Bernard Trafford: Short shrift for hairless lip

Is Movember to blame for a lack of confidence and self-esteem amongst men? Bernard Trafford explores

Offical campaign image for Movember
Offical campaign image for Movember

How hopeless we men are! I’m not talking about the geopolitical messes we make of things, although in face of multiple conflicts worldwide it’s tempting to note that all the leaders of warring factions are indeed male.

No. The source of this latest despair for my unfortunate gender stems from closer to home. Recent research by Oxford University claims to demonstrate that “short man syndrome” (popularly known as the Napoleon complex) is real, not just a wheeze invented by tall people. It can make some such people (mercifully not all) “paranoid, distrustful, and scared of others”.

Other studies have even claimed that men who are about 5ft 4in are 50% more likely to be jealous and distrustful of their partners than those who are 6ft 6in. Since I’m roughly halfway between the two heights, I’m not sure where that leaves me.

We all know someone who suffers from short man syndrome: in the workplace at least, their subordinates secretly suffer from it too.

On the other hand, I’ve known many colleagues and some very close friends who fall below the average male height of 5ft 9in, are unaffected and can even joke about it: the ability to laugh at themselves generally indicates that they have no problem with it: and they’re first-rate people.

That makes me query whether Napoleon complex sufferers are actually affected by their height: perhaps the syndrome is just something we attribute to people who are aggressive and overbearing and would have been the same whatever their height. Trouble is, we can’t test that theory.

I wouldn’t bother to mention this but for the fact that last week saw another story that serves to demonstrate a widespread lack of confidence and self-esteem amongst men. It came from across the Atlantic, as such things often seem to. And it’s all about men and their desire (or even need) to grow beards.

Maybe it started with Movember. Since someone had the bright idea of getting men sponsored to grow a moustache in aid of Prostate Cancer UK there have been many unsightly hairy things creeping across top lips during that month, all in a good cause.

I’ve never felt the need to join Movember: but then, I know that my moustache, let alone any attempt at a beard, would be a feeble and largely transparent affair.

That doesn’t worry me. But it seems high-flying executives in Brooklyn, let alone further afield, are nowadays desperate to sport a beard.

Plastic surgeons, far from filling their appointment books with facelifts and Botox injections for women, are nowadays concentrating on hair transplants to chins so that hairless men can become hirsute and macho, emulating (I’m told) Indie bands or famous actors.

I’m probably as vain as the next inadequate male. Certainly, I’m unhappy that the picture the editor insists on using at the top of this column was taken when I had some two or three chins more than I possess nowadays.

I have a fine head of hair, so don’t fear baldness, and I wage an ineffectual on/off war against the flab. But I can’t say I’m concerned about my inability to grow a successful moustache or beard. As for spending money to achieve that end, either I’m too mean or those would-be beardies are plain daft.

It’s important not to extrapolate one small piece of dodgy research into a global generalisation. Some people feel inadequate because they’re short or can’t grow a beard: but they’re not necessarily the guys who find themselves running countries, and end up starting wars or creating the political tensions that currently bedevil the world.

Nonetheless, given that we men are clearly so inept and so prone to developing deep personality defects, maybe it’s time for us just to stay at home, mind the kids (if we can be trusted with them) and leave women to run the world.

It just might become a safer place.


Dr Bernard Trafford is headmaster of Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School. The views here are personal.


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