I wanted to feel the air on my shorn head once again before summer’s end.
But today a stiff breeze is blowing, and even though it’s sunny, I want a jacket: It already feels like fall.
I’d been contemplating a tonsure for a while – since last winter, at least. I’m intrigued by monasticism, by the self-effacement and intentional relinquishing of worldly values that it represents. I’m addicted to cutting my hair. I’m also very vain, and contend with the tension between really wanting to not care how I look, and really really caring how I look, on a daily basis.
Attempting to decouple my sense of identity and self-worth from my physical appearance is tremendously hard. I often regret my haircuts immediately after they’re done, then acclimate to them fairly quickly. But, then, I usually cut my hair because I don’t like what it’s doing and want to make it look better.
Today, before I picked up the clippers, my hair was perfect. Growing in nicely, looking fly, forming a protective coat around my vulnerable head in preparation for the winter that is certain to come (unless I die first). Now, I am possessed of perhaps the goofiest haircut of my life. Which is saying something: I’ve sported a Chelsea and a mullet and several wacky stripy shaves in between.
I certainly didn’t give myself a tonsure in an effort to look cute. But the confident glee I felt when I embarked on the cut quickly evaporated: Combined with an incipient breakout and the way my body has changed since this time last year (I’m muscular but bulkier than I want to be, feeling ungainly), my ridiculous hair is making me feel sort of ugly.
So what? Isn’t this the type of deliberate self-confrontation that led me to a monk’s haircut in the first place?
Yes. Yes, it is.
There is a vile superficial essence that lurks within me, spinning insidious little stories: that my worth is directly proportional to how beautiful and thin I am. That, as an attractive person, I am entitled to a super-hot mate whose proximity will generate social approbation. That, no matter how worthy a person’s character, physical beauty is an essential constituent of goodness, of wholeness.
I want to be free of this essence. I want these stories to stop interfering with my joy. Because life is terribly short and terribly precious. Because appearance is the most fleeting of virtues (if it’s even a virtue at all – I’m sort of beginning to doubt that it is). Because I don’t want my vision to be circumscribed by something as vapid and arbitrary as culturally defined notions of what’s attractive.
I’m not there yet. I’m still in its grip, struggling to unbind myself, trying to inoculate myself against, and atone for, my sin by exposing it.
On the plus side, when it comes to unalloyed tactile pleasure, nothing beats stroking a freshly Bic’d scalp.