Sports stars worldwide all suffer the same way, constantly being watched by the media, ever lurking, ever suspicious.
It’s no different for Frank Ribéry, a French soccer player. Year in, year out, he had to tell the story of how he got the scar on his face, from a childhood car accident.
And now it’s all about his new beard which he grew while recovering from a more recent injury.
What’s that about?
Is it a sign of discontent because he wasn’t able to play during the soccer World Cup? Is the beard like a flag flown at half-mast mourning France’s poor performance in the tournament? Could it be an admission of guilt that Mr. Ribéry’s absence may have had something to do with his country’s football failures? Or is it a sign that this powerful energetic man has calmed down and is on his way to becoming a hermit?
These are big questions and they all lead to one bigger question, namely what makes a man grow a beard?
Is it a sign of discontent because he wasn’t able to play during the soccer World Cup? Is the beard like a flag flown at half-mast mourning France’s poor performance in the tournament?
Sociologists say when men grow beards they are in a process of self-discovery. Men get bearded during crises, when they’re creating a new life which is less adjusted and compliant and more adventurous and fun.
Maybe managers with burn-out who go to awareness workshops come home with beards.
But make no mistake. A beard is not a sign of a wild inner hairiness but the opposite. Beards and easy-going clothing often reflect more willingness to comply with social norms which are then evened out, or camouflaged by the beard.
Indeed, Mr. Ribéry’s beard is not the result of protest but of submission to his wife’s will.
He openly says that it is his wife who likes the beard; he’d be only too happy to shave it off.
That’s rare. Most women don’t like beards. They only put up with them to protect the egos of their menfolk.
Mr. Ribéry’s wife must be unusual and maybe the interesting question is what is she all about?
Is it possible to find out without having to grow a beard?
This article first appeared in Die Zeit weekly newspaper.