It was one of those “Oh S#!T” moments. I knew right away I had made a mistake and wished mightily to be able to rewind the last two seconds of my life. But, you know how that goes …
Christmas Eve, a couple decades ago, I was prepping for church and the family gathering afterward. My hair needed a trim, so I got out the electric clippers, made the first swipe, and immediately realized that I had forgotten to attach the half-inch guard. I had just shaved a stripe - all the way down to the skin - right up the back of my head. I had given myself a reverse Mohawk. It wasn’t the look I was going for, and it left me with no real option other than to shave the rest of my hair off, too. So Christmas Eve church was the unintended debut of my skinhead look.
I had always had some insecurity about my appearance. Growing up, I was the skinny, unathletic kid with toothpick arms, a pencil neck, and a face thin enough that I could never figure out what to do with my hair that wouldn’t make me look like Beaker from The Muppets.
I wanted a hairstyle that would make me look confident and sophisticated and a little bit dangerous - like James Bond - but it’s a look that I just never managed. For the first twenty-some years of my life I never found a hairstyle that I really felt was Me.
My hair was thick and brown and a little wavy in the back when it got long. I tried parting up the middle, or on either side. I did a flattop for a while, and the bowl cut was a mistake, but I felt if I could just get my hair right, I’d look better and be able to run fast and catch and throw balls and my shoulders would grow broad, I’d be able to dance and chicks would dig me.
But I never got it right, and then that Christmas Eve happened, and while I was self-conscious about the sudden and unexpected change in my appearance, I was surprised to find a sense of relief - that my hair wasn’t an issue anymore. It was gone. Poof. Nothing to worry about. And I’ve never looked back.
This is a thing to talk about today because a friend just wrote a blog post about her own struggles with self-image and hair and it just sounded so familiar to me. Except for a period when chemo caused her to “go short”, she’s always had long hair, and long hair became not just a part of her identity, but a part of her sense of self-worth.
Lesley said that of all of her blog posts, this one, about her hair, had generated the most feedback. She had written that she was going to disconnect her self-image from her long hair, and cut it short - a date had been set with her stylist - and it blew up the internet. While most of the public comments were supportive, she was also bombarded with private messages from people urging her to not cut her hair, as if it were some vital piece of the hard-working, people-loving, fun-having, kid-raising Lesley that we all know and love. The haircut was a big step for her and one that she saw as positive and progressive toward a more balanced and comfortable sense of self. And her friends urged her not to go through with it.
In my college years, my hair situation went from bad to worst-case-scenario as I came to realize that it was thinning and receding. “Keep it short and keep it clean” was the advice I got from a friend who was further along in the hair-loss process. He was right, and so I lived in this damage-control mode of successively shorter styles until that Christmas Eve when I accidentally gave myself the gift I had always wanted, but didn’t know how to acquire - freedom from my hair.
Initially, it was a little weird. Head shaving wasn’t as popular back then - it was only racist thugs, Patrick Stewart, Bruce Willis and me who did it. When I put on my sunglasses I did actually look sort of badass - as much as a skinny guy can - but I was always ready to tell people that my shaved head wasn’t a statement of my politics or friendliness - I was just bald.
Having lived with this style for twenty-some years, I’ve become accustomed to its few drawbacks. Many indoor spaces feel colder to me in July than they do in January as air-conditioning blows on my head. Without hair to act as “feelers” I can’t tell when I’m about to bump my head on things - that’s why bald guys often have scabs on their heads, and why that damn pipe by the water heater in my basement has foam wrapped around it. It's also why I wear hats a lot indoors.
Daily maintenance is a bit of an issue, as I have more acreage to shave than most guys. It takes some time to run the electric razor over my entire head, but it’s something I can do as I sit with my tablet, reading the news every morning.
So, the drawbacks are few, and on the plus side, I have no stress over the fact that my hair has turned gray, because nobody ever sees it - it’s a piece of the aging process that I’ve been able to hide.
I’ve gotten completely comfortable with my baldness and today everyone and their brother is shaving their heads - or - me and my brother, anyway. Nobody gives me a second glance and I don’t give it a second thought.
I’m thankful that my wife likes my look, and I like her’s, too. She keeps her hair short enough that people make stereotypical assumptions about her sexuality. I think it looks great, and I love that she’s not a slave to her stylist, her shampoo brand, her conditioner, curling iron, straightener or whatever else people use on their heads these days.
Insecurities can come from anywhere: extra-moist armpits, the pitch of one’s voice, the whiteness of teeth, the number of letters in front of or behind one’s name, income, waist size, hairstyle, etc. I just love it when someone takes control of their insecurity and says, “this isn’t going to wreck my self confidence any more.” I know in my own case that a huge burden was lifted when I shaved my head. So, Lesley, you have my endorsement. Take it as short as you dare. If you want, I’ll bring my clippers and show you how it’s done.