A Painful Look in the Mirror

A Painful Look in the Mirror

If I ever needed a reminder to be nice to my wife, this was it.

I’m sitting down, partially restrained, and feeling vulnerable. Meanwhile, she casually browses an assortment of sharp instruments, deciding which one to use first. It’s not the threat of physical violence that worries me, but the thought of a bad haircut.

I’m here because my beloved, in her money-saving ways, thought it would be a good idea if she cut my hair. Instead of the fully-qualified professionals who normally do it. And I agreed, mainly because we are due to attend a civilised picnic later today and my appearance is somewhat Neanderthal-like.

But until now, I didn’t fully appreciate how much power I had given her. She could literally cause me great embarrassment with a single misplaced snip. I hope she’s in a good mood.

“You look really beautiful today sweetie. And really thin.” I casually mention.

But she’s unmoved by my feeble attempt at flattery, already concentrating on the job at hand.

As the hair starts cascading around me, it’s not long until I’m lost in my own thoughts, pondering society’s obsession with physical appearance.

Why are we so concerned with looking good? The fad diets. The billion-dollar beauty industries. Celebrity culture. Social media. Even workplaces aren’t immune. Wherever we look, we’re told that looks matter and that we’re probably not good enough.

Sure, the goal of attractiveness has clear evolutionary origins. For thousands of years, it has been a sign of good health and an important tool in attracting a mate. And with all the sensory information our brains are bombarded with, it’s no surprise we are quick to judge people based on their looks. It’s a survival mechanism.

But things have gotten out of control. It doesn’t feel healthy. We devote too many resources to achieving superficial objectives. Trying to achieve ideals of beauty that don’t really exist, and that say nothing about our true character. Mostly, I worry about the impact it’s having on younger generations. The insecurity. The isolation. The self-hate.

As a teenager, I had my fair share of anxieties about how I looked. Clothes. Hair. Pimples. But the biggest problem I had was my disproportionally large head. It’s a feature that caused me plenty of grief, mainly at the hands of older cousins. It’s one of the reasons that, even today, I try to avoid expensive knitted jumpers. And don’t get me started on hats that claim to be one-size-fits-all. A complete sham.

I don’t worry about my head anymore. It hasn’t changed, but there are just too many other things to worry about. Ear hair comes to mind.  Certainly, as you get older, you worry less about your appearance (in my experience, at least). You’re more comfortable with yourself and you realise people aren’t thinking about you to the degree you imagine.

Someone recently told me that I look comfortable in my own skin and I wasn’t sure how to respond. My first thought was, “Well, I’d hardly be comfortable in somebody else’s skin.”

But later I realised the comment was actually a veiled insult. It was code for “You’ve let yourself go.” Thanks mum.

Our growing obsession with looking good has seen a dramatic rise in the demand for cosmetic surgery. People are spending vast sums to “fix” everything from their calves to their elbows.

I personally know individuals who have altered their appearance so much that I barely recognise them. These are good, intelligent people with so much to offer the world, besides their looks.

This is not a judgment on their choices, just a comment on the society that made those choices seem necessary. Who knows, had there been a surgical solution for Large Head Syndrome, I may have been tempted once or twice.

We take it for granted that we even have the option of going under the knife. There are literally millions of people around the world for whom surgery—I mean life-changing surgery—is simply out of reach.

Think of the poor farmer blinded by cataracts who can no longer support his family. The child born with a cleft palate who’ll struggle to speak and face a lifetime of social prejudice. The new mother who’ll endure years of pain and indignity due to complications in child birth.

Imagine if we took a portion of the money we spent on looking good and gave it to those in real need. Maybe then we’d feel good about ourselves.

As my wife holds up the mirror, I quickly realise my haircut is over. The result, I have to say, is rather pleasing. Clearly, my wife has many talents. I’m now ready to face the world. Ready to be judged. Ready for our picnic.

I go to change into nicer clothes, brush my teeth and do all those little personal adjustments that I’m convinced make a difference to how I look. But seeing the man in the reflection, I decide the outfit is not quite complete.

“Honey, have you seen my favourite black cap?” I yell.

She pauses for a moment, before explaining: “It was in that bag of clothes I dropped off to charity last week.”

“Oh, really? That’s a shame.”

I’m disappointed but at the same time feeling lucky I married such a kind and selfless person. And I’m pleased that someone else will enjoy something I wore so proudly for many years.

“And anyway…” she adds, “… it was far too small for your head.”

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About the author:

Alex Zavros

Alex Zavros is a marketing and branding expert from Perth, Western Australia.

Although grateful for a successful career, he has always been conscious of the superficiality and desire-driven values that often emphasised by his profession.

Harnessing the power of storytelling, in his spare he writes short stories and creates content designed to make people think about important issues, while they are being entertained.

Alex is inspired by the amazing work done by The Life You Can Save and its associated charities.

The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.