A Love Letter to Shaving My Head
The first time you lather shaving foam over your scalp is a unique experience.
As a kid, one of the things you can’t wait to do when you grow up is start shaving. Your Dad teaches you (or is supposed to teach you) to wet your face, lather the shaving foam and heat the cartridge razor in a sink of hot water. You don’t know it yet but the razor glides almost effortlessly over your skin, following the contours of your face as you stretch it out into comedic poses, trying to shave your top lip or the dip between your bottom lip and your chin.
Fairly quickly, shaving your face becomes another chore so you decide to grow a beard.
You forget what it’s like to lather shaving foam on your face, heat the razor in the sink and pull those faces at your reflection.
Until you’re standing here: a sink full of hot water, hands covered in shaving foam, a cartridge razor at the ready, your head cool with the lather.
And there’s one inescapable thought.
One thing that takes you out of this moment.
You were told this was going to happen.
You were warned.
But you didn’t listen.
The gentle ribbing, the good-hearted teasing. One of the only bald guys you knew said this would happen, but you still had faith in your follicles, you didn’t believe they could let you down. So you teased him back, acted shocked when you saw photos of him with hair. It was all good natured, harmless, fun.
Determined not to believe him, you stick with the short back and sides hair cut you’ve had for years now — a zero on the back and sides, short on top with your hair slicked back. Ignore the Widow’s Peak. Don’t look at yourself in photos (speaking of which, you’re going to want to avoid yourself in profile at every turn).
Thicker Than Its Ever Been
Ten years ago, your hair flowed over your shoulders. Jared Leto’s did, so why shouldn’t yours? It morphed into an under cut with a man bun and the older you get the more relieved you are that photos of that monster don’t exist (no matter how much you might have loved it at the time or how much rose-coloured nostalgia you might want to heap on).
Shit, even a year ago it seemed like it was thick enough on top. Three months of growing it out to give yourself more options than the monthly short back and sides revealed a horrendous truth about that Widow’s Peak: it wasn’t going to grow out no matter how hard you tried.
Life is full of cruel ironies, here’s one of them: you’re not going bald on your chest, back or arse. Christ, that’s probably thicker than it’s ever been. Fewer trips to the chippie and you could make a solid case to keep your status as an otter.
So, how does the balding start?
Devastatingly, not everyone gets a bald spot on the crown of their head. Not everyone has clumps of hair fall out. For some, it’s a little bit off the top. Thinning along the Widow’s Peak. Cruelly, there’s no change on the back and sides that you’ve spent years getting buzzed off month after month.
There is a little more sunburn on the scalp than last year though (yes, even in fucking Scotland) and before you know it, you’re leaning forwards into the mirror, picking through the thin strands of hair that haven’t retreated towards the forest growing out of the back of your neck.
The Frontal Lobe and a Large Personality
You’ve always had a massive forehead (and a bad comeback for anyone that points it out: “yeah, well, the frontal lobe is where the personality is”) but now you’re wondering if you’ve always had a receding hair line too. Is it both or just the hairline?
You’ve just turned 28.
You’re too young for this.
Even if a quarter of all men will experience pattern baldness, you didn’t think it could be you. Not at this age. Maybe when you’re 80. But here it is. The hair is thinning, receding, getting the fuck away from you and that giant personality housing forehead as fast as it can. Maybe that says something about who you are as a person but don’t think about that now.
Holly knows a guy your age that’s losing his hair.
What treatment does he use? A special kind of all natural shampoo.
Ads for Keeps and other hair loss treatments are horrifyingly more personal than they were a couple of months ago.
What does FDA approved really mean?
It feels like slipping through timelines.
Weeks of denial have crested into a wave of action in the span of one day.
A long-middle-of-the-night conversation.
What are your options?
No, not that. It’s not working.
But what if that doesn’t work? What if you pin your hopes onto something that can never live up to them. Chemicals or natural shampoos it doesn’t matter either way. It could take months for almost nothing to happen.
Shave it off.
Shave it off and if you hate it, use treatments while your hair grows back.
You’re a genius.
Always Pack a Beanie (And Important Mistakes)
It doesn’t feel like it but all of those moments are strides to more confidence, more self assurance, liberation and a little more bravery.
Before you get there, you’re going to make some mistakes.
Going to the barber isn’t one of them.
Her socially awkward approach to guys balding in their late 20s, hesitancy to shave it all off in one foul swoop and stories of men that she knows valiantly trying to cover their bald patches aren’t on you.
Don’t talk about the undercut you used to have. Those days are behind you. Forwards, always. Into the cold November air. Pack a beanie. Pack it every time you go outside.
The first mistake you’re going to make involves a cartridge razor and a can of shaving foam. You shouldn’t use a cartridge razor for anything, let alone shaving your head. It’s one cartridge to a head shave and shaving foam dries your skin out to fuck, so by the time you’re done you’re that flaky scalped bald guy.
The next mistake is wasting your time on head shavers — Pitbulls, Remingtons, battery powered things loaded with blades that promise to glide over your head. The reviews all say they’re terrible and that they break or take too long to charge. They’ll set you back at least fifty quid and replacement blades are as much as forty. Stay the fuck away.
You’ve got one more mistake to make: Lush soap is shit for shaving, no matter what the well washed and deodorized Lush people tell you. Try it if you have to. Get a sampler. It will make the razor rip and tear its way through the stubble across your head.
When Old Becomes New Again
You want to get this right because you’ll be shaving your head every other day.
So, buy a safety razor.
They’re scary as hell at first. Sliding a razor blade over your scalp isn’t a fun idea. But, even with the safety razor / shaving foam combination you start out with it’ll be the best shave you’ve ever had.
Before you get started you should know to:
Move away from shaving from in a canister as soon a possible and spend good money on a shave soap.
Practice making a strong lather with your shaving brush. Don’t crush the brush into the soap and paint the lather onto your skin. A good lather is slick and doesn’t dissipate during the shave.
Keep the razor hot.
Hold it at a 30 degree angle and do short strokes.
Do your first and second pass with the grain.
Take your time.
Remember that the safety razor doesn’t contour to the shape your head like a cartridge razor does. The safety razor head is fixed. Move it about in your hands. Move with it.
Let the razor do the work. It’s weighty and will shave perfectly with almost no pressure.
Shaving your head is nothing like styling your hair. Sure, you might want to do both before you go out and about but styling your hair is a process: a little bit of pomade, smooth down the already short sides, comb back the top so it’s slick. On bad hair days use more pomade. Wet your hair first so it does its level best to stay down. Comb. Comb. Comb. Final step: spend the rest of the day not running your fingers through it so it stays in place, not wearing hats so it doesn’t end up flat, avoiding the wind so it doesn’t stand on end or turn in on itself like some kind of transmogrifying Cousin It.
Buy Dinosaur Pattern Plasters
There are tips (and plenty of them) that’ll help you get a better head shave but the biggest lesson of all is that head shaving is meditative. It’s slow. Deliberate. Focused. Distractions can cause nicks and cuts. Shaving your head should be done with plenty of time. There’s no need to rush it. Enjoy it. Listen to The Shins, to the Anthropocene Reviewed. Give yourself time to think, to breathe. Everything in life is about moving faster, being more efficient, but shaving with a safety razor and lathering soap is about taking your time.
They say that meditation is about clearing your mind but as someone that struggles to quiet their mind at any given moment, the focus, the work and the patience that comes with shaving your head is perhaps the closet you’ll ever get. Some shaves might take you an hour but soak in that time, know there’s a hot shower waiting for you, a dram of Glengoyne at the end. Always moisturise your whole head after your shower.
Christopher Hitchens famously said that he has all of his best ideas in the shower, so he’s a very clean person. Ideas come when you’re not thinking about them. You know the feeling of the electricity in your brain as ideas spark when you start to fall asleep. Make shaving your head be that time. Let the ideas come but don’t chase them (you’ll cut yourself if you run). They will distill. Every shave you will learn more about who you are, who you want to be and, perhaps more importantly, how to get a better shave.
There’s a lot to know and a lot to remember but take comfort in that your confidence will grow into having a shaved head (even if you can’t stand the word bald). It looks better than you think, even better than when you had a full head of hair. You’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Maybe you’ll even wish that you had because:.
A shaved head is always in style;
A shaved head is bad ass.
Own it and every day you’ll feel five inches tall than you used to.