Saturday, February 13, 2016

Questioning Asian Physical Vanity in the Context of an African Hair Cut

It is a bit unfortunate, but it suffices to say that the average African's hair is not particularly suitable for styling.  Genetically created to be hard and not so malleable, attempts at being creative with what is on top of one's head often involves donning a stylized wig.  Of course, for most local males, who neither see the need nor have the financial resources to keep up with such superficial pursuits, the average hair cut becomes not much beyond shaving off extra hair with a simple electric shaver.  With foreign clientele so few and far in between, foreign males pretty much get the same treatment.

This is not to say a simple shave of extra hair is a belittlement of the considerations involved.  Some local males, including many of the author's coworkers, display great concern for the amount of hair, and it seems not uncommon for many to pop by the barber once every week to get rid of the excess.  Perhaps as a result, there are decent number of "high-end" male salons in town, where customers are treated to leather sofas and personal TV screens in air-conditioned rooms as head is being shaved and then washed.  The clean environment reminded the author of encounters with fake salons in China.

Still, no matter how luxurious the salons themselves are designed to be, the hair cut itself remains humble.  More money spent does not mean the barber will use more than an electric shaver, and the techniques will be more complex than continuously running through the hair with the said shaver.  People come in with similar hairs, and generally leave with similar hairs of slightly differing length combinations of the top, sides, and the back.  Sometimes some hair oil is applied at the end, but most time, there is just a simple scrubbing with shampoo.  The author hasn't seen customer dissatisfaction.

The local salon's "humble" (for the lack of better word) hair cuts, for someone used to living in a big Asian city, can be an interesting point of reflection.  In Asian cultures where physical attraction often becomes a point of competition for better jobs (and not just better mates), hair-styling has involved into an art where anything short of perfection in catering to customer demand for individualization often spells doom for the salon in question.  Customer dissatisfaction with results of hair cuts are rampant and words of mouth can easily put a perfectly suitable barber out of business.

New Asian immigrants had no qualms about taking their extreme care for hair where they went.  As (East) Asians typically separate themselves from other races, so did salons catering to Asian clientele.   The author is just as guilty as as many other Asians, often considering non-Asian barbers "ignorant of specific needs in Asian hair" while he was living in the US and Europe.  To go along with these specific demands, hair-styling products coming out of Asia have grown in such varieties that the sheer number would perplex and bewilder non-Asians, even in the developed West.

Yet, getting another "humble" cut from the local salon today, the author wonders whether the Asian "one-upmanship" with regard to physical beauty, and in particular their hairs, is really that worthy of close adherence.  Sure, expats (the author included) tend to note that the same concern for beauty is not necessarily in these parts of rural Africa since "there really isn't anyone to impress," but would the lack of a perfect hair cut really appall others so much in a big Asian city so much that one would fundamentally be at an irreversible disadvantage in any socio-economic setting?

Sure, a certain amount of good physical presentation is needed to make good impressions on others, whether it be potential employers or potential partners in life.  But that "good" presentation does not need to be elaborate.  For the average male, a clean, evenly shaved head can be just as presentable as a full head of hair custom-trimmed, colored, and gelled to perfection.  More ought to depend on the person sporting the particular hair cut, and specifically on how the person handles what is going on immediately below that hair cut.

And this focus on the superficial presentation of the crafted-to-be-prefect physical facade, rather than genuine display of not-so-perfect reality, permeate all parts of Asian culture.  As everyone attempt to achieve the next level of perfection in their physical outlook, more and more resources and time are sapped for the superficial, when they can be devoted for more productive efforts to improve what is within.  Becoming content with a simple buzz cut for the hair could be the first step to break that spell of societies' collective mentality to demand better looks at the expense of substance.

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