Let it grow: Self-image in flux

What started as lethargic indulgence spiraled into an unruly mane.

I took a look in the mirror one morning and was a little taken aback by what I saw. Who was that man standing before me? His hair was a tangled mess, with bangs down to his eyebrows, and where his chin should have been I instead saw a scraggly pubic mess of a beard. His face puffy, his eyes tired, he was a man who without the regular reoccurring requirement of in-person human interaction had resigned himself to letting his natural hair grow.

This particular moment, me staring in awe at the man in the mirror, occurred several weeks into my quarantine. But what had made it more unique than any other mirror moment of brushing my teeth or washing my hands? Well, it was that I was struck by the realization that there was a drastic disconnect between the mental image that I hold of myself, my self-image, and the reflection that I saw in the mirror. The me in the mirror had grown older and more masculine with a head adorned by disheveled hair from chin to crown. I worry what his presence means. Is he here due to circumstance, and if so, how long does he plan to stick around?

While I find the man in the mirror distinct from my self-image, so do the people that I see virtually and in-person. Most people have their own mental image of me, and while I do not know how detailed or accurate theirs is, I assume that the disconnect between how they imagine me to look and what I actually look like is what leads to conversations that digress into superficial verbal assaults on my appearance. My friends, family and coworkers find it difficult to reconcile their mental image with the real-life person that they see on their screens. I’m not saying that they are having difficulty recognizing me, but instead that my visage of today is markedly different than the mental image they hold of me.

To my mom and dad, I’m still their baby, and I always will be. But the man that my dad sees when he FaceTimes me is so distinct from that baby boy that he yells out, “Sammy that’s disgusting,” as he compares my image to that of an unkempt rabbi. My mom even suggested I attempt braiding my sideburns.

Coworkers tread the line of demeaning my physical appearance with careful statements of fact that act as thinly veiled suggestions to take care of myself. Personal favorites include a group thread where a director commented, “Guys, Sam has so much hair now,” to a VP direct messaging me, “I saw your quarantine mane on the weekly deployment update.”

And then there are my friends. I like to think that they see me as a lovable, foul-mouthed, and adorable delight. However, my transformation has led to the development of two camps. One that believes my personality shines through the whiskers and grime, and encourages me to be my beautiful self (shoutout Emily and Chase). While the second camp sees a man who stopped bothering to take care of himself in the midst of everything that is happening in this #DarkestTimeline. A friend shared her thoughts on a group video chat, before taking the below screenshot. Bless her heart.

“Eww, oh my god, turn to the side, look how it sticks out!” – Anna

So why don’t I just cut it or shave it or clean it up? In preparation for this post I’ve been grappling with that question. My conclusion is that there isn’t one reason, but a combination of factors.

  1. My hair is an easy conversation piece. In a world where every other conversation has to do with politics and risks and death counts due to a pandemic, I personally don’t mind the lighthearted comments and digressions associated to my looks.
  2. If I never get a haircut, I can never go bald. Foolproof, full stop.
  3. I am not making any first impressions at the moment. I’m not meeting new people or going on dates. My coworkers may find my appearance less than professional, but I’m getting my work done. My parents and friends will love me regardless (right?), and they can chalk my appearance up to a rebellious phase or something of the like.
  4. Sometimes food or toothpaste gets caught in my beard, which leads to minutes of entertainment in trying to clean it off. Candidly, this makes me want to trim more than anything else.

I care what and how people think about me, and to some degree I think that’s healthy and normal. Appearances are part of the consideration when taking into account the whole person. How you take care of yourself says a great deal about you, especially for first impressions. By taking pride and concerted effort into my grooming, I can project the best image of myself into the minds of those who I interact with. There is a personal mental health component too. Taking care of myself, even with simple acts of maintaining basic hygiene, gives me more of an appreciation for myself and my body.

Someday soon, I intend to look in the mirror and see a man looking back who may not match my self-image completely, but will be closer to that internal picture I hold of who I am and who I want to be.

A few weeks ago Georgia began opening businesses back up, hair dressers included. That means the Great Clips within walking distance from my apartment is awaiting my arrival. I even have a coupon ready.

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I am Sam