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0ffbeat 09 August 2013

Taken on an economic level, the act of shaving probably occupies thousands of hours in a lifetime. Those are hours that could be productively spent in other occupations, like plucking nasal hairs or scratching on waking.

My daughter, bless her heart, gleefully tells me I am developing a bald patch, sometimes two or three times in an hour. I now spend a fair amount of time gently feeling the top of my head as my eyes are in the wrong place. I can’t feel the gap yet, so I must be slightly safe for now.
I don’t intend to look like a monk with a tonsure, so when I can finally feel the gap in the hair, I intend to go the razor route and just get rid of every single bit of fuzz on my head, maybe even once a day.
There’s a certain pleasure in the prospect. Too much facial hair is itchy. A beard is itchy. Shaving is a comfort, and it’s a comfort in more ways than one.
Youthful shaving is thing done in a rush, when you are in a hurry to get out of the house to whatever you are in a hurry to start doing. With a bit of age, the ritual becomes a pleasant: hot soapy water, the brush and the shaving soap, the slow pull of the razor over the face, all of these are relaxing. But perhaps the greatest pleasure is in knowing that you have the tools to disguise yourself, pretend no matter what, that you are civilised enough to prepare your face for the day or for the evening, and look like you don’t belong in the gutter, a place where shaving gear is in short supply.
I have become a bit of an aficionado of the blade. Some years ago, I was given a badger hair brush and a tub of hard soap. Nobody was more surprised than I at the gift, except possibly the badger. I hardly touch the badger hair brush because I want to enjoy the decadence of owning one, not watching it fall to pieces. The hard soap lasts for years.
I have considered experimenting with a straight razor, but I don’t have the courage. Memories of the bloody patches left by a thing as innocuous as the original safety razor put me off. Acne was a particular kind of nightmare. Even my Grandfather didn’t use a straight blade. I know because I inherited his safety razor.
Let’s get back to the meat of the matter. Shaving is a ritual that comforts as much as a cup of coffee in the early hours of the morning on the kitchen step. Rituals are important. The morning shave is the best way to begin the day. It’s hard to eat breakfast while scratching my face, and even if I can resist the urge, breakfast should not be eaten before the day has begun, which is always with a shave.
I think that proof of the ritual can be found in its obverse. Every boy is inducted into the art of shaving, as soon as the hair comes along, and sometimes even sooner depending on the urge to ‘act like a man’. Yet shaving loses its luster and at some stage, as a rite of manhood, every young man will experiment with a beard or moustaches.
Mostly, the beards have a way of disappearing after a while, usually in the middle of summer, when it gets really hot. The only permanent beards I see are the ones on the faces of people who have a complex about their chins, or absence of chins, and don’t want to spend on plastic surgery.
The beard is an assertion of manhood, but it can also be a challenge to the rituals that surround us. Shaving is one of the rituals that can be discarded easily enough until the itch sets in, or the beard fails to sprout to its fullest or it grows wild and woolly.
Most of the time however, the ritual of the razor will return.
Taken on an economic level, the act of shaving probably occupies thousands of hours in a lifetime. Those are hours that could be productively spent in other occupations, like plucking nasal hairs or scratching on waking. The fact that billions of men still do it, in spite of the waste of productive time seems to say that the comfort of lavishing care on the face must have some kind of importance.
What are the options: some kind of laser treatment or perhaps a depilatory cream. No doubt they are effective, but the fact that they aren’t widely used says the hot water, soap and blade is still the best way to go.
The day I go bald is the day I will have a bit more to shave. I look forward to it.

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