The Courage To Be Disliked
“You notice only your shortcomings because you’ve resolved to not start liking yourself.”
At the end of 2019, I shaved off most of my hair. It sounds like a straightforward thing to do, and for many men, something no more important than shaving their chin, or taking out the rubbish. But for me, it was a bit more complicated than that.
For most of my life, I didn’t notice my hair, until someday I did. As a baby it was ginger and wispy, as a kid brown and mousy and once puberty kicked in it got curly.
But I became fixated with it, and most of all, worried what other people thought of it. I spent too long brushing it, staring at it in mirrors, adding product to it, washing it, not washing it. There was never any real end goal, just fleeting moments where it didn’t look ugly and bad. Why I cared about looking ‘ugly and bad’ was something I never thought about, just something to avoid – or to become preoccupied and fearful about.
My hair always caused me more stress than happiness, yet as I hit my mid 20’s, a new fear crept into the mix. Losing my hair altogether. Baldness was the ultimate thing to worry about. There would not be a ‘bad’ hair day, or ‘bad’ shampoo that left my follicles limp and lifeless, but every day would be a recurring nightmare. A bald head staring back at me.
It happens gradually, and with my panic levels through the roof, a few extra hairs in a comb were enough for me to cover my scalp with hats and beanies. Searching for a new look that I would need to stick to for the rest of my life. Maybe I could shower and sleep with a beanie on, and no one would ever think or ask about what was going on beneath the surface. Not long after, I read an article that hats SPEED UP baldness, due to stifling the oxygen, so I was left with my back to the wall. Again, not a lot of long term thought goes into these bizarre anxieties.
My hairline was the next frontier of worry. I was constantly patrolling it, with covert brushes with my hand and with especial caution when it was wet, and the hideous truth would become apparent to all.
When I did need a haircut, I felt a sickening dread – I believed only my barber knew my dark truth, that I was going to be bald. And maybe this time, he would finally throw down his scissors and say “I can’t do this anymore!”. Like a confidential informant who couldn’t take the pressure, or a scientist asked to solve an impossible problem in 30 minutes. But, as he brought out the hot towel, there was always ‘enough’ hair left on my head. With my ego intact, I would shake his hand (this time I’m thinking of Vlad, a Russian barber in Manhattan), and pretend like there was never any doubt about my hair. I had a healthy head, I was in great shape, and I’ll be back in a month! I practically skip out, searching around on the street for admirers of my new cut.
I never really stopped to think a few years ahead, to the actually reckoning. I pretended like it wasn’t going to happen. Maybe I’d still be spraying some sort of sea salt and weaving in some high tech pomade in 2040.
Of course, you see this sort of delusion all the time. Combovers that resemble modern art. Blonde spiderwebs stretching over a red raw desert of a scalp. But those guys were never me, I was different.
Once in a while, with people I felt comfortable around, I might say something like, “yeah, I’ll probably just shave it off.” I didn’t mean it, but it felt like the right thing to say. Casual, cool, calm. Like I’d never had any anxiety, or never felt self conscious. Like my hair wasn’t part of my identity, and I wouldn’t spiral into homelessness and ruin without it.
But one day, I did actually mean it. And the next minute, I was sitting in the chair, quite confident, and asking for a… How do you put it? I start explaining the way my hair works, the intricate details. The part line, the curls, how it looks today, how it usually looks. The expression on the hairdresser tells me a more important truth, she’s only looked at my hair for 20 seconds and it’s entirely unremarkable. She doesn’t feel my pain, she doesn’t know the journey leading up to this point. I sigh, and just ask for the clippers. How anticlimactic.
She must have seen the fear in my eyes, because before the blades are plunged past the point of no return, she says absentmindedly, “here we go” and grimaces (well, I think she grimaced a little). I see my face go white and my mind races forward a few days. All the hairdressers and customers have stopped to gawk. They are laughing and pointing. One older woman has gone green and is about to throw up at the sight of my head. At work, I’ve been fired, since no one can sit across a table from me, and my own family won’t answer my phone calls. The hairdresser is crying and apologizing, I’ll get a refund she assures me, just please leave and don’t come back.
“Alright, all done.” Her voice brings me back to reality, and my new head. I pay, walk out, and go back to my life.
I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting. Maybe I would be escorted into a room filled with other newly shaved, balding men and given a powerpoint presentation on the history and road ahead. Would I need to wear sunscreen on my scalp, will people treat me differently. What new celebrity role models will I need? Do I need to change how I dress too? Should I use a different dating app? Do I need to update all my old hairy internet avatars? So many questions left unanswered.
Since there’s only a few tiny ‘2’ on the clipper lengthed hairs on my head, I can’t do anything. Shampoo does nothing, it looks the same when it’s dry and wet. There’s no hair peeking out of a beanie. It doesn’t fly in the wind, or look different after a day on the beach. The comb is useless. And forget gels, pomades, waxes and all the other stuff. After my haircut I skipped the sales presentation entirely.
But most of all, the most confronting thing is the fact that other people, will see it. They might like it or dislike it, and that was true of having hair, and a maddening thing to worry about, but with no hair, it is completely out of my control. I have to accept it and be ok with it.
Because the truth, that I’ve never really faced directly or connected with, is this, it doesn’t matter – it has no substantive impact on any real important metric of your life, and should not take up your energy. It took too long for me to hear that, or really understand it.
“But do other people really look at you so much? Are they really watching you around the clock and lying in wait for the perfect moment to attack? It seems rather unlikely. A young friend of mine, used to spend a lot of time in front of the mirror arranging his hair. And once, when he was doing that, his grandmother said,”You’re the only one who’s worried how you look.”
He says that it got a bit easier for him to deal with life after that.”