Monday, August 12, 2013

What's In A Mane?

When I was growing up in the 70s and early 80s I worship at the altar of the long locks.  My dream was to attain the status of "long-haired hippie freak." And I did pretty good with it.

One summer when I was working at Camp Epworth -- a United Methodist Camp in High Falls, New York -- my friend Jimbo cut his hair.  He'd also been a long-haired kind of guy, but he came back to camp one evening having gotten himself a rather conservative cut.  He declared that no one would ever make a more drastic change than he had.

I took the dare.

To be fair, I made my decision scientifically.  I polled the rest of the staff, asking if I should cut off all of my hair.  The results were, numerically, pretty evenly split, but the enthusiasm was all on the shearing side.  And so, with a couple of those arts and crafts safety scissors and a bag of disposable razors, I went bald.  And I actually kind of enjoyed it.  And thus began my literal on-again, off-again relationship with my hair.

I've tended toward keeping it long -- and my wife particularly likes it when I've got a MacGyver-esque mullet -- but I've been shorn, too.  When I went before the Ministerial Fellowship Committee I was asked if my long hair was some kind of statement and if I'd be willing to cut it more conservatively if long locks got in the way of my ministry.  In fact, just a few short months later I asked my Internship Committee whether they thought my appearance was hindering my effectiveness.  To a person they said that they didn't personally have any problem with how I looked but that they thought there might be people in the congregation who did.  I cut my hair.

It was very short when I came to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church, although I was sporting a pretty big beard at the time.  In the last couple of years I'd started letting my hair grow out again.  But a couple of months ago I cut everything back.  I buzzed my hair and shaved off my beard (something I hadn't done in over twenty years).  You can imagine that folks here had all sorts of reactions.

During the month of July -- which I'd taken off for a combination of vacation and study leave -- I've allowed my hair to grow back some.  I have a goatee now, which my wife had said she'd never want but which she allows looks good on me.  And now that I'm back at church, people are having all sorts of other reactions.

Recently I had several people on the same day say essentially the same thing -- "this looks more like you."  Yesterday,  my friend and colleague the Rev. Tony Perrino delivered a wonderful sermon about being "nobody but yourself."  And that got me to thinking about people's reactions to my appearance.  Isn't it interesting that the way we look can get so wrapped up in people's thinking with what they think of us?

I was going to write, ". . . with how they see us" and realized that that's a big part of it.  We do judge books by their covers or, at least, we connect with those covers.  (I recently bought a new edition of that Herman Hesse classic Narcissus and Goldmund and was disappointed that the cover art had changed from the one I'd had as a kid.)  And how easy it is to go from judging a book, in part at least, by its cover and prejudging something (or someone) by its appearance.

Nothing profound today.  Just some musings.

Pax tecum,


"Oh say, can you see my eyes?  If you can, then my hair's too short!"

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Shari Wolf said...

Erik- along with this post you should post a bevy of pictures! Long hair, short hair, goatee, big puffy beard, lol It really is a shame that we are so often judged by our appearances!
(as one who changes hairstyle/haircolor the way that others change shoes...I can attest to the reactions of others, and unfortunately the way that those reactions shape my own feelings of self worth... uggh)

Lynn said...

Let's not overthink this! If you change your appearance frequently, you don't get a "look" that people recognize/count on. If people have never known you as anything but a man with a great bushy beard (and they stare at you every week...), it will be a surprise to see a military haircut and no beard.

But we DO need to recognize the people in our lives, so most of us store away the way they look.

It's my experience that we are the harshest critics of our own appearance, that others are really not as obsessed with our looks.

Pete Armetta said...

You look marvelous! It's always good to mix things up, it keeps life interesting. :)

Amy said...

Facial recognition is one of those sections of our brains that comes hardwired - all part of how babies learn how to tell their parents from their grandparents who might try to steal them (just kidding - just in my family). After posting this, you probably wouldn't be surprised how many people did not recognize me, or made some other appearance-related comment because I didn't wear my glasses to a wedding on Saturday. So it goes! We all learn to manipulate our appearances to get to our end goals - from choosing to look older when we need to, or clean and tidy so we don't look broke and inept when we go in for a parent-teacher conference or for a loan appointment. You can say nobody should have to - but the only people who really don't have to are the most privileged among us.

RevWik said...

Don't over think things? My goodness, Lynn, that might even be more a part of my identity than my hair! (LOL)

What most strikes me, I think, are the comments about how one or another of these looks is "more me." I recognize that what most people are really saying is "this look is more like the look I'm used to," but some have certainly seemed to me to be saying that they felt it more essentially and, perhaps, existentially representative of my inner being.

I've also been reading, recently, more about the notion that racial "color blindness" is more of a denial of our natural inclination -- need, even -- to amek judgements based on appearance than it is a goal to be sought.

RevWik said...

No pictures, Shari. At least, not all at once!

RevWik said...

I believe you, Amy. It's interesting how even a little thing -- glasses, or no glasses -- can make such a striking difference. Your point about privilege is interesting. It reminds me of the e.e. cummings poem that Tony used on Sunday -- that the goal of being "nobody but yourself" is something that world is constantly resisiting. Perhaps only the very wealthy or the extremely poor don't have to figure out how they "should" look.

Idahoo said...

You're just lucky we didn't cry, as my daughter did at age 8 and at age 42 when my husband shaved his mustache for snorkeling. As she said, "I'm not good with change!" That's true for many of us!

Alex Schult said...

So - finally a place to share my reaction to the hairless Samson: Shock horror and dismay, lack of recognition and an immediate:"wait a minute - I like to hear what the guy says, so let me close my eyes." Still same old Erik voice and intonation, message the same. So, yes I fell right into the prejudice trap. Good thing is I don't have to keep my eyes closed.And which Delilah deceived the man. Ha! There's fodder for the analysts. The gut me part likes the hairy Erik. Over and out.

RevWik said...

Thanks for sharing that, Alex. One of my children actually refused to see me at first -- he asked my wife to take a picture of me to look at. And I, too, sort of miss the big bear/mountain man look I've had off and on. If only I could have a stock of wigs and beards to switch around with my moods . . .