On Haircuts, Inconsistency, and Nostalgia

I’m procrastinating a haircut right now. It might seem odd that in my act of procrastination—writing—I’m participating in one of the most procrastinated burdens, but as Byron said, “We of the craft are all crazy.” I’ve become a master at engineering excuses to delay my haircuts: I don’t have time today or this weekend or, now that I think of it, this whole month I’m booked; it’s supposed to rain later; I don’t know if I’ve emotionally moved on from my last haircut; it’s a full blood moon tonight. I can do this all day.

I’ve always hated haircuts. When I was a kid I threw a tantrum every time my mom said I had to get one. One time I told my mom how it hurt when I got my hair cut, that’s why I cried every time. She said it doesn’t hurt, it’s just hair. Thinking I had the perfect retort, I said that it didn’t hurt me, it hurt the hairs; they had feelings too. She let out such a disappointed sigh that I can still hear its echo today.  

At the age of six I got my first haircut in which tears were not shed. It was a milestone for my mom and me. She even told my friend’s mom about it, that’s how proud she was. My friend’s mom, however, didn’t share that pride in me. She looked at us like my mom had just boasted about her son successfully brushing his teeth without spraining his ankle for the first time. If I had set the bar any lower as a kid I might have tripped over it.

I don’t know why as a kid I had so much contempt for something so arbitrary like haircuts. Perhaps it had to do with my trying to become comfortable with who I was. I was young, I was malleable. With each new experience, I developed a new viewpoint. I was starting to become who I was, who I would be for the rest of my life. My hair was a part of my being. It seemed that every time I became comfortable with my hair and how it made me look, it was time to lop most of it off and adopt an entirely different hairstyle and look. It was the inconsistency that I had a problem with.

So what is it now that keeps me haircut-averse? Here’s something I need to confess: I go to a popular chain hair salon that I won’t name, not a local barber who I have a rapport with and who understands my hair and my style. At Great Clips, I have the same problem I had as a kid: inconsistency. I get a different stylist almost every time, and I’m guaranteed to get a slightly different haircut every time. Once a stylist said to me, “I don’t get why people fuss over hair so much, it always grows back.” At first I found this concerning, like I had just heard an anesthesiologist questioning why people fuss so much over trivial little things like dosage, but then I found comfort in it. It reminded me why I keep reluctantly coming back to these salons.

What trust we put in these scissor-wielding stylists of hair. And no, I don’t mean trust in that they won’t go postal and do us harm with a pair of stylist’s scissors; I mean trust in their ability to get our hair right and not leave us looking like a tonsured monk. It’s the wariness of this trust, inculcated in me at a young age, that continues to complicate the relationship between haircuts and me. Yet it’s the complications in the relationship that I cherish, that remind me of younger days, that give me a rush of heady nostalgia every time I grumble about having to get my haircut. It’s a fraught and complicated relationship indeed, but most of the good ones are.

I’ve grumbled enough now. It’s time to go get a haircut. 

Riley Winchester lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has a B.A. in History from Grand Valley State University. His writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Sheepshead Review, Writing Disorder, Waymark, Ellipsis Zine, Brown Bag, Adelaide, and other publications.

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