Among the most notable changes during the pandemic, PM Narendra Modi’s full-grown, white and bushy beard has raised a lot of interest. Modi sporting a full-grown beard has been a subject of gossip for the past few months, with some netizens now comparing it to Santa Claus.
When Modi appeared on television to announce the nationwide lockdown owing to the COVID-19 pandemic in March, he had a well-trimmed grey beard. However, in his subsequent TV appearances, people saw him with a full-grown white beard.
Earlier, members of the Twitterati compared Modi’s new look to Babur, Albus Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series, and Ertugrul. While some thought of it as just a new look, others started asking if there was a ‘political message’ behind it.
Some suggested that the ‘quarantine beard’ could be because of the social distance norms that have led men around the world to avoid hair-dressers due to the risk of infection.
However, Modi isn’t the only leader to grow a beard. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can be seen sporting a grey beard too. Christopher Oldstone-Moore, author of Beards and Men: The Revealing History of Facial Hair told Mid-day that while there’s a European history to beards, a short-term phenomenon of “quest beard” or “crisis beard” is attached to a “special time”.
He explained that a COVID beard signifies the struggle and challenges of the pandemic. “The idea is that the beard will be gone when the crisis is over. It works well because beards are typically associated with toughness and natural strength,” the author told the Mumbai-based tabloid.
What is usually considered a sign of adherence to standards, especially for men in business, politics, or men who are in the public eye, growing a beard could be a sign of protest to those standards.
According to Moore, growing facial hair could be a sign of protest or countercultures in a bid to differentiate themselves from others. He added that it could also signify the zeal for a quest. Sportspersons often adopt this when they are trying to win against the odds, signifying a “quest beard”.
Another explanation for the trend in sporting a beard is the idea of it being seen as a coping mechanism. Vox, an American news website, coined the term “crisis beard” explaining it as a way to deal with an existential crisis.
Supporting this theory, Al Gore who lost the US presidential election in 2001 was seen afterward sporting a beard. Then there was David Letterman, a former CBS host, who left his The Late Show in 2015 with a bushy beard.
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