|This is not me|
When I was five I had never thought about my hair. It was curly and a bit lumpy, I guess, but it was just something that my mother fussed over and brushed into shape. Then I went to school and there was a boy in my class named Alan Pashley. Alan had flat, shiny, black hair – it never moved, and you could almost see your reflection in it. This was my introduction to the world of Brylcreem, the world where some men just had it and other men just didn’t.
I wanted hair like Alan’s – more than anything in the world. I was so envious it hurt.
At five I was not interested in girls, obviously, but even at that age I was sufficiently aware of the power of advertising to know that they would chase you down the street if you put some branded gloop on your hair. From that time on I always wished I could look like someone else – almost anyone else, in fact. I once tried a secret experiment with a blob of my dad’s Brylcreem, but it just produced a greasier version of the same chaotic, lumpy mess, so I then knew for sure that in my case this was not just a matter of grooming, it was simply that the raw material was hopeless.
Things were not helped by the fact that my dad devoutly believed that boys should part their hair on the left, same as they buttoned their coats left-over-right, without regard to which direction the hair grew in. It was a manhood thing.
Like everyone else, I spent my youth agonising about my unattractive appearance – things improved very slightly when I was nineteen and I dared to change my hair, and get it parted on the natural (girl’s?) side. I’ve never been a big fan of the way I look, but you sort of get used to it as the years pass, there are other things to fret about, and you probably reach a stage where girls chasing you down the street would be a nuisance. And, of course, eventually the damn stuff starts to fall out, so the problem will be replaced by another…
My youngest son is now fourteen, and he doesn’t like his hair. It makes him miserable. Now there’s a surprise. Nothing is new. He was horrified by a recent photograph of himself, and when we reassured him that it was actually a good photo, and he looked fine in it, he was furious – our naïve approval of his hated appearance was the final straw. There is almost no limit to the things he has to put up with. No-one has ever been this wretched.
Maybe, come to think of it, some things have changed a little. When I was five, or even nineteen, there were very few actual film stars around – the rest of us did not expect to look like that – we all had crooked teeth, dodgy hair, moles, all that. Now the world is run by viral photos on social media – “products” are available to sort out your hair, everyone is expected to have good teeth, wear the right labels, cover themselves in tattoos, circulate hopeful selfies of themselves. If you do not look like a film star, pal, you are not trying. Maybe failure is more absolute, less excusable than it was in my day. Do not be ugly, have a pimple on your nose, etc, because not only will you feel bad about it, but your friends will crucify you on Instagram.
So we are trying to come up with a supportive, workable strategy to help our son. The first, and maybe most obvious idea is that he should get his hair cut rather more frequently, and keep it a little shorter. It might help – at the very least, you would think, he will have less of it to be offended by. He could try to get it re-styled, or set up some heavyweight grooming programme involving gloop and conditioner (and cost, and crap, and frustration, and effort, and wasted time in front of the mirror), but that is unlikely to work out well in the longer run, and merely adds layers of paranoia and hopeless struggle to the existing problem. We need to identify a calm moment, and try to form some sort of plan. Feasible would be good.
I fear that the grooming/gloop approach has become a colossal industry – the default way of life – many and vast are the fortunes made by exploiting personal inadequacy. The world is filled with pictures of kids who miss the point – selfies of 300-pound clones of Paris Hilton abound, daft photos of boys with a poor copy of someone else’s beard stuck on the front – just have a look at your Facebook friends’ friends’ friends…
Prayer for a fine Monday morning: Please send us a little peace. Let us remember that there are people in the world who have far worse problems than untidy hair – let us try to focus, just a little, on things that actually matter. Let us see heartless, exploitational advertising for what it is.