Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Tell Me What You Think of My Hair

On the list of things men would really rather not do, “get a haircut” probably ranks in the top 10. It ranks slightly ahead of “eat yogurt,” well behind “tell a woman what he is thinking” and far behind “purchasing The Essential Barry Manilow.”

This contrasts heavily with women, who will announce their intentions to get a haircut well in advance. They will gaze analytically into mirrors for periods of several minutes before declaring to their significant other, “I think I may need to cut my haircut.” The internal commentary of the man they are speaking too will usually come to life at this point, and he’ll think, Either it is or it isn’t. Let me know when you’ve made a choice.

He will, if he’s intelligent, not say this out loud. If he’s sagacious enough, he knows that being asked what he is thinking on a regular basis and always being vague in response is a better plan than simply saying what he is thinking. Otherwise, he’d die single and Post™ Raisin Bran would be the most elaborate meal ever prepared in his home.

He knows that she may choose to have her haircut the next day. Then again, maybe it’ll be the next week; who knows when the woman will have the financial resources and the spare afternoon she requires for such an undertaking. She’s simply stating out loud that this is going to happen sometime, thus providing adequate preparation time to notice when she has a new style, plus adequate rationale for outrage when he fails to do so.

This is the only explanation that makes sense to guys. We tend not to deliberate on such things for more than a day or two. One day, we simply wake up, see ourselves in a mirror and wonder what hedgehogs have given their lives to be our skullcaps. It’s then that we decide to visit the barber.

Note that I distinctly said “barber” in the last paragraph, as opposed to “beautician” or “stylist.” We would prefer to have the deed done by another man, one who is cognizant of how little we want to be sharing our hygiene habits with anyone else, and who will absolutely, positively never ask us what we are thinking.

In many ways I am distinctly male: I cannot cook, I try to explain my opinion in as few words as possible and I consider Leonardo DiCaprio’s movies worse than facing a firing squad. However, my attitude toward hair styles has not been shared by many of my gender.

I have often viewed haircuts as a way of emulating those I admired. In the period leading up to my teen years, the one I admired was MacGuyver.

Emulating Richard Dean Anderson’s appearance did not make me a celebrity, nor did it enable me to create make-shift explosives out of devices you might find in a convenience store. It simply gave me long hair in the back of my head, and by the time I reached eighth grade only a minority of my classmates shared this look.

Furthermore, I had a feeling that this minority would spend a lot of their future years in convenience stores, not searching for the parts of potential makeshift explosives, but probably looking for employment and/or methamphetamine ingredients.

Therefore, I found new role models in the alternative rock scene of the mid-90s. Anyone who was a teen at this time remembers the style: long enough to deny its wearer serious consideration for good jobs, but not long enough to get caught in automatic sliding doors. My older sisters both married men far more embracing of certain male stereotypes than I, and, being in their 20s, couldn’t understand why any male would want hair down past his earlobes.

Frankly, I’m now the same age they were at that time, and I no longer understand it either. However, I still clearly remember the tension resulting between them and myself when I used the four forbidden words: “Do you have hairspray?” My brothers-in-law regarded this in a way similar to how Republicans react whenever a high-profile Democrat suggests leaving Iraq.

“He hates our way of life,” they would say. “He’s emboldening the enemy.”

Near the end of my college years, I, and nearly every other male my age found a style that was distinctly male yet stylish enough: using gel or wax to flip the front of the hair up while keeping the rest down. The effort required was minimal and result so effective that I haven’t changed styles in more than five years.

Here in Korea, where the people are smaller and nearly everyone seeks an office job, masculinity is interpreted differently. There are many men who cut hair professionally, but not one accurately fits the definition of “barber.” No, these have all the characteristics of male hairstylists: they all have a color scheme atop their heads that resembles one of the new flavors at Baskin Robbins, their physiques are as wide as matchsticks at the shoulders and somehow get narrower in the legs, and their clothes fit like Saran wrap covering a pretzel stick.

When I instruct them to give me a trim, there is a sense that they are overqualified for such a task, but they set out to do it in earnest, possibly because they work with blonde hair so infrequently. It all goes well until the end, when they decide that my ‘do is five years out of date, and attempt to give me a look no man who isn’t a hairstylist can wear to work the next day.

They rarely speak English, but when they finish and give me a chance to look in the mirror, I imagine them wanting to ask me, “Well, what are you thinking?”

What I am thinking, as I sit silently, is "How do I say 'justifiable homicide' in Korean?"

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