A brief glance at a few TV adverts would suggest that the whole human race is fixated on, obsessed with, and paranoid about the condition and look of the hair on our heads. A wander through the supermarkets reveal miles upon miles of shelving devoted to the multitude of increasingly complex shampoos, conditioners and colouring chemicals to tend our tresses. In the electrical shops we find expensive gizmos for drying, straightening or curling the strands of keratin that sprout from our skulls. Don’t we have better things to do with our time and ingenuity than persistently “invent” supposedly better soaps and smarter hair driers?
There is a whole branch of biology looking at the structure and anatomy of hair and we spend a fortune in treatments of dubious efficacy to stop the (perceived) horror of hair loss. It is beginning to become apparent that luxuriant locks are a symbol of success. (Compare the press surrounding Ian Duncan Smith with that of David Cameron if you don’t believe me.) Would we be saddled with David Beckham as a fashion icon if he had gone bald at say 25? Would 007’s credibility been destroyed if we had known that Sean Connery wore a wig in many of the Bond movies? Would the world be a happier place if we were all follically challenged? I don’t know so herewith a brief history of a man’s hair. (I am not qualified to speak on behalf of women.)
The Early Years
For the first decade or so of a man’s life hair is not something to be bothered about. If you’re born with any it quickly departs before returning as thin strands of an indeterminate colour while the adults wonder if you look more like your mum or your dad. This brief fantasy soon wears off and by the time you are approaching school age hair has become an irritant.
You are dragged off on occasions to meet a strange man with variable height chair, a selection of combs and scissors who will remove apparently random lengths of hair which will fall to the floor. You may at this point wonder why your mother doesn’t berate the man for being so untidy; after all you are not allowed to leave things where they fell. Maiden aunts and assorted neighbours will occasionally ruffle your head, pinching your cheek declaring, “He’s so cute” before insisting on planting a lip-sticky kiss in the self same cheek.
Through the primary school years the trips to the barber may become more frequent, though this depends on your parent’s attitude to what is smart and tidy. Neighbours become less inclined to run their hands across your head preferring to pat you gently and comment on how tall you are getting, whether or not you are growing at an acceptable rate. Your hair at this point remains merely a nuisance.
Somewhere between the last year at primary and the beginning of third year at high school relative hirsuteness takes on a much more important role. A coincidence of events conspires to change your attitude. To begin with an embarrassed young science teacher imparts the facts of life, which should really be renamed the facts of reproduction. You notice the development of swellings on the chests of previously irrelevant pupils, namely females, and this is often accompanied by a strange swelling sensation in your underpants. Your more developed classmates may spot this and proceed to point it out and loudly mock you. This is the point at which the race for hair begins.
You become anxious for the first sight of a moustache, anything a fine fuzz will do, then you perform your first act of self mutilation. You sneak into the bathroom while your parents are out and shave – a milestone reached – you are neither the first nor the last in your class to do this and you are comforted that there are others in your class who have yet to reach this pinnacle of maturity. You are pleased with yourself unaware that this is the beginning of a lifetime time of trichological hell. Gillette adverts, electric razors, presents of aftershave, impossibly handsome men getting the girl because of his smooth cheeks; all these horrors and many more await the unsuspecting youthful shaver. However this is not the end you continue to search out hair in other regions. On your chest, under your arms around your groin and each new hair is greeted as manna from heaven. As these grow your next objective becomes clear – get a girlfriend.
Emboldened by your new found maturity you pluck up the courage to ask a girl out. She however is already attached to a boy in an older class who has clearly been shaving longer than you. However undaunted you reassess your strategy and achieve a break through with a girl from the year below you. Yes! she will accompany you to the weekend disco in the church hall. You are smugness personified and begin planning your conquest.
Stage one is complete, you have a partner, stage two, what to wear. This shouldn’t really be difficult you try to model yourself on an older pupil who seems to have success with the ladies. To begin with though you have to persuade your long suffering mother that creases in Levi’s are not really cool and that your beloved T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of the latest pop sensation should be worn outside the jeans not tucked into the waistband. That achieved you turn your attention to hair and in particular the facial variety.
To the bathroom you rush and the mirror tells a tale of great woe. You can see enough to shave but planted squarely on the end of your nose is a pimple! Not a small inconspicuous spot behind your left ear, but a malevolent pustule, a huge pestilential putrescence, pulsing in the middle of your face and impossible to ignore. Your heart sinks – Oh cruel puberty here is your sting. You can’t take a girl out looking like this! What to do? An agony of indecision, cut it, squeeze it, burst it – attack it with chemicals – but you don’t have time enough for the creams and preparations to work. In a frenzy you try them all and when the boil bursts, you become aware for the first time of the colour eau de nil. It’s an indeterminate shade, the kind of nauseating greenish yellow mostly used in horror films and hospital corridors. A splash of antiseptic stings like fury and you press a piece of toilet tissue to the wound to stem the bleeding. You hope that you will be left with a relatively benign scab that you can brush off as an injury received while playing football, further adding to your masculine credibility.
So showered, shaved and hopefully spotless you head out to meet the girl, bravely facing whatever humiliations await you on the dance floor.
End of part one.