To beard or not to beard

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To beard or not to beard

Let's be honest, this feature isn't a must-read. But before you decide to skip it, think about what you'll be missing. Whether surprised, embarrassed or honored, each and every one of these TU/e men perked up when we spoke to them about their beards.

Mr. T, Dave Grohl, Santa Claus, Karl Marx, Jesus Christ, Fidel Castro, Jan, Pier, Tjores and Corneel. Beards have been around - long before the hipster made his appearance - forever, everywhere and in countless permutations. The beard is also a popular topic for discussion, research or simply a good chat.

At TU/e too there's plenty of scope for beard talk.

Read on under the video.

Beards versus clean shaven.

Beards versus clean shaven.

Andreas Hartong

Bachelor's student Mechanical Engineering

For five years now Andreas has been bearded. A motorcycle accident at the age of eighteen (resulting in a broken pelvis and broken sacrum) kept him confined to bed for weeks; regular shaving sessions were not exactly high on his list of priorities. “And besides, I grew to like it eventually; perhaps it adds a modicum of maturity.”

Aged twenty-two he started his TU/e degree and yes, “compared to most eighteen and nineteen year olds it does make you stand out”. The handlebar mustache with curled points that he has been sporting for the past eighteen months is certainly an added twist. “It brightens the day. It prompts some fleeting eye contact. At festivals people often want to touch it; mostly people who are no longer sober.”

Initially, it took a little practice to groom this mustache. And wax, of course. These days it's done in a jiffy: “I don't spend hours in front of the mirror”. Still, it wasn't his striking upper lip, but his beard that landed him a role last November as an extra in the Viking film ‘Redbad’. “It does open doors to bearded circles,” he says with a smile.

Frank van Dalen

Co-worker audiovisual techniques

Trends don't appeal to Frank. Nonetheless, he always liked to be a little bit “different from the norm, wearing my hair long, large earrings, and so on. I used to be a bit of bad boy too”. And admittedly the mostly positive reactions to his newly acquired beard are welcome. Not that this is a meticulously groomed showpiece. “It's a prominent presence, but it's for my benefit.”

It is one of the personal changes, mostly unconscious, that help him deal with significant events in his life. Like the time he kept his mustache after his first relationship broke up (“an ugly, grubby little 1980s mustache”) and, years later, when he grew a goatee after his divorce. In recentmonths a fully fledged beard has been growing around the goatee, ever since he fell ill at work twice on one October day. And in the hospital a blood clot was discovered in his arm.

For the time being this is my identity, since something happened to the ‘old’ Frank.

Frank van Dalen
Co-worker audiovisual techniques

“Initially I was pretty cool about it. But in the days that followed, waiting for the conclusive results, I found I was preoccupied with my body, with everything I was feeling, with my health. It was very intense. One morning I woke up and there was the beard, ‘all of a sudden’.”

Three weeks later he returned to work. Had he joined Al Qaida, someone joked. But mainly he received compliments: “It suits you”. His beard doesn't necessarily make him feel like a new person. “It grew out of a situation, and now it's part of me. For the time being this is my identity, since something happened to the ‘old’ Frank. I don't want to be overly dramatic, but if the blood clot had made it to my brain, I wouldn't be here. My beard has helped me get that situation into perspective in my life.”

Joep Atol and Jeroen Vermeulen

Bachelor's students Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences

About two-and-a-half years is how long Joep (right in the photo) has had his beard. Spawned chiefly by laziness, he admits, but also because it actually looks “pretty good”. Although his mom and grandma don't think so, he adds. Jeroen's grandma is similarly openly anti-beard, where her grandson is concerned at least: “She thinks it looks unkempt”. Still, he's not about to shave off his beard; he's invested too much valuable time in it to do that. Because what you see is in fact the total yield since anything started growing on his chin. “Finally. Without a beard I really do have a baby face.”

Neither of these guys' beards involves a lot of work. Joep trims his every now and then, mainly where it grows on his neck “so that I don't have all that shit there”. To 2.5 millimeters, he adds informatively. Long or short, his girlfriends are happy with it. Besides, not a bad thing in itself: “People tend to think you're a little older,” says Joep. Good for now, Jeroen agrees, “but in a couple of years' time I'll probably want them to be underestimating my age”.

Marcel Machiels

Support assistant ICT Services

He chooses exactly how he wants to sit for the photo, checks his biceps once more. He might have been “totally done” with his alternate-days shaving ritual about four months ago, but in Marcel's book looks count. “Sure, I look at fashion now and again, nice clothes, good shoes and so on, yes.”

After the chin had been ignored for three weeks or so, the beard was a serious proposition and questions were asked - including at work. “Is your electric shaver broken?” Nonetheless, his face fur (and that of colleague Maurice, “the true trendsetter here") has proved to have a mild copycat effect; various colleagues are now similarly ready to throw away their electric shavers.

Marcel's personal hairdresser, namely his own girlfriend who takes his hair and beard in hand once every three weeks, isn't on offer to his colleagues. But he does have a tip for them: “Beard oil. Because it pricks”.

Fabio Paolucci

PhD candidate at Mechanical Engineering

The Italian, in Eindhoven for the past two-and-a-half years, is a distinctive character. It is not so much his beard, but his huge dark head of hair that catches the eye. After all, on his chin his hair growth isn't at all rapid, he admits. His mustache, on the other hand, has been a fixture for much longer. “Perhaps that will change as I get older. I'll become bald on top and sport a full beard below,” he says with a laugh.

He is well aware of his striking appearance and of the risk of others forming an incorrect first impression. Fabio is relaxed about it: “It's never on my mind. Besides, you shouldn't judge people by their appearance whatever”. Even at, say, professional conferences, at which he says his Dutch colleagues in particular are keen to appear clean shaven. “It seems they think that's fresher, more representative. But they can count me out.”

Armin Kohlrausch

Professor Auditory and Multisensory Perception

Yes, on occasion he has been asked to play Santa. But no, he never did. Come November, December, children have been known to call out to him (as well as merry TU/e students) on the street. Similarly the name ‘Jesus’ has cropped up once in a while, thanks to the combination of beard and long hair, relates the German-born professor. As far away as Tokyo.

He has had his beard for upwards of forty years; once started during a summer cycling holiday lasting two months. “I only have light beard growth, so of course in the beginning it looked terrible. But because I was away, there was no one to pass judgment.” He's had long hair for even longer (“I used to have a head of curls, and many a woman was jealous”) - though it was peremptorily shorn for his military service in Germany. Whenever he returned to the army in the 1970s to take part in exercises, he was allowed to wear a hairnet - “to the immense joy of the whole barracks”.

It gives me the look of a wise old man. And that's spot on.

Armin Kohlrausch
Professor Auditory and Multisensory Perception

He says the last time he saw an electric shaver up close was at Philips, where the noise made by all kinds of devices was one aspect of his work. Two years ago he had to shorten his beard, unexpectedly in the hospital, before an operation, “a precaution when a stronger anesthetic was a likelihood. A couple of months later it was back to its proper length.”

The amount of work required by his own beard, aside from the occasional visit to the barber, is minimal. “I do keep my mustache in shape though; I don't want it to get between my teeth. And right before an official occasion, a PhD defense or the like, I tidy up my neck a little.”

That beards are currently a bit of a trend, he's well aware. “It seems that even a politician can parade a three-day beard these days.” Personally he sees no reason at all to shave off his beard. “In science, mercifully, it's the content that counts. Besides, people remember me because of my beard and hair; years might go by and someone will still know who I am. And it gives me the look of a wise old man. And that's spot on.”

Jeroen Hageman

Bachelor's student Psychology & Technology

Jeroen and his beard have something of an on-again, off-again relationship. He has a beard, and then he gets fed up with it and it's chopped off. “But it gets longer each time.”

The current crop is roughly a month's growth. And although the student thinks his beard “certainly isn't ugly”, this is mostly about convenience. “In the morning you can stay in bed a bit longer if you don't need to shave.” And another plus: “It is easier in the supermarket; you have to show your ID less often. Without a beard, I'm asked for it on a regular basis.”

Whether he feels different with a beard than without? Not really. “The main thing is it is cold when I don't have it.”

Tom Gommans

Software architect at MicroSure

He tells us he hasn't seen his chin for about three years. But even before then he had a beard “on and off” for several years: “It's just easy when you're traveling”. He refers to the sawtooth stability principle in nuclear fusion: “Something accumulates linearly and disappears at one fell swoop". "For me, I'm past the 'one fell swoop' stage,” he says, laughing.


At minus 10 it's nice and toasty

Tom Gommans
Software architect bij MicroSure

At the moment, some two or three times a year the beard gets “a good pruning” by a barber. The electric clippers are now very much out of favor, certainly with his girlfriend: “She thought the result was dreadful, the last time I used them.” At this stage he wouldn't want to lose his beard anyway: “At minus 10 it's nice and toasty. Besides, without a beard, I have a baby face. The last time I shaved was three years ago - when I was 27. And even at that age I had to show my ID to buy a packet of cigarettes and a crate of beer”.

His long hair is worn up in a top knot when he's at work. “More professional. Otherwise I have those long ringlets; I look like some kind of Jesus figure. But in my private life I can shake them loose.”

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