Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 22, 2022

Comfortable with ourselves

Once the pandemic hit its stride, husband Art had me cut his hair. I wasn't very comfortable doing it because, to be frank, I had no idea what I was doing. I imagined that after finishing, he would look something like Dagwood Bumstead, tufts sticking out here and there.

But lucky for me, Art isn't all that concerned about his looks. After all, how much can a man who wears shorts almost the whole year care about what others think of him? And, for that matter, at times I have heard him quote Les Scruton, a fellow from his dad's hometown, who said, "When you get older, it�s no longer so important to look good!"

To be honest, I was probably more concerned about what people might think of my handiwork if, after I had finished, he looked as if he had just been released from prison.

When it comes to looks, I think women have had a more difficult time as society seems to place more scrutiny on them than it does on men. When daughter Katie was quite young, she was thrilled to get her thick hair shorn. And those earlier "bowl" clips were performed by Art as she sat in her high chair. But by the time she was 5 or 6, she wanted her hair professionally done.

Since I grew up on a farm, fancy hairdos and clothing weren't a high priority. Our neighboring village was small and could provide questionable guidance when it came to fashion. So I was a bit concerned when I went off to college how I would fit in. It was intimidating rubbing shoulders with young women who had grown up in Johnson County, the home of some of Kansas City's more well-to-do, and, I presumed, sophisticated folks.

It didn't help it was just past the cusp of the most recent women's liberation wave. The advice from the movement's leaders was to ignore any interest in the opposite sex and focus entirely on your professional side. Wearing suits to work was encouraged.

But television and magazine advertisements hadn�t bought into that message. It was the time of TV commercials with lines like "I can bring home the bacon. Fry it up in a pan. And never let you forget you�re a man." The visual was of a self-confident 30-something wearing a sexy dress, gazing steadily into the camera and possessed of a major sway in her hips.

These mixed messages left me a bit paralyzed when I'd go shopping for clothes. Playing it safe, I had a wardrobe of many suits. But that became stifling. So, I'd go, look at the clothing on the racks, and then go home empty-handed. After a time, I just quit going unless the need was undeniable.

First-husband Jerome's death combined with daughter Mariya's birth caused me to focus my attention on things far more important. So when I met Art and he was eager to help me shop, I thought, "Well, why not?"

He started pushing me away from my suit look. That made me uncomfortable until I began getting approving responses from the other women in the office.

So are looks really important or unimportant? The answer, of course, is balance. I've known women who appear to spend more effort on how they look at work than on what they do once they are there.

But sometimes how you look can have an impact on how you perform. When friend Dr. David Littrell had his Gold Orchestra make a contest submission recording, he had all the musicians dress as if they were playing publicly for an audience, despite being on the stage of an empty theater. He had noticed they played better when they dressed for the occasion.

So why am I pondering about this looks thing? Two things converged. One was a comment that Bobbie made while I was interviewing her for my recent "It's more than a haircut" column. She had mentioned how she had made her shop as safe as she could during the pandemic as she knew people needed her service. My initial thought was that people can get along just fine without a haircut.

Or can they? Littrell had noticed there is a psychological component. It is also part of the reason that teams or choirs or the military have uniforms.

The other convergence item was Art, of all people, mentioned that as his hair becomes long, he begins to feel a "need" to get it cut - a need that seems to stay with him during the day. But because it isn't a need that rises to the level of food or sleep, it is easy on any particular day to let other things take precedence and defer a clipping.

Yet little by little, day after day, he can tell it is bugging him more and more, despite the fact that he doesn't sit around looking at himself in the mirror. In fact, when he consciously thinks of it most is in the mornings during his shower - he notices the increased amount of shampoo that is needed and how much longer it takes to dry - things that really are no big deal.

Yet when he was recently shorn, all he could talk about was how much better he felt.

I have a similar reaction. During the first months of the pandemic, I deferred a haircut until I just couldn't stand it any more. It's not that my hair was so terribly long, but that the thickness seemed to "weigh me down." I even had Art cut it once. Then daughter-in-law Miriam liberated me from my locks until Sandy, my regular hairdresser, was open for business.

Scruton may have been right that as we get older it's not so important to impress others. But the need to feel comfortable with ourselves remains strong.

I haven't even seen Miriam's handiwork yet, but my expression shows I am very happy to be having my ears lowered! (Not an expression much heard now.)

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