The rough with the smooth

Head to head Beards are back in fashion, but for some they will always be a thing of horror. Hirsute fashion guru Richard Benson takes on bristling broadcaster Sally Meen

"I decided to stop shaving on Halloween (there's no link there), and I've had my beard ever since. It's interesting to see it grow, it's like being able to have a different kind of a face. Men have got a limited palate when it comes to making their face look different, whereas women grow up with a whole science of ways to change the shape of their face, and can do things with make-up. If women had facial hair they would have spiked-out beards and daft moustaches and all sorts of permutations! They wouldn't give a toss what men thought about it.

I like the way that my beard looks. They can be quite kind to your face, and add a bit of gravitas. I think it's as wrong to generalise about beards as it is about hair. Saying beards are unhygienic is like saying the hair on your head is unhygienic. As long as you shower once or twice a day then it's fine. If it's decently trimmed and groomed it looks as smart as anything else. We use bearded models in the magazines - the last issue but one of Arena Homme Plus had a bearded model on the cover. Because there's a bit of an upswing towards a slightly rougher, folksy kind of look, there's a few fashion photographers using bearded models now.

As far as women not wanting to kiss a man with a beard, I think it works the other way round because the big problem with men and kissing is stubble, which when it's really short has that kind of slightly razor-sharpness to it. But the beard is softer. To be against beards per se is a silly prejudice. People have always explored different ways of expressing themselves through how they look, and beards are just part of that. I'd urge people not be hidebound by preconceptions and see past the beard, to the whole man."

Richard Benson is group editor of `The Face', `Arena', `Arena Homme Plus' and `Frank'

"Beards are face-fungus. They look dirty. I'm very fastidious, and would never let a man come near me if he hadn't been freshly washed, and scrubbed and shaved (my husband is probably the cleanest person I've ever met). All the men that I think are fabulous haven't got beards, I've never been out with anyone with a beard. Facial hair is unattractive and best got rid of. Beards look unfinished, scruffy and unkempt. It's like going out dressed up to the nines but with dirty hair. The ones that are very short and cropped and funny-shaped just look ridiculous, especially those that look like the letter "O" around the lips - what is that all about? It's just a nightmare, they look ludicrous.

I cannot give you a logical reason why I could not trust someone with a beard, but for some reason I can't. I can remember an old man who used to live near us who had a beard that was long and curly and always looked a bit suspect, and I can remember thinking, `What's he hiding under that beard?' because you always wonder. Have they grown a beard to cover either bad skin, a scar or a pointy chin or something?

I don't like kissing men with beards, especially men with long beards, it's like kissing a gorse bush. I don't even like to give my stepfather a kiss at Christmas because he's got quite a big, curly beard. It's frightening. If men want to change their appearance all they have to do is to wash, get their hair cut and put on different clothes - there's a million different ways to alter their look without growing a beard. You know, women do have facial hair. We, however, have it plucked or sugared off. We don't make a feature of it - surely men should return the favour."

Sally Meen is a Talk Radio presenter and freelance TV broadcaster

Interviews by Fiona McClymont

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