Oi Polloi

Whisker-Wars and the Real Masters of Facial Hair

Published: Fri Mar 30 2012

Nothing says you’re out the other side of puberty like a freshly grown beard. Worn by such men’s men as Hemingway (Ernest, not Wayne), D.H. Lawrence and Mr Jesus Christ himself, beards really separate the men from the boys (apart from those weird lads at school who had a beard when they were twelve).

Some people take it all a bit too far though, and not content with football or handball, turn the humble world of facial hair into a sport. If you’re proficient at the art of channel flicking you may have stumbled upon ITV4’s Whisker Wars, in which a band of ‘professional beard growers’ travel around on the competition circuit all in the name of grizzled-glory.

It’s as rubbish as it sounds, and no matter how long or preened one of these lad’s beard is, these lot are always going to be in the shadow of the real master of facial hair — Mrs Julia Pastrana.

Born in 1834 with a rare inherited disorder known as hypertrichosis that meant Julia’s face and body were completely covered with thick black hair, she was quickly plucked from her life on the western slopes of Mexico to be exhibited under the bright lights of Broadway.

Going under many different, but all equally unflattering, names, Julia ‘Bear Woman’ Pastrana quickly became a big hit, and garnered interest from both the science world, and 19th century high society. Naturalist and famous beard owner in his own right, Charles Darwin was quick to point out her faults, “Julia Pastrana was a remarkably fine woman, but she had a thick masculine beard and a hairy forehead. From the redundancy of the teeth her mouth projected, and her face had a gorilla-like appearance.”

After marrying her owner, Mr Theodore Lent, Julia died whilst giving birth to their son. Mid-way through a tour, Lent didn’t want to lose his main attraction, so he sent her body to Professor Sukolov of Moscow University to get her mummified. Not stopping there, Lent then found another woman in Russia who suffered from hypertrichosis, married her and displayed her as Julia’s sister. Not surprisingly, Lent died in a mental institution.

Other world-class beard-owners include Jo Jo the Dog Faced Boy, and Lionel the Lion Man.