Fishbein: Hairs To You
Becoming a mature man first requires becoming comfortable with oneself.
The hair has clogged the sink, again. I prepare myself for the wrath of my sister whom I share a bathroom with. It’s worth it, I tell myself, making a rough calculation of the correlation between the number of hairs trimmed off my body and the number of seconds I hope to cut off my high school swim times. At least that’s why I told myself I did this. I knew, deep down, that a couple hairs would not mean the difference between my current results and not coming in last all the time. Looking back on it, I think the number of times my teammates made jokes about my hair that did not seem too different from the times they threw coins on the locker room floor next to me and said, “Hey Jew, don’t you want the money?”; the number of times I wore a t-shirt and had hair coming out the sleeve holes; the number of times I didn’t want to look like a 35 year old and just be my sophomore self; all these contributed to the decision. I just wanted to be a kid. But as my classmates reminded me on a number of occasions, I looked different. And back then, I wasn’t okay with that. I might have looked like a man, but I felt I had to fit in to be one. I saw masculinity as a set of standards I had to, but couldn’t, meet.
In the many years since then, I’ve come to embrace my quantity of cuticles. I’ll peruse CVS shelves for eucalyptus oil (a must for any well-kept beard). I feel reconnected to myself as I condition my hair in the shower, a physical experience in a Dartmouth academic life spent much in my own head. Visiting the barbers when on break — I can’t go to the straight razor-free stores around Hanover — present a nice opportunity for enriching conversation. Reading my history books, I tell myself I look like Ché Guevara, riding down from the mountains into Havana. I remember a past hookup partner rubbing the hair on my chest, telling me how manly my hair made me. My hair becomes a personal emblem and source of comfort, a greeting card, a symbol that unites me with others. It becomes a tool; I can use it as I see fit, declaring myself to the world. My difference is my strength as I try to be my own kind of man.
High school me may have wanted to go fast in the pool. But high school me desperately wanted to do anything right, because high school me feared he could do nothing. High school me stuttered through conversations, not thinking he was cool enough to talk to whomever. High school me clenched his fists with rage upon receipt of a B+, fearing such subpar academic performance meant that he wouldn’t get into his dream school. High school me shaved his arms and legs and wore long sleeves, worried that since no one else had a dark forest enmeshing their bodies, he had to mow down his like palm oil planters in Indonesia. High school me wanted to fit in. High school me wanted to play the game, but he couldn’t recognize it as one.
As a college student, I’ve heard, seemingly one time for every hair on my body, about something called “toxic masculinity.” Looking back on my time at Dartmouth, I can see clear moments where I did feel contaminated. These moments were felt in a literal way: just as high school me wanted to shave and look like everybody else, the Daniel Fishbein during his sophomore and junior years in college wanted to make sure he had just as much fun at the party as everyone else.
This impulse translated into me trying to drink just as much Keystone as I perceived others doing — it’s only recently occurred to me that my desperation to follow the frat boy code to its fullest led me to make a misperception. I thought I felt like a man because I was always around male bodied people, we were always trying to one-up each other in pong matches or chugging contests, and I knew that I too could read the script. But the next morning, I’d stumble out of bed and look in the mirror. The stubble covered my neck and cheeks, my head looking like a mop in need of retirement. I remember a professor I took several classes with telling me I always seemed to have a different look when we saw each other. I no longer wanted to get rid of the hair, but I still wasn’t quite sure what to do with it either.
I’m not sure I think masculinity is toxic, but I definitely think conformity can be. Right around this time last year when I de-pledged my fraternity, I felt a sudden need to dye my hair blonde. I felt different, so I wanted to look different too. I’ve learned since then that I can’t just snap my fingers or throw in some bleach and become who I want to be. I’ll always have the same building blocks though, the same brownish now-balding base, and from there I can start to build what I want. In my almost constant state of sobriety, my energy levels still spike. Instead of heading to the nearest basement, I now head to the gym. I still crave community, but I now know that community doesn’t just mean being around people, it means being with people in quite a different way. So I head to the Tucker Center or to a professor’s office hours, looking for meaningful discussion that can create that heightened sense of connection. As I comb my beard every morning and my nose fills with the smell of eucalyptus, I’m happy that my hair reminds me of me.