Pongonophobia is the fear of beards and people who wear facial hair. Severe pongonophobiacs may experience intense anxiety or panic attacks when dealing with bearded faces. In its mildest form, the sight of a beard may cause mistrust or repulsion, with the sufferer often drawing irrational associations regarding the bearded man’s cleanliness, civility, or trustworthiness. Some psychologists suggest that the aversion to beards may be more widespread, advice that has led many men to shave in an effort to appear more youthful, energetic and honest.
While a complex interaction of many factors may contribute to phobias such as a fear of beards, some causal connections can sometimes be identified. Heredity may play a role, making some predisposed to developing irrational fears. Environment and culture may lead an individual to making assumptions about beards and the people who wear them. Traumatic events where the image of a beard is prominent may also cause the association of facial hair with anxiety or fear.
In modern western society, the beard is not especially popular. Facial hair tends to make a man appear more mature, and teens and young men may grow beards to appear a little older. In a culture that values youth, however, a beard could become a liability for men past their college years.
Beards have many cultural associations, encouraging people to make assumptions about people who wear them. For millions of men, shaving is a part of daily hygiene, and men who do not include this step in their daily grooming may appear scruffy and unkempt. This may lead people to make unfounded assumptions about the man’s reliability and personal habits.
Fear of beards can sometimes be traced back to an association between facial hair and homelessness. In the minds of these pongonophobiacs, beards are identified with poor hygiene and some of the more dangerous aspects of homelessness such as substance abuse and crime. Many organizations and some governmental agencies require employees and representatives to maintain a clean shaven appearance to avoid negative stereotypes.
Treatment for a fear of beards is often determined by the severity of symptoms. A mild discomfort may be confronted through self-help techniques. If symptoms are especially mild, the sufferer may decide to live with the condition, avoiding interaction with bearded men when possible. Severe panic attacks and anxiety may require more formal treatment such as consultation with a mental health professional.