From Hair to Eternity

hair collage2-01Self-image is a funny thing. It can change daily and fluctuates depending upon your wardrobe, complexion, sleep habits, social trends, the salt content of your food and countless other variables. One day you feel doable; the next, you’re a cow with a zit.

A good way to elevate a sagging self-image is to alter the way you look. While many don’t need it, most women use a layer of make-up to boost their self-image, enhance their appearance and accentuate their winning facial features. This is not an option for most guys. Like slipping on a new attitude, you can also change your wardrobe to add some flair. Many men are into fashion, but that is not much of an option for me either. So, what’s left? I have my hair.

Inspired by a comment from a coworker, I recently decided to goof around with different hair styles. Her comment was not even provocative—maybe she said, “Your hair is getting long”—but that’s all it took to send me down an irrational vortex of insecurity. Something has to be done, I thought. I can’t just walk around and illicit the scorn and ridicule of my colleagues!

So I decided to experiment with my hair, and really, what better way to sidestep ridicule? Before then, my hair style was achieved by towel drying it after a shower and shoving the damp hair into various acceptable directions. It took almost no time or thought. This may have been a subconscious reaction to my early teens, an era when I sported a soft feathery helmet complemented by a perm-mullet in the back. When you experience such laughable extravagance at an early age, you spend the rest of your life fighting the shame. So I repented by doing close to nothing to my hair.

Along with changing my hair style, I also shaved off my beard. Since college, I’ve alternated between a goatee and beard, only occasionally going without facial hair to determine if my actual face was still as pudgy as it was since I had last seen it. On one long drive from Wilmington to New Jersey several years ago, I decided to change my identity every time I stopped. I started the drive with a full beard. At the next stop, I shaved everything except the goatee. At the next stop, I transformed into an uglier Alan Jackson by shaving it all except for my moustache. And at the final stop—after leaving my clippings spread across several mid-Atlantic states—I went full butt-face. I was amazed at how different I felt depending upon the look and how small changes to my appearance affected my overall self-image.

I decided to change hair styles every day. I went from Justin Bieber, to a character affectionately known as Slick Goob, to Pat Riley, and finally to a style inspired by the cast of Jersey Shore. All I had to pull off these transformations was a brush, some unused styling gel, my wife’s hair spray and a toddler’s sense of how to style hair. With each passing day, I became alarmed at how much time it took to get my hair “right” in front of the mirror. What started as a goof became a lesson in vanity and dedication. I thought about my hair all day. I would reach up and touch it, amazed at how stiff and crunchy it was. I noticed that no matter which style I sported, by 2 P.M. my hair became a bouffant since its natural tendency is to grow upwards.

For the first few days, I hid in my cubicle to avoid the sting of embarrassment and the need to explain the dubious reasoning behind my new look. I felt people looking at me differently, even complete strangers. I could feel them thinking, What’s up with that guy? And I would grin and lower my head at the same time. The experiment was challenging my notions of self and the byproduct was near-constant emotional discomfort.

Image is everything, they say. A person’s self-image is rooted deep into his psychology and only drastic restructuring can change it forever. It’s no wonder that so many individuals embrace plastic surgery and endure physical transformations big and small to find a workable emotional state. Even this magazine wrestles with its self-image. Is “The Man” too formal? How are we perceived? Is there a way to market a type of guy while trying to connect with and celebrate every kind of guy? We like to think so. A dude can miss many details, but he can always spot authenticity.

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