O.G.H. Savage

Barberism

Barbers Cartoon

In this article, I write about self-esteem through my fraught experiences at the barbers

I’ve been having a think about the nature of self-esteem. From my content research, I can see that this is an issue that people are deeply concerned about, and therefore it makes sense for me to whip something up in the self-image realm. I’ve chosen to do this through the complications I’ve experienced while attending the barbers. Here it goes.

I lost a button yesterday from my blue chinos and I’m aware of this as I leave the swimming pool. I can’t quite be bothered to fix it, so I’m walking around relatively unzipped, flying under the radar because of the coverage provided by an already-slightly-too-lose belt. I actually feel as if I’ve gotten away with something and it’s fairly satisfying. Perhaps people don’t really need buttons and it’s a coverup from the button industry. That said, it’s certainly upped my anxiety levels a bit – I feel that my trousers may pop open in public and who knows, in such a situation I could fail to immediately notice and become a laughing stock. 

It’s time for my three-weekly to monthly haircut so I walk into the barbers where I’m immediately engaged in a conspiratorial chat. Why do I always end up in these barber situations? With both of my last two significant barbers (I considered this to be four haircuts or more), I’ve ended up revealing that I used to work with refugees, in turn triggering their revelation of their own political beliefs once they realise I’m relatively onside for a white British man. With each comment about what the US are up to, they lean in closer to my wet little ears, in the process wasting valuable haircut time and extending the entire process. 

When I enter the barber’s, it’s us against the state, us against the USA’s hegemonic grip on world power – they quietly whisper something about what’s really going on in their home countries while I sit in a brightly lit chair being quietly snipped. 

‘You see, my friend’. Whispers my barber as he leans in and simultaneously raises an eyebrow.

‘It’s the US, you know’. This sentence comes with a slight wagging of the scissors, a little too close to my cheek for my liking. I should never have let on that I went to once went to Tunisia, my barber’s country of origin. That’s also led to a kind of conversational barricade of my own making, where every time I ask him about Tunisia in the hope of bonding, I actually just evoke a response of disappointment about how hard it is for him to get back there for a holiday. To be fair, he’s not the most positive of men. He’s usually talking about how the newly-built Lidl on the other side of the road is casting a shadow over his shop that’s far from customer-friendly. 

Then comes the time for them to do the top. When you’re losing your hair, or your hair is thinning, this is a catastrophic psychological moment. Under bright lights, the dampening of the strands with the tiny water sprayer reveals all, and you immediately see straight through to your scalp. It’s like somebody’s removed an effect on Photoshop and you realise that you basically have no hair and just some fluffy disguise that can immediately be destroyed with the application of water. 

I think men’s rights campaigns should begin to focus on this moment and do something about it. Perhaps a blindfold could be placed on the hairdressee at this point. Perhaps all the sheepish men sitting behind waiting for their turn – men who add significantly to the awkwardness of the whole process – could be made to look away. Perhaps there could be some kind of deal. 

There’s something about the specific situation at the barber’s that contains the potential for extreme awkwardness. There you are under the bright lights, looking at a terribly lit version of yourself. Unlike at other times with strangers, you cannot make small adjustments and actively engage with them. Instead, you must look at yourself, look at your lap, or glance at the barber. God forbid you catch the barber’s eye; there lies awkwardness of the most extreme variety.

You are exposed in your loneliness and it’s shown to other people. There’s also a form of intimacy to it. Your head is being touched by a stranger. But you lose all your social mechanisms, your ways of dancing around the direct connection between two human beings and connection to yourself.

Finally comes the moment where I’m shown the back of my own head. This happens in the barbers, and also in changing rooms. Often I’m pleasantly surprised by my back, but that’s as far as it goes. The barber lifts the cheap, round mirror up behind my head, they gesture to me to gesture in turn that I approve of the haircut. Then my eyes flit awkwardly between the barber’s expectant face and the little mirror before I give a brief, slightly-more-aerodynamic-than-it-would-have-been-before-I-entered-the-barbers nod. I wonder if anyone’s ever had the balls to lie at this moment. I definitely haven’t.

Recently, my barber caught me cheating on him. The previous morning, I’d had a great haircut with a teenager a few doors down, opposite Copenhagen’s Red Square. With that new haircut confidence (probably a 30% increase in confidence at least) I left my apartment and set out for the street. Just before, I’d attempted to see if my Greek housemate Lia wanted to join me out in the world, but as I knocked on her door she shouted 

‘DON’T COME IN! I’M SUPER NAKED.’ 

She’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and mostly by accident. I love the idea that there could be degrees of nakedness. Perhaps there are. I feel far less naked in the sauna than in a bad nude dream – a dream where you end up nude out in public. That happening in real life would be the ultimate catastrophe I reckon, perhaps with the potential to liberate. Like how one interpretation of depression is your own subconscious mind’s attempt to break you down, to make you realise that you cannot go on doing what you’re doing. 

Anyhow, I’m on the street with a fresh haircut and who appears from around the corner but my most recent ex-barber. There’s a momentary lapse as he breaks into a warm ‘HELLO MY FRIEND’ before his eyes flit up to the top of my head.

I know that he’s noticed the haircut. He knows that I know that he’s noticed the haircut. His expression subtly changes. Somewhere around the eyes there’s a change that drops from friendly to menacing and back to a form of friendly I know is not real. We both know that our barber-hairdressee relationship will never be the same again.

My friend Señor Tradge has a theory about barbers. He says that the first haircut you get from a barber is always the best one. Therefore, he circulates around South London getting haircuts from different barbers every couple of months, always trying to get the first haircut, the one where they’re most keen to impress and haven’t got their barber feet under the table that is your hair. After that, he’s through with the barber and discards him, at least until that barber has forgotten him to the degree that he’s willing to put in another great haircut in the interests of customer retention. 

I find that my self-esteem goes up and down viciously with my mood, like a lot of other things. I can go from considering myself pretty damn attractive, finding it easy to flirt and having a great body image, to essentially thinking of myself as undatable. It’s as if somebody’s jumped inside my mirror and pumped me up, especially on a hangover. My friend Marina Marin is always talking about the issue of fat face (not the clothing retailer). She perceives herself to have an incredibly fat face after a night down the pub, and this is only half true. Most of it is just feeling awful and the emotional suffering that a hangover brings leading to a heightening of self-criticism. 

Self-esteem can also change rapidly depending on how people around you react to you. This is why it’s so damaging when people constantly comment on other people’s looks. I’ve noticed that some people do this as a kind of form of emotional manipulation. With consistent comments on how you look – often wildly swinging from positive to negative – they keep you in a state of relative unease.

Plus, when a parent does this to a child, they can cause a lifetime of self-doubt about looks. My uncle is especially good at this. You meet, then he kind of looks you up and down as if he’s shaping you up for a suit but in a particularly mean way, then he makes a nasty comment about how you look. If you’re lucky, he makes a nice comment about how you look veiled with the subtext that you used to look shite and it’s quite likely you’ll return to your normal state in good time. 

I stopped looking in the mirror too much when I realised what I was doing. Far from a Narcissus-style admiring of your own looks in a modern puddle, it’s actually a constant search for reassurance. That’s what I heard on the School of Life YouTube channel anyhow and that’s where I get most of my instructions on how to attempt to live my life. 

The self-esteem results of a haircut can go one of two ways. I’ve had multiple nightmares, but on the whole I come out of there feeling top-notch. On one occasion, however, I was given a fade by a barber who was high on confidence and nearly had a panic attack in the chair. The atmosphere in the room went right down and I entered an emotional sinkhole. Here I experienced something I would like to describe as a scarecut. It has happened to multiple people I’ve spoken with about their barber experience. 

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