone kicks into gear during puberty.

It’s hard to say whether or not there’s an evolutionary advantage to the hair as it changes so drastically from ethnicity to ethnicity. On the face of it, there should be some correlation between less body hair and humid climates (to lessen chances of parasites), and colder climates and coarser, darker body hair (to insulate from the cold). However, there doesn’t seem to be any concrete evolutionary proof of why body hair grows in the way it does.



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