27 juillet 2012
Throw away your mirror
Yesterday, after putting it for weeks, I finally broke down and did one of the most uncomfortable things that you can ever do in an alien land: I got a haircut.
I know it doesn’t sound like much, but getting a haircut is a big deal! Sure, most haircuts are more or less non-events, but we’ve all had the experience of getting an absolutely awful haircut, and it truly is traumatic. A bad haircut can affect your self-image, your happiness, and even your productivity at work – it’s one of those subtle little things that helps to make up our weltanschauung, and we would be wise to never underestimate the relative importance of such small details in our lives. This is especially true here in Burkina Faso, where getting a haircut entails conveying your wants and needs in a different language, your hair is physically very different from what the hairdressers are used to working with, and the training and experience of your hairdresser may or may not be zero.
Point in fact: yesterday, I went to a hairdresser whom I know to be good and to be experienced with PCV hair, and I said in perfectly acceptable French, ‘clip my whole head (he only has clippers), and take off maybe a centimeter from the top, and make it a little shorter on the sides’. Then I asked, ‘do you understand?’, and he replied ‘yeah! You want me to just trim it a little, more on the sides and back, but almost as long on top as it is now’. This seemed perfectly clear, so I sat down and waited…
…and the very first swipe of the clippers left a buzzed strip on the back of my head barely more than 1/8 of an inch long.
My first instinct was to yell in outrage, but since the one thing he can’t do is put it back on, there was nothing for it: I was committed. So, I closed my eyes, and waited, and when he was done I had a very nice, neat, high and tight that any Marine Corps recruiter would approve of heartily. It is, in fact, almost the exact opposite of what I asked him to do.
But you know what? I don’t really care.
See, one of the reasons we really hate a bad haircut in the US is that we are surrounded by mirrors. We have mirrors in the bathroom, in the bedroom, in the car, at work, in restaurants, everywhere. I’m willing to bet that if you’re reading this from work, you’ve checked yourself in the mirror at least 5 times this morning. Maybe I’m wrong, but I bet if I am, I’m only off by one or two times.
And since you’ve checked yourself in the mirror so much, you’re probably very concerned to one degree or another about your appearance. Maybe you’re having a bad hair day. Or maybe that zit that no one else can see is driving you nuts. Or you’re wondering if those are wrinkles beginning to form at the corners of your eyes. Or one of ten thousand other little peculiarities. You’re not a bad person for worrying about these things, you’re just a human with a mirror – we’re social creatures, and when you can see yourself as others do, you automatically begin to judge yourself as you judge them. And it sucks.
That’s why I love Burkina Faso: there are more or less no mirrors here. Sure, I know my hair is short, but you know what? I don’t care. Because I can’t see it, I’m much more focused on how much fun it is to run my hand back and forth over the stubble, as well as being more than a little bemused by the fact that all of my surgical scars are currently visible in their entirety. In place of the visual anxiety imparted by the mirror, I’m instead delighted by the tactile pleasure of it all. And I think that’s a good thing.
It’s also an important lesson to take home with me: throw away your mirror. It may be a wrench at first, but in not too terribly long at all, you’ll be much, much happier.
 There’s no such thing as a license for that sort of thing here. If you own a pair of scissors and some clippers, you put a sign outside of your home and viola! – a salon!