The Tyranny Of Hair

How long did that take?

I used to have hair. I’m not bald now, I choose to shave my head but I could have a full head of hair if I chose to. I’m slightly receding at the front but apart from that, my follicles are pretty productive for a man of forty.

But I used to have lots of hair. I even used to have it dyed and styled at a barbers. For years, I had a purple fringe. At first, it was to annoy my parents but I grew to like it after a while. The bizarre thing was that I was asked many times if it was natural. Naturally purple hair? Eh?

The reason I shave my head now is simple: pure laziness.

The shaved head is the easiest hair style to maintain. All other hairstyles are like spinning a plate on top of a pole. They require a constant daily input of energy and time in order to reverse the inevitable ravages of entropy. Shaving your head is taking that plate and laying it gently on the floor.

Maybe it’s me. Maybe some people have magic hair that flows easily into place and complies quietly with any styling choice. Mine isn’t like that. When I used to have hair, I had to wash it every day and spend ages drying it and trying to get it to go into the shape I was after. It was like wrestling sand. Sometimes, I’d spend half an hour washing and drying it and then look at it and start over again.

This played hell with my social life. I try to be punctual so I had to figure my hair prep time into any social plans I made. It was like a NASA launch window. Bear in mind that my hair wasn’t long enough to just hang and it wasn’t short enough to spike out. It was that awkward, high-maintenance distance in between.

Hair is a large component of how people define their identities and that’s most true with teens to twentysomethings. That may sound like a ridiculous statement but if you analyse how you look at strangers on the street, I bet you look at their head and hairstyle quite early on. It’s an easy way to pigeonhole someone, it’s a very accurate pointer to age, class, gender and those other attributes we have to judge instantly.

So… from a distance, you see someone around 5′ 4″ with an enormous cloud of jet black hair and rod-straight extensions. In 2006, in Derby, that’s probably going to be a teenage emo girl. Immediately, you’ll throw a subcultural stereotype onto her: probably likes Panic At The Disco, probably goes to the Blue Note, very likely got a MySpace page. Individual elements of this could be wrong but the overall subcultural tagging is going to be fairly accurate.

All that from from some vestigial fur on our heads.

My hair got radically shorter around a decade ago. I guess I got fed-up with spending that time every day on primping and preening. And, being brutally honest about it, I don’t think I ever attracted anyone because of my fabulous hair.

So one day I shaved it all off. At first, I went for a grade 2 all over. But eventually I took the guard off the clippers and shaved the whole damned lot off.

The joy! The liberation! The hours of grooming time reclaimed for other purposes!

Estimating conservatively, I used to spend 30 minutes a day on my hair. That’s 3.5 hours a week. 182.5 hours a year. That’s a week and a half a year just on doing my hair.

Now I spend ten minutes once a fortnight shaving my head. A considerable saving in time, effort and cursing at the mirror.

The best thing about having a shaved head is waking up. You never feel beddy, you roll out of bed and you look smart and prepared, as if you’ve already spent time getting wakeful. You feel ready and more able as your hair never gets in your eyes or your way. When I had a big ’80s fringe, I was forever flicking it out of my eyes. In retrospect, why did I grow my hair so it hung over my eyes? And then flick it out of the way? I should have either cut it our been happy to view the world sheepdog-style.

I’ve left the best bit about shaving your head till last: killing your vanity.

We’re all vain. Even the people who pretend to be above such “superficial” things as judging others by their looks probably judge them on their record collections / books they’ve read / intelligence. We judge others every day and we also judge ourselves against a floaty, Platonic self.

When you shave your head, it’s killing part of that reflexive judgement. You’re shaving off a major way others will tag you. The shaved head doesn’t signify any one subculture: it’s been adopted by Buddhists and fascists, soldiers and monks. The shaved head is perhaps the most universal human hairstyle, it pops up in every culture somewhere.

So, when you shave your head, you’re rejecting a lot of things. You’re saying, “I really don’t care about having attractive, youthful looks. I prefer something more utilitarian and easy-care. Don’t look at my hair or clothes, look at me. Image-schmimage!” This is a bold statement for any man and revolutionary if you’re a woman.

Of course, there are many, many possible caveats to all the above: what if having a shaved head in itself becomes a high-fashion haircut? What if everyone around you has a shaved head – aren’t you conforming then rather than rebelling? Yep, you can think of many specific arguments against my general rambling. But, generally, I think most of the above is mostly true(ish).

Really, life’s too short for hair.