How many activities do we perform in life mainly because at a young age we were told to? We are socialized into a variety of routine behaviors and learn what is expected of us. So we habitually conform to social conventions.
How often do we examine these routines and habits? How often do we ask whether these activities are what we want to do?
One constant in my childhood was a disagreement with my mother over the length of my hair. I wanted my hair to extend below the bottom of my ears and she thought boys’ hair should be shorter than the top of their ears. By the time I was around 12 years old, we had reached a tense detente of my hair being about mid-ear length.
My mother was, and still is, a person of habit and routine. Like pretty much everything else in my childhood, there had to be regular appointments with the local barber. I remember the barber as a gruff older man completely unsympathetic to the desires of a boy having longer hair. “You want the ears fully uncovered,” he said, believing he had a right every few months to tell me what I wanted. I suppose that is what my mother was paying him for. Still, the barber took umbrage at my preference for a mid-ear length of cut. He was not open to examining the issue.
No doubt, the mild traumas of the regular trips to be shorn like a sheep (hey, that’s what it felt like to me) contributed to my distaste for barbers. However, my experiences with barberism extended into my early adulthood.
I never wanted to just let my hair grow. Hitting my shoulders was as long as I ever wanted it to be, and my hair was bushy on top and unruly. Socialization says that when you need a haircut, you go to a barber. That’s what people do, so that’s what I should do. So I did. For years, I did.
Examining My Hair Habits
I don’t mean to disparage the profession, but I never found a barber who I could trust. Time and again I would tell the barber what I wanted and didn’t get it. Seemed simple — “please cut it to this length, thin out the back so it is less bushy.” The barber, again and again, male or female, mostly or totally disregarded my request and did what they wanted to my hair.
“Oh, you have such nice hair,” some would say as a defense for their suggestions for how my hair should be cut. Except often, they weren’t suggestions but explanations for the fait accompli of their actions.
I got into the habit of instructing the barbers by showing my index finger to the first knuckle, “cut only this much, please.” Once, when I saw the first hack leave a tuft of hair twice that long hit the floor, I complained, and the barber, without a trace of regret, flatly stated the rest of my hair would have to be cut that much.
And somehow, according to the barbers, my dissatisfaction was always my fault. They said I didn’t understand my own hair, or I didn’t understand fashion, or the most common excuse of, “well, if you got your hair cut more often …” As if the remedy for them completely disregarding my wishes was to let them do it more often.
I started to question why I kept volunteering to subject myself to this disrespect, this barberism. I didn’t enjoy the experience, and I didn’t enjoy the result. Why was I doing this? I realized I was not examining my beliefs and routines. I was doing what I was allegedly supposed to do, not what I wanted to do.
One day I ran across a mention of someone cutting their own hair. Not that nonsensical contraption advertised on TV attached to the end of a vacuum cleaner hose. No, the person said they had bought a set of barber shears and used them regularly.
It took me awhile to gather the courage to try it. Socialization and routine had implanted deep within me resistance to the idea. “Normal” people didn’t cut their own hair, did they?
There was the more reasonable objection that if I tried, I’d make a horrible mess of it. Weighing on me was the possibility of doing such a bad job on my own that I would need to go to a barber to be rescued. I could imagine their condescending ridicule.
But I HATED going to the barber. I hated the haircuts I received. I couldn’t do worse, could I?
The Day I Cut My Own Hair
One day I resolved to do it. I’d save time. I’d save money. I knew my hair better than anyone else.
I grabbed a pair of scissors* and went into my bathroom. I vividly remember that first snip on the top left of my head of hair. It was this one spot that always grew thicker and faster despite some barbers refusing to believe that was possible. It was immediately gratifying. I could do this.
I did it. Within a few minutes I had trimmed my hair as I had always wanted it to be. In the mirror I looked good.
It was incredibly liberating. I had taken control not just of my hair but of my beingness. That’s the only way I can describe it. Corny though it may sound, that day was a watershed in my life. I claimed my own power. I liberated myself from barberism, from being constantly disrespected and told I didn’t know my own self.
In the years since, I have cut my hair as I wanted to when I wanted to. Not sure how much money I have saved, but what I have really saved is my sense of self. By examining my life, asking why I did something and whether I wanted to keep doing it, I established a new way of being.
Whenever I feel unsure of myself in taking a new path in life, I remember standing in front of the mirror that day. It still feels liberating and inspiring.
If you enjoy going to the barber, that’s fabulous. What didn’t work for me may work for you. But I hope you all find ways to question your routines and examine if you really want to do them anymore. You may just realize your own version of barberism, and that’s a step toward liberation.
* Why do we say a “pair” of scissors anyway? They are a pair of blades, but they are only scissors when those blades are attached in a particular way. A scissors is a singular object.