A Short Story about Long Hair
By Alexander Brebner
As a man on a mission to grow my hair long – and I don’t mean just a floppy forelock (I’ve been doing the short back & sides for years now); I mean below-the-shoulder and braidable. Why? It’s part challenge, part commemoration of big life changes, and part grow-it-if-you’ve-still-got-it (I’m in my late 50s). And, as someone who writes and talks about hair for a living, I want to better appreciate the joys and challenges of what many women deal with every day. On the other hand, maybe I’m just becoming the hippie I was destined to be.
So, on the lookout for encouragement, I ran across an article on Racked.com about thelonghairs.us, a website with a distinctively clear voice, although one quite unlike mine; phrases like ‘Hell, yeah,’ ‘suuuppp,’ and ‘yo yo’ aren’t in my daily vocabulary (using ‘dude’ in any way but the most ironic would send my Hairstory colleagues into hysterics). Fans of this “global fraternity of men with long hair” appear to skew toward ex-marines, motorcycle enthusiasts, and surfers, none exactly in my peer group, but I was moved nonetheless by the passion, humor, and kind support offered by Chris Healy and Lindsay Barto – El Rubio (the blonde) and El Moreno (the brown) respectively – intrepid leaders of this manly movement.
These two longhairs-for-life caution aspiring growers to ready themselves for a test of will and conviction, and offer plenty of empathy for those in the “awkward stage,” which I have apparently entered. Their advice for us begins: “Your shoulders are throwing a party. They’re waiting for your hair to arrive.” That’s the good news. What follows is less optimistic: “Long hair is a struggle, a constant battle... Growing it out is a serious commitment, a commitment you better be ready for. You will have to battle through months of awkwardness and complete annoyance. Struggle through times of looking bad… but at the end of the day, the hair wins…” They conclude with this glimmer of hope: “The funny thing is though, you learn to love that battle.”
This forum is also a place for fully-fledged longhairs to shop their range of “Hair Ties for Guys” and “dope lids” (hats) for us awkward-stage aspirants, but much of their content centers on things women take for granted. “Now that we have long hair, questions present themselves. How do I brush my hair properly? How should I style it? What products should I use? What about split ends? What…are…split ends?”
Much of their genius lies in de-feminizing the language around long hair. “Ponytail” is deemed too rainbows-and-unicorns, and has been re-dubbed the “Mantail.” “Man-bun” is (rightfully) considered too ridiculous and is called the Highball, or the Lowball, depending on placement at the crown or the nape; variations include the Highball Twist, and the Side-part Lowball. Braided styles include the Rope, the Brave, the Angler, and for advanced longhairs, the Reverse Double-barrel French Revolution.
One day, before sitting down to continue this article, I received an email from the Longhairs with the subject line, “The most important piece we’ve ever published,” linking to a blog post titled “Bullies and Boys with Long Hair,” by El Rubio. Any impulse on my part to be snarky about these men and their “dudeness” evaporated instantly, because while their identity is connected to a ribald sense of fun – and an extra dose of testosterone to dispel even a whiff of girlishness around the subject matter – the heart of their operation is just that: Heart. The post contains heartbreaking accounts of boys and parents facing the general cluelessness that long hair on the “wrong” gender incites, thoughtful research about gender norms, and one horrific video of a boy forced by family and friends to submit to a buzzer-wielding barber – who all seem to think it’s good fun. Take it from me: It’s not. I wept in solidarity.
The post concludes with a brilliant message for “The Little Guys” reminding them that men with long hair are, “big and small, old and young, every color of skin, from every background. They are football, baseball and basketball players, world-changing scientists, CEOs and business professionals, drummers and musicians, action sports heros, US Presidents, courageous warriors, entrepreneurs, fashion experts, coffee roasters, custodians, architects and everything under the sun.”
The Longhairs respond to hair product inquiries by advising men to steer clear of frequent shampooing (smart). They also favor rinsing with conditioner instead (dubious), and pre-wash oil treatments (wise if detergent is involved). Naturally, we sent them a supply of New Wash to try on the heels of launching their new products (hair ties and beanies) and auditioning for potential investors (Shark Tank). Their agnosticism on product brands has so far prevented them from responding with a review, but one can hope.
Meanwhile, I look forward to the day (at least two years from now) when I become a “real man” who “lets it ride.” Long may it grow (dude).
We raided the Facebook account of Dustin, our hairdressing assistant, which documents – among other things – his growth from buzzed pelt to major mane over the last four years.