Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Facial Hair

I've been self-conscious about my appearance for a long time. I think it started in junior high school when some kids started to grow and develop adult features. Girls starting sprouting boobs. Boys in the locker room starting growing body hair. Some kids went through tremendous growth spurts. By eight grade I had classmates who were over six feet tall and dominated athletics due to the randomness of nature that gave them adult stature before their peers.

Our athletic conference recognized the unfairness of this and so our 8th grade football team had a heavyweight and a lightweight team with the cutoff set at 105 pounds. I was the star defensive end on our undefeated lightweight football team. I weighed a whopping 98 pounds. I was humiliated later in the year when a girl told me that I was short and skinny. I'd always done well in sports and on the playground in elementary school so this was new and in violent contrast with my self-image. In my mind I was a jock and a manly man. Unfortunately, nature wasn't cooperating and on the outside I remained a very boyish boy.

I tried lots of things to get bigger. I bought weights and a weight bench from Target and started a lifelong dedication to body building. I was probably the most ripped skinny kid out there. I internalized Boyd K. Packer's talk from general priesthood meeting and thought that perhaps I could get puberty kicked off and going by stoking my little factory's fire, but it didn't work. I finally gave up football when I was in tenth grade after getting injured. I switched over to wrestling where I'd be competing based on weight classes. I wrestled in the 126 pound weight class and was a towering 5' 6" tall. Note, I was 126 pounds and that was without cutting weight. That was eating as much as possible and lifting weights to try to bulk up and still coming in under weight at weigh ins even though I hadn't done anything to keep my weight down. I went through 10th grade and approached sixteen and puberty still hadn't started.

Between wrestling seasons changes started. I went through a rather awkward growth spurt and in a short time reached nearly 6' 1". But only my bones grew. I wrestled the next year in the 145 pound weight class and only weighed about 150 when I went off to college just before my 17th birthday. When I left for my mission in Bolivia I think that I'd bulked up to 160 or 165. Puberty usually affects men by causing their shoulders to get wider and their chest to expand. For me, the weight gain came from many long hours spent in the old weight room in the Smith Fieldhouse at BYU and was all muscle. After nearly two years in Bolivia I returned home at about the same weight. It was very clear that the only way I could gain weight was to lift weights and add muscle. So, after getting back to BYU I resumed my body building and got my weight up to 170. At 6' 1" I still looked pretty skinny and I still chafed when people called me skinny. I was still quite self-conscious about my appearance.

I think it was around this time that I became fascinated with facial hair. Puberty also neglected to do much for me in the area of body hair. I was a very nearly hairless ape, other than a rather unruly head of bushy hair on top of my head. So, I religiously shaved what little facial hair I had hoping that it would stimulate it to grow. Over vacations I'd try to grow it out and give up in futility after several weeks produced little more than a blondish fuzz.

I think I was around 28 when puberty finally finished with me. I'd continued to lift weights, but over a short period of time my rib cage suddenly expanded, my muscles grew thicker, and I was suddenly putting on weight with little effort. I grew over an inch taller. I was about half an inch under 6' 1" when I graduated from college at 22. When I got my physical at age 30 I was a solid 6' 2" and about 195 pounds. In the decade since then I peaked at 265 pounds and have now settled down to a comfortable 230. Over the next year my goal is to get to a more ideal weight of about 195 or 200 so that I don't kill myself on my next marathon.

And I could finally grow facial hair. It was pretty pathetic, but it was remotely possible. My mustache was pretty thin and didn't grow all the way down to my upper lip. My beard didn't really fill in on my cheeks. But I did manage to grow a full beard one winter in Minnesota that wasn't totally embarrassing. Perhaps it's because I couldn't do it for a long time or perhaps it's because it was frowned on my the Mormon church, but I continued to periodically grow facial hair. Over time I learned to adapt my beard and mustache style to what nature had given me. Currently it's a little triangle under my lower lip. Maybe you'd call it a soul patch, Apollo Anton Ohno style. I've done an Abe Lincoln type of thing with a beard sans mustache. I've also done the goatee. My favorite was a shaved head and a full beard. That was a case of going fully against what nature had given me since my head hair is super thick and my beard is spindly. But it had the advantage of being scary. My son tells me that his friends used to be afraid of me.

Anyway, I was inspired to write about this by Punk Rock Lawyer's blog where he is photographically documenting a mustache that shows signs of being as pathetic as mine was in my early twenties. Keep it up dude. Maybe it will eventually get there. I'll spare you from having to look at my fugly mug.

By the way, my kids seem to have avoided my curse of hypo-active gonads. They are growing up into strapping young adults right on a normal schedule. My oldest is 6' 1" and about 165 at 17. My next son is 6' 3" and 182 pounds and turns 16 this month. My 13 year old daughter is skinny, but she's already 5' 4" and 90 pounds. It's difficult to remember how skinny I was until I look at my son, who is pretty thin, and consider that he weighs 20 pounds more than I did at that age. Yikes.


La said...

This is a great post, A. I don't know what it is... Maybe it's the precise details you remember. Or maybe it's the insecurity you felt. I dunno.

You're totally buff just the way you are. With your height and weight...I felt little. That's a good thing. I bet your wife likes to cuddle with you. :)

Cynthia E. Bagley said...

I enjoyed this post... :-)

MattMan said...

When I was 21, I was working out fairly religiously. 6'4" and a measly 155 lbs. When I look at pictures of myself then, it boggles my mind. I think I was literally skin, muscle, and bone. I took a fitness class at a community college at the time and learn that my 3% bodyfat (then) was somewhat unhealthy, consideration I wasn't like a marathon runner (I totally sucked at running at the time).

I guess that explains how I got the college nickname of "beanpole".

Great writing post, though -- good job of leading the reader through the feelings and experience through crafty use of details.

Eight Hour Lunch said...

Ha! I was 5'6" and wrestled at 112. Now I'm 5'6" and weight 165. But I'll bet I can grow enough beard for three. Not fair.