In 2008, British psychologists conducted a study about facial scars; specifically, they wanted to know whether men and women were more attracted to people who had them. They found that men didn’t really have a preference, but women were notably more attracted to men who had facial scars. However, they only foresaw themselves in short-term relationships with the scarred men.
SYMHC listener Jack wrote to us about dueling scars. He mentioned that they’re featured pretty prominently on the faces of German soldiers in movies about World Wars I and II. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, German military laws permitted men to wage duels of honor until World War I. In 1936, the Nazi regime legalized the practice once more.
This type of duel has roots in the German university system, where mensur (student duels) prepared young men to rank among the social elite later in life. The dueling scar, also called schmiss or renommierschmiss (bragging scar), was considered a mark of honor. Young fraternity men proved their valor in these duels, which were considered an essential rite of passage into high society for government officials, doctors and professors. This essay on “The Manly Martial Art of the Sword” clarifies that mensur was not a fight; instead, it was a “willin[g]…act of personal self-development and group-identity affirmation.” Men who flaunted the fresh slash of dignity made themselves conspicuous in public places — women were known to fawn over the scars.
Of course, not everyone was courageous enough to participate in these duels. The Australian Academy of Fencing offers this wince-worthy tidbit: Some students would scar themselves with razors and then rub the wound with wine or sew in a horse hair to exacerbate the injury. Others paid off doctors to slice their cheeks.