Growing the beard: Justin Trudeau's new look could be 'strategic'

Composite image of Justin Trudeau and Jonathan Frakes as William Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation (The Canadian Press/CBS via Getty Images)

At the beginning of season 2 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, fans were greeted with what would become Commander William Riker’s signature look: a full beard.

Referred to on Urban Dictionary as “the opposite of jumping the shark,” the colloquialism refers to when a television show goes from outlandish and silly to something of substance and quality. Actor Jonathan Frakes grew the beard for a role during ST:TNG’s hiatus between the first and second season, and kept it (either because Gene Roddenberry asked him to or he just didn’t feel like shaving). It coincided with ST:TNG gaining more widespread popularity, and is believed by many fans to be when the show got good.

That moment in television history has become synonymous with coming into one’s own, find one’s inner strength, proving what one is really made of, demonstrating one’s true qualities — a term known as “growing the beard.”

What does that have to do with Justin Trudeau?

As Justin Trudeau begins his second term as prime minister in earnest, he surprised Canadians by debuting some new facial hair. In a photo taken by Trudeau’s official photographer early in January, Canadians saw Trudeau had a brand new look (and it’s a far cry from the goatee situation of 2011).

Justin Trudeau is shown in this recent handout image provided by his official photographer, Adam Scotti. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Adam Scotti

“Any move that’s done with Prime Minister Trudeau would be with an eye to either enhance or cultivate his image,” Jennifer Grant, Business Etiquette, Image and Personal Brand expert told Yahoo Canada. “I think everything that’s done with respect to his image, it’s all done from a strategic point of view. It might have been his personal preference, but I think it was probably studied and discussed before he went with the new look.”

Beards have been re-emerging in the last decade or so, showing up on the faces of world leaders and CEOs around the world.

“For most of the modern era, beards and moustaches grew only at the margins of society,” wrote Stephen Mihm in a New York Times opinion piece circa 2014. “In the United States, the founding fathers eschewed facial hair. The same clean-shaven look prevailed throughout Europe among the capitalist classes.

“But with the end of the Cold War and the defeat of Communism, the groundwork for a scruffy capitalism was laid. In the semiotics of capital today, whiskers no longer code as a threat. With free market ideology essentially unopposed by any major power and energized by the entrepreneurial swagger of the technology world, beards are back in business.”

Google co-founder and former Alphabet executive Sergey Brin sported this beard in 2012. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Grant agrees with this sentiment, and says that we’re seeing more men who are sporting some facial hair in professional settings.

“There’s definitely been an increase everywhere you look, whatever the field might be, where more men are embracing their facial hair,” says Grant. “I think it’s great, provided that ... it’s well groomed. There’s a difference between the full bushy beard versus something that’s tight, well groomed and well styled.”

What could the new beard signify?

“I don’t particularly like the term ‘pretty boy,’ but you remember when he was first running for office, that term was used a lot. I think he’s definitely worked to move away from that image, more of a coming into his own,” says Grant.

Trudeau has also elected to keep his beard displaying some grey, which further contributes to his changing image.

“I think the grey conveys maturity and confidence,” says Grant. “I recommend to clients if they’re going to dye facial hair or hair in general, because sometimes it can get really picked apart... I think the grey is all about grace, maturity and wisdom.”

How are Canadians responding to the beard?

Just like the famed goatee, Canadians have had many opinions about Trudeau and his new facial hair.

What are Canadian media outlets saying about the new look?

“...grey beards are a dicey proposition. There is a website, favoured among my graduate students, called Prof or Hobo? You choose which category a given male face belongs to, and then your results are scored. It is weirdly addictive; with no disrespect to either group, it can be hard to tell them apart, especially if they’re past 50. Mr. Trudeau is, for the record, 48.” — Mark Kingwell, The Globe and Mail

“Trudeau has spent the last four-plus years presenting a carefully-tailored image to the public. Everything from his jogging “photo bombs” to his Halloween costumes to his novelty socks appears to be planned, so it’s not a stretch to suspect some deeper motive behind his choice to grow a beard.” — Josh Elliott, Global News

“Why do I find bearded Trudeau so unsettling? Maybe it’s the change of it all? The world has grown accustomed to Trudeau as this young, Prince Eric from “The Little Mermaid” figure with a glint in his eye. Seeing that image turned into hardened war-daddy overnight can be distressing.” — Melanie Woods, HuffPost Canada

“We need more women in Canadian politics and I fear (and have checked with my wife) that women are far less likely to subject themselves and their families to this sort of nonsense than men. It should occur to us that if we’ve grown weary of all the talk of beards in politics, we might nominate and elect many more women. It is just one of the very good and numerous reasons to do so.” — Brad Wall, The National Post