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Culture
Haircuts

5 Apr 2015
Zoro after grooming
Zoro after grooming Me at 14 months
Me at 14 months - no hair cut needed yet Me at 11
My crewcut at age 11 Me at 23 - before
My hair at its longest, age 23 Me at 23 - after
Two hours later - see how thin I look! My hair is longer today.
My pup Zoro is just over six months old and had turned into a fur ball. When the temperature topped 90° twice last week he was getting uncomfortably warm on our walks. After all he had been perfectly comfortable in 45° weather so you figure he had to be getting warm. Time for his first grooming! When he returned with his sleek, no skinny, new look it gave me cause to reflect on how we react to hair and hair styles in our culture.

My own first haircut caused a furor in my family. My father, with masculine instincts in many ways typical of a prewar South Carolinian, was looking forward to taking me. Unknowing of his desires and unbeknownst to him, my mother's favorite aunt (Mom's mother, like me much later, helped raise four younger sisters), took me for my haircut "as a favor". According to family legend it years before Dad would speak to her again. From that day forward he kept my hair cut in a crew cut or a military-style flat top that was popular back in the day, until I reached my teens. When I turned 13 I was allowed to grow hair as I wished, as my father had not kept it short due to conservative values: He just didn't want to be responsible for taking care of it when I was little. Until he was shipped overseas (compliments of the United States Air Force) Mom and Dad split the job of raising us kids equally: He got the boy and she got the girls.

Although I grew my hair as I wished, I never used it for rebellion, but that didn't keep me from having problems. When I was 14 I got my first job, working concessions at a local drive-in theatre. At the end of my first week our boss, a guy who seemed really old at the time but was probably 45 or so, lined up the kids, all boys of course, and inspected our hair. He ordered me and a few others to get haircuts. At the time I combed it back like my older second cousin, as we both had straw-colored hair and I knew he was cooler than I was (he drove). Since my mom agreed with me that my hair was already plenty short enough - I'd just gotten a haircut - I went back to the job as is, and was fired. That was Fort Worth in 1968, maybe two years after they got rid of the whites-only water fountains and rest rooms.

The following year I was stuck in the junior high school of Del City, a suburb of Oklahoma City. My hair was slightly longer than the year before, but I wasn't the one with hair problems, it was kids all around me. My math teacher caused me unwitting torture by praising me in one breath - he put a poster of Albert Einstein right behind my seat, I swear to God - and in the next haranguing boys with lesser math talents but longer hair, offering to pay for them to get haircuts. Who could blame those guys for hating me? I know they did, but to their credit not a one bullied me (no, that was in band class). The following year I showed a picture of John Lennon from the Rubber Soul era to a hair stylist, who gave me my first layer cut, a style I essentially kept until it was shortened on a TV set when I was 40.

But a buddy in senior year was not so lucky. Vernon Phillips got the worst haircut of his life, or so he said, so immediately had his hair cut down to the skin, boot camp style. As it happened we were seniors entitled to participate in the annual beard growing contest, so Vernon started it all at once. We were treated to the spectacle of a guy whose hair and beard grew at the same length together until the end of the month when we all had to shave.

All of this is a narcissistic way of tossing around the role and importance of hair styles in our culture. Today anything goes and is accepted, so the past hair wars seem distant and almost mythological. The truth is when we see a person's hair style, it tells us something about them, but we may be kidding ourselves about what that something is. When I was younger, into my thirties, I certainly looked at women according to their hair styles, among other things: Longer hair was desirable and shorter hair was questionable at best. What can I say? I was and am a child of the sixties. But attitudes change. My ex-wife recently cut her hair shorter for the first time in her life and to this discerning eye, the result was fabulous. When we were married, all those years ago, the very thought would have horrified me.

When I was 39 my new hair stylist, Linda Davis, tried to get me to agree to a slightly shorter hair style, just above the ears, without success. One of her selling points was that "fat hair" over the ears made my face look fatter. Although she didn't quite accomplish her goal, it was a telling blow, because as my mother's son I was always interested in not looking fat. But about six months later I was given a small role in a TV drama set in the early 1930s, which required a shorter hair style, provided on set by the producers. The next time I went in for a haircut, Linda was triumphant: See how much thinner you look, she trumpeted. She was right; I was sold, and so it stayed until last year when I decided to see just how long my hair could get if I let it. It's barely over my collar and ears and already it's driving me crazy.

Which brings us full circle to my pup, who now looks almost anorexic. By my measurements he lost about 10% of his body weight with that haircut, but it looks like 30%. If I could achieve either metric I'd cut my hair shorter in a heartbeat.


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