Stop Mistaking Fashion for Toughness

Updated: October 11, 2016


By Paul J. O’Leary

It’s been a minute or two since I have written anything for the Rhino Den. It isn’t that I don’t love you guys, but ever since the Brangelina split, Angelina has been blowing up my phone day and night (Brad has, too, but I don’t really want to get into that right now). I get the whole rebound thing, but enough is enough.

But that’s not what I want to discuss. I am here to implore veterans to shut the hell up about their beards and tattoos.

Why? Because beards and tattoos do not make you a tough guy.

Our community has developed a mild case of hero worship fetish around the beards and tattoos. And we need to stop.

beardsThe tattoos are simple. Tattoos have been a staple of military life for time immemorial. Some of us are old enough to remember when the social acceptability of tattoos was nearly nil. You might still catch a hard look or two for having tattoos today – especially if the tattoo is on your neck or face – but they largely go unnoticed. Over the past couple of decades they have become the norm more than the exception. If you don’t believe me, try to find a person between the ages or 22 and 52 with no ink. Best of luck to you.

And that’s my point. The tattoos do next to nothing to make you tough. When the forty-something soccer mom next door has almost as much ink as you, it ceases to be an indicator of toughness. It’s just fashion.

Not convinced? Think about these gentlemen: Tim Kennedy, Chael Sonnen, Michael Bisping, and Fedor Emelianenko. All highly successful UFC fighters with no ink. Do you really believe your back piece of Jack Mandaville in a jester costume puts you in a league with them? It doesn’t.

Full disclosure: My Jack Mandaville jester tattoo took five sittings to finish, but that’s my business.

Now, let’s talk about beards. Let me start off by saying I love having a beard when I can, but because of my employment, I rarely get to wear one. Seriously, I look like Paul Giamatti and Louis CK had a kid, so a good beard is a serious weapon in the battle against poor self-esteem.

How did beards become a staple of the veteran community? To answer this, we need to look at the origins of “Tier One Chic”.

Around October 2001, President George W. Bush began sending certified bad asses into a little place called Afghanistan (maybe you’ve heard of it?) to bring death, destruction, and scunion on the people who were protecting Usama Bin Laden. In order to make these men more acceptable and credible to the Afghans who would form the Northern Alliance, the powers that be authorized them to wear beards, which are a staple of masculinity in the Afghan community.

As time progressed, the cool guy military gear coupled with a thick, lumberjack beard became the signature look of high-level American military bad-assery. Every young soldier aspired to be in a cool guy unit where you could sport a beard and a baseball cap while mercilessly killing bad guys.

shutterstock_420990016In the meantime, back in America, the beard came back into fashion. Gone were the days of the scraggly hippie look. Today’s men of high fashion wore heavy beards treated with beard oil and conditioners and topped off with short, fashionable haircuts. And our veterans returning from war followed suit.

Then we engaged in a little cultural appropriation. Not from some foreign culture, but from our civilian brethren.

We, the military veteran class, declared war on civilians with beards. Branding them hipsters, we gave them our ire and disgust. But there was just one problem – they looked exactly like us…but in skinny jeans.

Across social media and other venues, we saw men with beards and lots of tattoos bemoaning the complete lack of masculinity of another group of men – men identified by their beards and tattoos. But while we fetishized guns and bacon, the hipsters fetishized Starbucks coffee and PBR.

It was a sham.

97% or more of veterans in our community have never served in a SOF unit. Of that, even fewer served in a unit where beards were authorized. We took the operational culture of units most of us never served in and made it the identity of our post-service life.

This is a fairly new phenomenon. If you remember back to the olden days when all the tactical cool kids bought everything in black instead of Coyote Tan, you had jus the opposite. Guys with long scraggly beards were looked down upon with disdain for being potheads and hippies. Or rednecks. It’s only been in the post-9/11 world that we’re seen the beard become the signature fashion accessory of the tacticool.

Face it, there’s nothing about having a beard or tattoos that will make you a better hunter, protector, fighter, or alpha male. I don’t mean to fuck up your Instagram game, but sometimes you have to hear the truth.

Beards are great. Tattoos are great. But they don’t give you superpowers. And that’s the message – rock the beards and the tattoos and rock them well, but let’s stop acting like they are ours and ours alone.



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