Schrödinger's Coif

I'm growing my hair out. I typically do this from time to time (oddly enough, during rather sweltering summers) to see what I could do with my hair if I ever gave it the chance to grow long enough to do something different with it. I have toyed with the notion of putting it in locks for years, but never had the patience to put up with it.

As a black man, many of us cut our hair short with great regularity. We do this partially for social acceptance. Imagine our president with longer hair. President Obama with an afro. President Obama with dreadlocks. President Obama with a high top fade. With an S-Curl. Now stop thinking about it, it's scary enough. It's not really that acceptable for a man of President Obama's stature to do much else with his hair than what he's currently doing.

But another reason why black male hair is kept so short is because maintenance is a hassle. It's pretty easy to keep it all short and lined up than to deal with the combing, the picking, the washing, the shaping, and the styling. Black hair, male or female, is a bit of a hassle. Typically, I grow my hair out for a while and after a while, I cut it off because I 1) got tired of the hassle of maintaining it and/or 2) got tired of folks saying my hair was without form like before God set a firmament between the earth and the water at our planet's genesis.

Today, I've been thinking about that first reason, though. The women of my family have said I look better with shorter hair. I keep thinking about how I'd like to at least try a different look for a while, but they persist with the fact that I look better with shorter hair. When talking with friends on the matter, they also agree. When my mother randomly polled folks who are just meeting me, she asks them as well and they say the same thing. But that got me thinking: are these answers coming from objective standards on aesthetics or drastically shaped by first impressions.

During my freshman year of college, I met a friend who had dreadlocks. Most his life, he kept his hair relatively short but around his last year of high school, he started growing his hair out and into locks. For the first two years of college, he kept his hair in those locks. For those who knew him much of his life back home in Virginia, they were accustomed to him having short hair. For those who met him in his first years of college, we were accustomed to him having his hair in locks. Two sets of people have two different first impressions. These impressions shape how we value this person aesthetically.

By his third year of college, my friend cut his hair. While this shorn look was new to those who knew him in college, it wasn't too far off from his standard look back home. What is generally a return to a standard to one group is a completely new standard to another group. What is normal to some is odd to others. What partially determines this foreknowledge. The first impression changes how we view things, through aesthetics, through values, through practically any personal ideology.

One must not lack consideration for the power of the first impression. It can shape how we view any change to that first impression. When one considers how the first impression shapes any further valuation, one must realize that objectivity is extremely difficult. Can we really determine what is better later from what we've seen at first? Can we objectively state that a change is better or worse from what we've grown accustomed? This is a question that shapes art criticism, sociology, and in my personal context, hair.

I'm going to continue to buck the trend and not cut all my hair off like I usually do, despite the suggestion of others. They've all seen my hair short anyway and they could see twists or locks on my head one day (if I ever gain the patience and the tolerance for the whole ordeal). But I have to recognize that their first impressions and my own personal feelings shape how others see me and how I see myself.

So if I were to keep my head out of sight in a box with a radioactive isotope, considering the power of first impressions, I know my hair looks both good and bad for me. Bias just sort of works like that.


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