Growing facial hair for charity with the Nomadic Beardsmen of the Bluegrass
Joshua Propes started growing a beard over two years ago for “No-Shave November” (more affectionately called “Movember), a playful campaign that encourages men to grow facial hair to raise awareness for men’s health issues, like prostate cancer, and he hasn’t seen a clean-shaven face ever since.
“It turned into No-Shave Never,” Propes said.
Now with 15-inch sideburns and a 15-inch, tip-to-tip mustache (the official way to measure a ‘stache), Propes is the proud owner of the “most decorated beard in Kentucky,” he says.
Since Propes started sporting his facial hair, he has become active in the beard (and mustache) competition circuit, traveling the region to show off his home-grown whiskers in fierce (and grisly) beauty pageant-like settings with like-minded burly men (and women, there are categories for fake beards). So far he’s been to 11 competitions.
“I’ve never been to a competition and not placed,” Propes said, who goes by the nom-de-“plume” Stoney Southpaw on and off stage.
Beard competitions are regularly hosted by local beard clubs – mostly consisting of a group of men with impressive and extensive facial hair who meet to compliment each other on the fullness and shape of their beards, and maybe coordinate a competition if there is time. Lexington’s club is called the Nomadic Beardsmen of the Bluegrass (NBB).
The NBB, loosely, has about 15 members, according to Propes, and a few inactive members (i.e. they shaved), and for the past two years the organization has hosted a local beard competition, called “Whiskey, Whiskers & Women.” The event’s organizer, Isaac Benson, said he got the idea for hosting the competition after watching the TV show “Whisker Wars,” a reality series about competitive facial hair growers. While “Whisker Wars,” according to Propes and Benson, is more about heated rivalries and egos (“beard drama,” as the two call it), the show did expose members of NBB to the charitable and fundraising components to beard competitions.
“It did seem like a great social interaction. Why wouldn’t I want to go out and drink beer and raise money for charity? I am 100 percent aligned with those tenets,” Benson said about initially organizing “Whiskers, Whiskey & Women.” “So I thought I would just do it myself. That’s one of the beautiful things about Lexington, if you have an idea for something unique, it’s kind of easy to do it yourself.”
The event has grown in size and complexity. Last year there were over 145 competitors from 10 different states competing in 12 different categories. This year’s event is scheduled for Feb. 1 at Buster’s. The categories, which range from “Partial Beard with ‘Stache” (such as Propes’ beard) to “Full Beard Supernatural” (for beards over 8 inches, such as Benson’s), also include quirky divisions that even women can compete in, such as “Fantastic Fake Facial Hair” (where people craft their own faux facial fur).
Benson has been nurturing his full beard for nearly eight years – it’s length is impressive, but he says in its heyday it extended past his bellybutton. The shortening, however, was not intentional. “A windy day and a propane stove,” he said, with a touch of remorse. “I actually handled it pretty well, though.”
Benson says that while beards, at least competitive beards, are still in the realm of the counter culture, they are quickly gaining much more social acceptance, thanks in part to shows like “Duck Dynasty,” an incredibly popular reality show with heavily bearded protagonists.
“That show has popularized beards to a whole other level,” he said, adding that he’s never seen an episode. “If anything, it has promoted acceptance, because those people are looked upon in a positive light.”
Benson and Propes agree that having a beard has introduced them to conversations and interactions with people that probably would not have happened without their unique facial hair. Benson says he gets “that nod” from other men when he walks into a room, and Propes said most people when they first meet him assume he’s in a band.
They also agree that a beard is no way a measurement of a person’s manliness, but they do feel sorry for those unfortunate enough not to be able to produce a full, well-shaped beard.