A beard is the collection of hair that grows on the chin, upper lip, cheeks and neck of humans and some non-human animals. In humans, usually only pubescent or adult males are able to grow beards. However, women with hirsutism, a hormonal condition of excessive hairiness, may develop a beard.
Throughout the course of history, societal attitudes toward male beards have varied widely depending on factors such as prevailing cultural-religious traditions and the current era's fashion trends. Some religions (such as Islam and Sikhism) have considered a full beard to be absolutely essential for all males able to grow one, and mandate it as part of their official dogma. Other cultures, even while not officially mandating it, view a beard as central to a man's virility, exemplifying such virtues as wisdom, strength, sexual prowess and high social status. However, in cultures where facial hair is uncommon (or currently out of fashion), beards may be associated with poor hygiene or a "savage," uncivilized, or even dangerous demeanor.
By Dean Hanley
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