The Haircut

For most of my life, I’ve had some form of long hair. There were the ill-advised early years of cornrows:

And then whatever this was:

But for the most part, I’ve stuck with the tried and true afro:

I’ve had haircuts before, but I typically defaulted back to the afro with any number of excuses- haircuts cost too much, they’re time consuming, the afro is my “look,” it’s my rebellious statement, any number of reasons to justify basically being lazy about my hair. So of course, the decision to change it permanently took a literal intervention.

It was a little over a month ago, at the Connecticut riverfront. I made a post on Facebook about grabbing a smoke there, and invited anyone who wanted to join me to come. Eventually, my friends Miles, Chelsea, Alycia and Karen showed up. We sat in front of the Riverfront Recapture tent, watching people below us exercise and the small boats sailing down the river. We were talking about sports, politics, music, whatever came to mind.

Miles was the first to broach the subject. “You know Jamil, you’re not a bad-looking guy. You just need to do something with your hair.”

Now Miles is not the first person to suggest a change, or even the 50th person. Whenever the topic comes up, I fall into my defensive crouch and start deploying my ready-made excuses. Before I could do it though, the others chimed in. “Yeah, you should!” “It would be good change!” And I don’t know if it was the weed, or the overall good mood I was in, or the insistence of my friends, but I listened to what they had to day. By the time the intervention was over and the subject had changed again, I decided that I was going to get a haircut. Not in the grudging, “Fine, let’s get this over with” way that I normally do, but in an actual, enthusiastic, “Yes, let’s do this!” kind of way.

I went the very next day to get my haircut, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that this haircut changed my life.

I was sad the day before I got this haircut. And the day before that. And the day before that, going back for as many days as I could remember. I’d made a bunch of changes- a new house, a new job- but I still found myself crying late at night, standing outside and staring at nothing while I blew smoke into the night sky. Alone, even with a house full of people around me. I had started to believe that being sad was simply my natural disposition, and my role to play in life. For every optimist, there needs to be a pessimist, right? Someone needs to be there to point out all the ways that things can go wrong. I tried to find purpose in sadness, and when that predictably didn’t work, it only made me feel worse. If there’s no point to being sad, then why couldn’t I seem to find a way out of it?

My haircut led to a complete 180 degree change in my outlook and attitude for a few reasons. The first was perhaps the most obvious, but had escaped me the longest: when you look good, you feel good. I don’t mean by some social standard of beauty, I mean on your own terms. Looking the best that you can. The suggestion to cut my hair was about being more attractive, but I realized (32 years into this thing) that I can also look good for myself. I called Karen after the haircut, and asked her what products I should use to keep my hair up. That’s a major change for me. I didn’t do anything with my hair except wake up, comb it sometimes and wash it once a week. Taking the ten minutes to put conditioner and spray on my hair every morning is now my ritual for myself, my commitment to self-care and self-value.

When you’re sad, little things don’t just become hard, they become meaningless. Showering, cleaning, eating well, reaching out to friends, it all feels pointless because nothing will drag you out of the hole you seem to be in. You feel like you can’t do it by yourself, and you’re right- you can’t do it alone. That was another thing this haircut taught me. My friends came to hang out with me that day. There were other things they could have done, but they chose to spend time with me. They made a suggestion about my appearance, not for their sake, but for mine. My friends care about me, about my success and my appearance, so that I can have a good life. All I had to do was stop being an arrogant know-it-all (my absolute favorite thing to be) and listen to others who had my best interest at heart. They could see what I couldn’t, and recognizing the love that my friends and family have for me, even with something as simple as a haircut, was important to helping me to feel better.

Then there was the haircut itself. I’ve never understood the reverence that barbershops have in the black community, because I frankly never spent time in one. Before this haircut, the last time I was in a barbershop was almost three years ago, getting a bad haircut with people I didn’t really like. But the place I went to on Asylum Avenue was incredible. I talked to my barber as he cut my hair, and he gave me the kind of advice that only a sixty-something black guy can. That’s when I realized that barbershops aren’t just places of camaraderie and bawdy conversations, but also mentorship, especially for young men who haven’t had that before. I’ve always lacked mentors, mostly because I didn’t know they were important, and then I ind’t know how to find one. And here one was, offering advice and helping me to look better? Yeah, that’s worth $40 every two or three weeks.

But for all the internal changes and growth that this process led to, I still needed positive reinforcement that the change was a good one. That came almost instantly. Miles was right- apparently, I am a pretty good looking guy when I put the effort into it. One day after my haircut, I got a blowjob from a guy I met on Plenty of Fish. The very next day! After months of loneliness and doubts about ever getting over my ex and how i would handle a future which was apparently going to be devoid of romance, I was suddenly getting responses on Tinder and going on dates. Self love is of course important, but after months of “self-loving,” it’s been great to talk with and flirt with and touch other people. Their mutual interest has let me know that yes, I am desirable, and yes, I do need to listen to the people around me more, because they often know better.

Even after all of these revelations though, the sad truth is that I’m overdue for another haircut. It’s been almost five weeks, and things are starting to look a little rough in the kitchen. I’m not expecting anything quite as transformative out of a shape-up, but that’s okay. It is cheaper after all.

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