Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Quarter Century: My long and complicated relationship with my hair

In short: I hate my hair. Always have.

Sure, the color is fine, a mysteriously-alluring dark brown. But the goods stop there. It's thick, untamed when left to its own devices, too curly to lie straight and too straight to bounce curly and worst off all, there are two competing cowlicks at the crest of my forehead that shoot off in opposing directions.

For most of my rearing I, like everyone else in the late-80's-early-90's, was the boy with the bowl cut. It was simple: party on top, business on the sides. It required minimal effort and always looked essentially the same.

I have no doubt that right now, female readers are seeing these pictures and thinking "OMG, that is a-DOR-able." Yes, in my younger years I was a darlingly-effeminate child with long curly eyelashes and rosy cheeks. It certainly isn't lost on me that I will never look as good to the opposite gender as I did when I was 4. C'est La Vie

But, the styles began to change. Suddenly everyone around me decided that "The Buzz" was THE look. If you weren't buzzed, you weren't cool. What's worse, if you still were rocking the bowl cut you were unequivocally NOT cool. It's like that time around 7th or 8th grade that guys discover boxer shorts and you do NOT want to be the last kid in whities. (For the record, boxer briefs, the best of both worlds).

My mother was hesitant to give me the #1. Ever since my birth I have had a large, star-shaped scar on the back of my head and the bowl cut was more than just an esthetic choice; it was also functional. To buzz would mean to display my bald spot to the world, something my mother feared but eventually, upon my insistence, relented.

And so began the buzz days. You can kind of see the cowlicks in this picture. Face-left (think stage left) shoots straight down, face-right shoots back and swoops to the side.

This is one of my all-time favorite pictures. It's me and my cousin Nick at the Ogden 24th of July parade (to the non-Utah crowd, that's "Pioneer Day"). Remember Silly String? How much fun was THAT?

This picture also captures a time of innocence. A time of reckless abandon before I entered a very dark, depressing, disturbing hair faze.

The part-down-the-middle.

I can't explain what motivated me to do such a foolish thing. I think at the time I was trying to emulate my big brother, who had a similar hairstyle when he was around my age. The fact that styles had changed in the 9 years between us didn't exactly occur to me.

I remember I used to carry a cheap, switch-blade-style comb in my pocket to touch up on the left and right flanks of this monstrosity. I didn't have a lot of friends.

That's how I spent 6th and 7th grade and believe me, these pictures are very generous. I hate my hair now but I despised my hair back then, and yet I felt trapped by it. Change is terrifying and when you're in Jr. High, even a decision that would only last 3-4 weeks feels like a cataclysmic, destiny-defining choice.

Eventually, however, a combination of shame and disgust motivated me to cut my hair and join the new trend of "Spiked" that was infiltrating youth around the country.

The problem was, I had never spiked my hair before. You think all it takes is running some gel through your hair but it takes planning, it takes finesse. Without a demonstration in the basics you end up with something like...this.

Unsymmetrical, unkempt, chaos. This picture was taken the day I got my braces on (LOOK AT THOSE TEETH!) Which yes, means that I was undergoing a one-two punch of adolescent social pariah, metal mouth and bad hair. To make matters worse, my orthodontist decided that my palette was too narrow and thus, obstructing my sinuses. I was outfitted for six months with a medieval torture device known as an "Expander" that hung just beneath the roof of my mouth making it difficult to eat and speak and which had to be cranked each night with a special key.

I remember Kyle McClofsky would make me say things in social studies to make fun of my slurred speech. His favorite was "Tree Trunks" which came out like "Dwee Dunks."

I hated Kyle McClofsky. I hated my expander. I hated my hair.

Slowly, with practice, I was able to swallow hard food, enunciate words with only minimal slurs and arrange my mane with a degree of subtlety. I realized that my hair was too curly to spike "up" so instead I would spike it "forward" into the standard gelled crew cut popular with middle class Caucasians. My cowlicks still gave me a lot of trouble, and my $1-a-bottle L.A. Looks super hold gel just made my head slimy, especially if I got rained on. It would be another 10 years before I realized the benefits of using a decent hair product.

But alas, the winds of young fashion are ever changing. And so it was that in my freshman year "The Shag" saw a surge in popularity. Finally, a trend that I could succeed at. My hair, after all, grows freakishly fast and freakishly thick.

Depending on how recently I had a trim, I was told that I looked like Shia Labeouf (circa Even Stevens), Bobby Brady, or Ringo Starr. I don't think people quite understood how insulting that last one is.

One day, while working as a host at a mom and pop restaurant, a customer referred to me as "Miss." I cut my hair that night.

And so we entered, the Modern Era.

Things, hair-wise, were calm then. Sure, I still had the cowlicks (which you can see pretty well in the above picture) but as long as I kept things low profile and didn't attract any attention, nobody seemed to notice.

Except me. I'm sure its this way with everyone but I could spot from a mile away the subtle, glaring, imperfections in my follicular appearance. Most men have terrible hair, it's true, and for generations our gender has been given a pass by the fairer sex because "we just don't know any better." But I know better, I know what great hair is, and yet try as I may I've never been able to attain it.

Things have stayed pretty much the same over the last few years. I abandoned the "spike" and went for the "messy," shaking things up before shooting most everything over to the side. In Brazil I coined the term "The Spartan" as in a Spiked-Part, but over the years I've gotten less spiky and more part-y.
Sidenote, that picture above is me and Andrew McMahon, the lead singer of Jack's Mannequin. His hair is awesome: carefree, artistic, casual and yet structured. My hair sucks: generic, boring, lopsided.

For years my hair would just bounce back and forth between lengths. As it got longer, it would drift toward the shaggy and unkempt side of the spectrum.

Shorter, it would look somewhat droopy and dead.

I would let it get much too long before a cut and would look like a well-dressed transient.

And then, sometimes, without warning, it would just become pure and utter chaos.
But then, a combination of factors combined to produce the best hair I've ever had.
First, my brother began working as a salesman of salon-quality hair products. Second, medium-length styles became trendy (think "The Adam Scott" or "The Dominic Cooper). And Thirdly...Hipsters.

Why Hipsters you ask? Because a key part of being a real hipster is looking as ugly as possible. Ugly clothes, ugly glasses, ugly mustaches and beards and, of course, ugly hair.

It's the perfect crime. Sometimes, when the stars align, my hair looks like F-ing Don Draper's. But when it doesn't, when I emerge from the bathroom bruised and defeated by my un-yielding locks, I throw on a pair of khaki pants, suede shoes, and over-sized shades and walk down the sidewalk with my earbuds in, listening to something that's so indie you KNOW you've never heard of it before.

Because obviously, no one would have hair this bad, with the receding hairline and ocean-wave bangs, unless they were totally over having good hair.


  1. I just want you to know that I take total offense to this entire post.

  2. I love that first photo of you, and I think my favorite of these hair pictures is the one with the singer. Fun to see all your different hair do's and stages. (I worry about Jaren who has so many cowlicks that are going to give him grief.) I think you're a bit remiss in not including the shot of your bald spot-sun after buzzing it for the first time.