Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Long-Haired Male

One thing I've noticed over the many many years of visual media consumption is that I'm a total sucker for long hair on guys. There is something about long locks on males that speaks to me on a level that transcends mere aesthetic appeal. It's the hair. It's the kind of man that wears the hair. But mostly, it's the concept of the long-haired male that has me in a tizzy. I'd liken him to the majestic and mythical unicorn - just because you stick a horn on a horse does not make it a unicorn. (Yes, I have just taken long-haired males to a new level of specialness by introducing a whole host of connotations associated with the unicorn, but I'm okay with that.)

The long-haired male is just one of those things that's wholly appealing in theory but has a tendency to fail miserably in practice, much like a utopian society. That isn't to say that reform is pointless and we shouldn't strive for something better because perfection is an impossibility in this reality. I'm just saying that it's important to recognize that there should be realistic expectations. I mean, we've all seen "that guy" and wondered what kind of delusional state-of-mind he's in to have let his hair grow to the lengths that it has. I assure you, I am quite familiar with reality to know that all men can benefit greatly from a good haircut.

So, if I do in fact recognize that any man can become significantly more attractive with the right haircut, why do I bother assigning value to long locks? It's because, to me, the visual symbol that is the the long-haired male represents the notion of freedom, invokes an air of mystery, and at times epitomizes the paradoxical nature of existence.

In modern society, short cut hair is civilized hair. That is to say short cut hair is the societal norm. Getting haircuts to maintain an acceptable length is the civilized thing to do. Now, for some reason or another to have foregone so many routine maintenance haircuts to have his hair grow long says something about a man. Perhaps the man has been in a situation where he did not have access to the means by which his hair could be cut. Perhaps the man is willingly rejecting societal norms and making a statement. In any case, the length of the hair is seemingly the distance, literally and figuratively, between him and civilization, and perhaps for it he is closer to freedom. As Freud put it, "the liberty of the individual is no gift of civilization."

In contrast to the flippant nature of long hair, there is a certain austerity to very short hair. The shorter the hair the farther he moves away from individualism and closer to order. Soldiers in the military and monks in the monastery are examples of individuals that relinquish their liberty and their hair for the sake of order. Then again, there are those that shave their heads for the unorthodoxy of the look, but I would still contend that the look itself is very severe regardless of intent.

So on the spectrum of hair lengths that range from wild savage to chemotherapy patient, there is a range of recognizably appropriate lengths that perhaps reflects modern society's ideological stand on the continuum of freedom and order. But short hair hasn't always been the societal norm, which leads me to my second point...

Long hair on men from a visual media standpoint is closely associated with realities that are not coincidental with our current one. Period pieces like sageuks, as well as works of the fantasy genre often have long-haired male characters. As fantastic and mystical the settings are, the long-haired men as the contemporaries of those times and places become foreign and mysterious.

I suppose, in my mind, a man with long hair always seems out of context. He makes me wonder about the qualities of his life that have cultivated his long locks. Neglect and apathy or perseverance and diligence? To what fantasy world does he believe he belongs? Magical fantasy or head-banging metal? The long-haired male is always a mystery, regardless of his probable lack of attractiveness.

If a man is handsome despite his long tangled mess of hair or even more challengingly long flowing feminine hair, he is an exceedingly handsome man. While long hair has seemingly always been a principle characteristic of femininity, it can be used in juxtaposition to accentuate other factors of manliness. Long hair feminizes the man without emasculating him, which begs the question, what are the fundamental characteristics that define a "man"?

(Please do note that I used the word "man" instead of "male" in the above rhetorical question. I admit I've up until this pointed used the two terms almost synonymously, but I want to differentiate between the idea of the scientific/biological "male" and the social/cultural "man." Then I can ponder other questions like, Is being a male a prerequisite of being a man? and Is is possible to be a male and not be a man?)

I feel like I've held onto this post for much too long, and I'm drawing a blank when it comes to wrapping it up in a constructive way... So I'm just going to cop out and end it with a pithy truism that really adds nothing to the arguments that I've laid out. I could continue to wax analytic about the social implications and symbolism and philosophical ramifications, but I'm not going to.

In the end my fascination with guys with long hair is just a consequence of me being just another girl. Girls ogle boys. (Boys ogle girls.) At the end of the day maybe we're all just looking for ogle fodder.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Hi! I typed, "making long hair masculine" into google and it brought up this article. I really loved it!! I'm a man growing my hair after my first 22 with a military style cut and after reading your article it made me glad again that I've chosen to do so. I've had a quick look at a couple of other posts you made, your blog's very interesting! :-)