It seems like a simple question, whether to get one’s hair cut, but as with most decisions in our interdependent society, my choice influences others and thereby has political implications. Most decisions are small, but their force is big when multiplied by thousands of people, even millions (I could say billions, but there are not too many decisions that are the same facing all individuals across the world). The choice to buy a car that gets 25 miles to the gallon rather than 20, for example, has a significant impact on oil trade and air pollution when multiplied by hundreds of thousands of American consumers. The choice to buy a bottle of water and throw the bottle away…well, most of us have realized that these small choices make a landfill. When my first cousin had her first child, her husband, an ecology professor, calculated the environmental impact of plastic versus cloth diapers, factoring in the water and detergent usage of washing the latter and the trash of the former. They went plastic in the end.
But a haircut? How does this have environmental or political consequences?
Well, to me it’s all about time and mental focus. How do I spend my time and my productive thinking? Do I spend it on myself, or do it spend it working to make the world a little bit better for others?
My friend Christina recently wrote a Foucauldian analysis of the preoccupation on bodily transformation of the citizens of the Capitol in the Hunger Games. These folks were distracted away from political engagement by their concern for their bodies. Their minds (as mine is in this essay) were focused on questions like: should I get my hair cut? What color should it be? What new style of clothes and make up should I don?
And that’s just the mental preoccupation. Every day, many women across the country spend an extra 30 to 60 minutes that men don’t spend on their appearance. We shave legs; we brush, dry and curl long hair; we put on makeup; and we assemble complicated outfits through trial and error in front of a mirror. Every minute that we are thinking about these things, we are not thinking about how to phrase strongly worded emails to our Senators or even how to phrase notes of encouragement to our children.
I gave up shaving my legs a couple of decades ago, not on any aesthetic principle, but on a use-of-time principle. I would rather spend the ten minutes a few times a week working: writing, reading, or talking to someone about how they are doing. A few times a year, I pull out the clippers and shear off the season’s growth, like the shepherd of a malnourished sheep. Yes, generally speaking, my choice is a feminist one, in that I don’t think women should have to spend more time on their appearances than men do. If we as a sex are consistently spending more time on our bodies, then we as a sex are collectively spending less time having an impact beyond our selves.
But what if we enjoy it? I admit that I spend twenty minutes a week–the time I would spend shaving my legs if I did so–making coffee. Drinking it not included. I also love warm showers, and I don’t take them to maximum efficiency in order to get to work quicker. Instead I savor the heat on my skin, and say words of gratitude for the pleasure.
I like getting my hair cut, too, but it takes a whole hour, or more, if I book an appointment at a salon. I think I’ve done it five times in the last fourteen years. Steve usually cuts my hair–with the skilled precision of a knife-wielding doctor, which is what he is. For years, I’ve just asked him to cut it in an even line all around the bottom. And he does. I used to ask him to cut it at a nice, face-framing, chin length bob. It looked cute just peaking out below the rims of ubiquitous hats I wear in the winter. For the last five years, I’ve kept it long, asking for only the occasional clean-up trim. This has allowed me to wear it up in a twist, or in two low pig tails if I’m feeling sporty.
You see, I have “fine” hair, if we are being polite, and super thin hair, if we are being honest. There’s not much of it. There is even less of it since having two kids. Lately it seems that the hair in front is always breaking, giving me bangs where I did not intend them. If I want to wash and go, be showered and out the door in half an hour on a daily basis, then is it time to go short again?
Ten years ago I had it cut pixie short–in a salon. I liked it, a lot, but before I knew it, it had grown out again. The thing about short hair is that you have to keep making appointments to see a professional. Appointments cost time–and money. How much cash have I saved by having Steve cut my hair these last fourteen years? At least a thousand dollars, I think, if I multiply it out. How much time have I saved? Time spent at the salon is time not spent enjoying my family, preparing for class, or grading papers.
Or could it be? I’ve brought a book to the salon before, and I feel a bit rude reading while the hair artist works. I haven’t let that stop me other places, though. I more often read than talk to the stranger next to me on an airplane, and sometimes even read rather than talk to other parents at the park or indoor kids’ gym. Maybe I could get my hair cut and read for work too–saying grateful words while having my hair washed and scalp massaged at the beginning.
Reading is working, so maybe the only time wasted is the meeting and the transit time. Since time spent getting around here in Utrecht equals a bike ride across a city that never ceases to delight me–that isn’t wasted time either. I’m both exercising and visiting Europe–two things that make my list of priorities.
Getting my hair cut, too, would save me time with a hair dryer on a daily basis. Hmmm, this is looking like the more powerful option by the minute.
What if I get it cut and don’t like it, thereby distracting my mind back onto myself and off of the other people and tasks at hand? That’s within my control, and I really do like hats if all else fails.
Maybe I will get my hair cut.