The Reason Modern U.S. Presidents Never Have Facial Hair

When you examine pictures of former U.S. presidents next to each other, the lack of diversity is ridiculous. You don't have to be a political expert to note how almost all of those dudes are WASPs, or the sheer ludicrousness of the fact that the U.S. still hasn't had a female president. This deep, systemic issue demonstrates that the U.S. has some serious growing to do. On a lighter note, though, it's also pretty weird to see how every president, over the course of your lifetime, has sported cheeks cleaner than a first grader. Despite this being the age of beards, facial hair remains so absent from the White House that you'd think it was grounds for getting impeached. What's the deal? 

Why so clean shaven, Prez?

The comeback of the beard is quite recent. One study, according to Vox, shows that while beards were totally chill in the 1800s, the 20th century largely saw them chopped to bits by razor blades. Culture trickles upward, so it's no wonder that even as beards make their mighty return to hipster bars and corporate boardrooms alike, it's taken a while for politicians to be brave enough to sport them.

Stereotypes play a role in this. As the BBC points out, the U.S. political scene has traditionally associated facial hair with defeat, as seen when Al Gore's 2001 whiskers were dubbed an "exile beard." A 2015 study, according to Business Insider, showed participants pictures of politicians with and without facial hair. These people reported that beards made the politicians look more masculine and competent, but they also felt like the bearded politicians had less empathy — or, even worse, were more likely to be sexist. Now, obviously, this stereotyping is way off. There are many bearded feminist men out there, and plenty of clean-shaven misogynists. Nonetheless, politicians are very image-conscious people.

The last fur-faced president

Abraham Lincoln had a groovy beard, as did Ulysses S. Grant. If mustaches are more your thing, it's hard to top the one rocked by Teddy Roosevelt. Sadly, it's now been over a century since a president had some scruff. Quartz says the final mustachioed representative was William Taft, who in 1913 left the White House to his clean shaven (and horrendously racist) successor, Woodrow Wilson. 

Will America have a more bearded future?

100 years is a long time, but change is coming (slowly). No major 2020 presidential candidate sported whiskers, but an increasing number of U.S. politicians have dared to ditch the razor, such as Beto O'Rourke and Paul Ryan ... though both of them chickened out soon afterward. That said, there are politicians such as Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver, who deserves credit for having proudly worn a full, bold mustache for years. 

One presidential candidate that would look quite dignified with a big, wizardly beard is, many argue, Bernie Sanders, as indicated by the tongue-in-cheek petition asking him to stop shaving. So far, Bernie hasn't gone bearded, but hey, this same approach famously worked for Lincoln, right?