Over the past month or so, there’s been more media buzz about the BYU facial hair rule and students petitioning to change it. And unlike Kim Kardashian’s butt or some royal baby perpetuating an outdated monarchy in England, I felt like this news story was actually relevant. You see, I’m a Mormon who believes it’s time to adjust the BYU facial hair restrictions. It’s shocking, right? A married, returned missionary, temple recommend-holding Latter-Day Saint such as myself can actually advocate that beards are okay.
To clarify, I am not currently attending BYU. I got back from my mission in May, got into the whole marriage business, and I’ll be returning to the Y in January. And until then, I’m enjoying this beard of mine.
The biggest response I’m hearing from the beard haters goes along the line of “Well why don’t you just go somewhere else?” or “There are plenty of other schools” or “No one’s forcing you to go here.” And my response to that is “Because I don’t want to,” “No there aren’t,” and “You’re right on that point, but it’s dumb.”
To say other schools offer what I want is presumptuous that you actually know what I want. You assume having facial hair is my number one priority, but I’d say it’s somewhere in the 40s on my checklist.
You see, my goal for college was to find a prestigious university run by the LDS church that has great tuition where I could be surrounded by people who have the same standards as me. So no, I won’t “go somewhere else,” because those are my priorities. There are no other options quite like BYU, and saying that any other school can offer the same thing is a discredit to this school. My parents went here, I’ve visited the campus many times when I was a kid, and it was the only college I applied to during my senior year. I wasn’t going to let a silly, outdated rule stop me from living my dream.
How would the “just go somewhere else” logic work elsewhere? I’m sure everyone here in the country dislikes at least one law. Well then why isn’t everyone moving away from the United States? A law is a law. Don’t change it, right? I hear Sweden is nice.
That idea of thinking makes no sense. No one will ever be 100% satisfied with everything. Is it so wrong to try to change the small things that shouldn’t exist? Or do we just get called dirty hipsters and told to suck it up for four years?
Just because I love this school doesn’t mean I have to love an outdated rule it enforces. Let’s go to an analogy, because those are always fun.
You move into a new neighborhood. It has everything you’re looking for. Naturally, there are important rules, like speed limits and neighborhood watches and stuff like that. But there’s one other rule that’s a bit unique: You aren’t allowed to grow flowers in your yard. It’s a little weird, but you say, “Whatever, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.”
You move in, and as time goes on, you’d prefer to have flowers, but you stick to the rule because that’s what you agreed to do. You find out others like yourself would also prefer to have the flower rule revoked too. You also learn that this anti-flower rule is only a few decades old, and the original reason it was established no longer exists.
What do you do? “Well, a rule’s a rule. I better just suck it up.” That’s what the naysayer logic says. But I say no. It’s your community and you’re a part of it. You have a say. There’s no reason to keep those flowers banned, and the neighborhood committee that has the say in it could revoke that rule with a flick of a pen. It’s inconsequential and it costs them no effort whatsoever.
Only we’re not talking about flowers, we’re talking about beards. It will not cost BYU a thing to change the rule. We’re not asking for some big-budget project or something that would take years to establish. Just a simple rule change.
There’s also no rule for stating your opinion. The beard advocates have been accused of breaking rules, but what rules are they breaking? I don’t see any scruffy men chaining themselves to the front of the Wilk and demanding free facial hair for all. They still shave.
When I start attending BYU, I will keep my chin follicle-free. People are allowed to protest a rule while still complying to it. I will follow this rule, but I will continue to oppose it. Because this rule makes no sense. Those who say “just go to another school” don’t actually bring any reasonable counterpoint to the table. The reason the beard ban was started no longer exists, and without that reason they have no argument to stand on. All they can say is “It’s a rule, so just follow it.”
But this debate isn’t about whether there’s a rule and that we agreed to follow it. Yes, angry LDS person on the facebook comments, I know there’s a facial hair rule, and I also know I agreed to follow it, which I will. The debate is about why this rule exists in the first place and why it’s still being enforced. And the anti-bearders can’t seem to be able to answer that question.
Some say that it helps us look more professional. And yet here we are attending class in jeans and flip flops. I say it doesn’t help us look professional, for one specific reason: mustaches. Those nasty upper lip caterpillars are still allowed. So is this rule about keeping us looking professional according to modern standards, or looking professional according to early 1970s standards? Because while beards are now popular in the mainstream, mustaches tend to be jokingly associated with porn stars, pedophiles and Hitler.
People arguing that this rule is unalterable and unchangeable seem to be forgetting that this rule is only 40 years old. Before that, BYU enjoyed almost 100 years of students being allowed to do whatever they wanted with their facial hair. But in 1971 a new rule was established based on the culture of the times. And now that the times have changed and that cultural reason no longer exists, will it really be so devastating if BYU went back to its original, much longer-living beard policy? Why idolize and cling to an outdated rule?
At one point, shorts were not accepted at BYU, because they had negative connotations. But once society changed, so did BYU’s shorts rule. The same thing happened with jeans. Beards are the only thing from those 70s rules that are left.
When it comes to laws and commandments established by the LDS church, BYU will remain steadfast and unmoving. But when it comes to rules based on the culture and societal norms of the time, BYU is meant to flow with the culture.
If you don’t believe me, let’s go to the source. If you read nothing else in this post, I hope you at least read this: Dallin H. Oaks, speaking in 1971 as the President of Brigham Young University, addressing the facial hair rule. The title of his talk is called “Standards of Dress and Grooming,” and you can find it on lds.org here. It’s interesting that his talk is basically divided into two parts. The first part is on modesty, and he points out that it is a commandment and is unchangeable. Facial hair is a different story though.
President Oaks gives the general reason that facial hair was banned: “There’s nothing inherently wrong about long hair or beards, any more than there is anything inherently wrong with possessing an empty liquor bottle. But a person with a beard or an empty liquor bottle is susceptible of being misunderstood because of what people may reasonably conclude when they view them in proximity to what these articles stand for in our society today.”
Remember, he’s referring to 1971, not 2014. And what was society saying about beards at the time of 1971? President Oaks gives us the answer: “In the minds of most people at this time, the beard and long hair are associated with protest, revolution, and rebellion against authority. They are also symbols of the hippie and drug culture. Persons who wear beards or long hair, whether they desire it or not, may identify themselves with or emulate and honor the drug culture or the extreme practices of those who have made slovenly appearance a badge of protest and dissent. In addition, unkemptness – which is often (though not always) associated with beards and long hair – is a mark of indifference toward the best in life.”
So the question now stands: Are beards still associated with hippies and drug use in this day in age? I say no. I don’t see a man with a beard and think to myself, “Wow, that guy must do drugs.” And I don’t think you do either. Beards are no longer the symbol of the counterculture, and they have once again been accepted as professional in society.
But here’s the crux of the argument right here, straight from a BYU president who established this rule. President Oaks said, “The rules against beards and long hair for men stands on a different footing [than the modesty rule]. I am weary of having young people tell me how most of our Church leaders in earlier times wore beards and long hair, which shows that these are not inherently evil. Others argue that beards cannot be evil because they see bearded men enjoying the privileges of the temple. To me, this proposition seems so obvious that it is hardly worth mentioning. Unlike modesty, which is an eternal value in the sense of rightness or wrongness in the eyes of God, our rules against beards and long hair are contemporary and pragmatic. They are responsive to conditions and attitudes in our own society at this particular point in time. Historical precedents are worthless in this area. The rules are subject to change, and I would be surprised if they were not changed at some time in the future. But the rules are with us now, and it is therefore important to understand the reasoning behind them.”
And that’s it, brothers and sisters. President Oaks said it himself: The rules are subject to change. They’re meant to change. He expected it to change. And yes, these rules are with us now, and I, along with the other beard advocates, understand the reasoning behind them. And the reasoning is no longer there. And so we advocate to change it.
Now that you know the reasoning behind establishing the beard rule, does it still make sense to keep it? Some may insist that petitioning can’t change the rule, and that it has to be a revelation from God. If God has to change this thing through a revelation through the BYU president, so be it.
I’ve also seen people trying to compare us to the Ordain Women group, and I’d like to clear that up. I don’t agree with Ordain Women, and one word can sum up the reason: Apostasy. Keep in mind, we are a group of students petitioning to change a 40 year rule established by a school. We are not a group bashing and shaming the church and demanding to change a timeless doctrine of the gospel.
This thing is meant to change. And eventually it will change. So please, if you’re going to argue against us, stop using the “go to another school” card or “just grow up, you stupid hipster” card. First address why this rule exists and if you even have a justification to support it. Then we’ll talk.
Viva la beard!