Why you should care
Because men don’t get to have all the facial hair fun.
When you think of a beard competition, you probably picture men with varying styles of facial hair on display. But bodacious beards aren’t just for those with XY chromosomes. A growing number of women who’ve embraced the popularity of men’s beard competitions have put their own unique spin on it — and with homemade whiskers.
Male beard competitions have existed in America for over a decade. Phil Olsen, founder of Beard Team USA and organizer of the World Beard and Moustache Championships, said that since 2003, when he first established contests and beard groups in the U.S., they have sprung up across the country. They have a traditionally male audience, and the categories, which refer to “natural” hair, tend to exclude women.
Membership has only two requirements: a love of facial hair and a creative mind.
Four years ago, the Whiskerinas hit the faux-stache scene. Membership has only two requirements: a love of facial hair and a creative mind. Like, let’s say, bearding up with a faceful of needles. Jodi Lutz’s first foray as a Whiskerina was a long beard of half-filled glowing red and white syringes with needles zigzagged across her upper lip to form a mustache. Lutz, whose previous craft experience was in scrapbooking, spent over 12 hours crafting her needle beard.
Tessa Bischoff is the acknowledged founder of The Whiskerinas movement. A keen beard supporter (her husband sports an impressive bush), she’d been attending competitions for years along with other female fans but wondered why there was no avenue for women to participate. She created the self-proclaimed USA’s Ladies’ Fake Beard & Moustache Society in 2010 to encourage women to have fun, perform with fake facial hair and help raise money for charity. What started as a sideshow at the “men’s” championships has turned into an art form, with bearded Whiskerinas having their own awards show and meetups across the U.S. Bischoff says the name Whiskerinas was inspired by Hans Langseth, who held the record for the world’s longest beard in the 1920s. He was crowned the Prince of the Whiskerinos, and Bischoff liked to imagine women competing next to him, having a Whiskerina Queen.
Amy Roberts, of the Richmond Virginia Beard League, fondly remembers her first beard as a cherry tree growing out of her face. Her work as a pastry chef has also come in handy; one of her beards featured wrapped-up cookies and brownies — which she handed out to the audience post-judging. She wonders why female beard contests don’t seem to have international appeal. “I wish they would be more accepting of us,” she said.
The appeal of the Whiskerinas is the social element, the feeling of belonging and acceptance.
Gemma Cartwright, editor of PopSugar UK, is intrigued by the Whiskerina movement, but she “wouldn’t say it was ‘attractive’ in traditional terms,” and acknowledges that it’s not really the point. She told OZY that she doesn’t see the trend going mainstream but that it’s a “nice change from all the female costumes that are skimpy, sexy takes on a standard look.”
Olsen bristles at the faux movement. “I don’t think a fake beard contest deserves the same level of respect as a real beard contest,” he said. He wants beard contests to reshape public perception of facial hair, and doesn’t think that a temporary beard worn as a costume support is helpful.
But not all men agree with Olsen. Matt Chrystal, founder of the Garden State Beard & Mustache Society, thinks the point of beard competitions is to have fun. At his competitions, there are always two categories for women. But people sometimes expect women with real beards. “I’ve only seen that at Coney Island!” he said with a laugh. Prizes at beard competitions vary, ranging from international flights to a trophy resembling a glowing, bearded alien head. Larger prizes tend to be for men only.
For Lutz the appeal of the Whiskerinas is the social element, the feeling of belonging and acceptance. “There’s no judging here, and you have an instant family,” she said. She stores her used beards under her bed: steampunk wheels and clockwork parts, and a dramatic New York Times newspaper creation with curled pieces of broadsheet. She hosted the first Whiskerina All Star Society Ball in November with categories like “Women’s Almost Authentic Mustache” and “Women’s Most Impressively Innovative Beard.” Men could enter the “Men’s Most Surreal Unreal Beard” category for the best faux-beard design. In 2012 the Austin Facial Hair Club created the Beardette Ladies Beard and Moustache Competition, an event separate from the male event, now in its third year.
Despite much male support, Lutz knows that not everyone is a fan. “I think it’s just an old-school way of thinking, that beards are for men and it’s about growing it.” For the Whiskerinas, it’s all about grabbing your glue gun and going your own way.
Video by Tom Gorman. Tom is an OZY video producer.