It's been I-don't-know-how-long since I had a clean shaven face. I have toyed with the idea of shaving my beard, most notably 2 autumns ago, but would either chicken out or some natural disaster (e.g. Hurricane Sandy) would come along and change my mind every time.
But as 2014 is among us, and the whole new-year-new-you attitude abounds, I threw caution to the (icy, arctic, polar-vortex) wind and just did it. And I almost threw up.
The last few years my beard became a calling card: an integral part of my identity. People would notice it, comment on it, compliment it, identify me by it. The idea of shaving it seemed terrifying because the beard was--for me--a built-in accessory.
Here I am last summer, hair under-done, necklaces tangled, unlaundered shirt unbuttoned just enough to seem a bit flagrant. But the look worked. Why? Because that mammoth fur-mask brought it all together and said, "This guy knows the what's what."
It's true. My beard actually spoke for me. Well-groomed and perfectly shaped, it murmured, "This guys gives a shit." Out-of-control and in need of a trim, it still said, "Notice me."
The last words it whispered before being scooped from the sink and tossed into the garbage were something to the effect of, "This is the thanks I get?"
But as I refamiliarize myself with my facial structure, seeing at last what I once believed to be a poorly proportioned chin, I embrace the newness of it all. I feel exposed, naked and vulnerable (and cold!) and I can't get out of the mirror. It feels at once as if I've suddenly taken off all my clothes and just had bandages removed after reconstructive surgery. New-Year-New-Me: literally.
At work they're calling me "new guy," and I can't keep my hands off my "baby" face. I had grown so accustomed to slurping excess booze directly from my mustache after a sip from a cocktail, that even now as I drink this martini, I habitually try to slurp out the remaining drops from a mustache that's no longer there.
To say the least this is going to take some getting used to. But I'm glad I did it because I realize now that my beard had, in a way, become a crutch. I found a look that worked, and I stuck to it. For a long time.
What I learned most about shaving was the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. We groom ourselves for a purpose. What is yours? Go ahead and overgroom yourself. Wax your eyebrows. Shave your arms. Grow a beard. Laser your chest hair down to a small spade in between your pecs. Wax your 'stache. But ask yourself why. And remember what you're doing it for.
I had come to rely on my beard for more than I thought. What started years ago as a natural way of saving time shaving had turned into a mask I was proud to hide behind on a daily basis.
Now that I'm forced to see myself, my bare flesh, my reflection is a little more honest. It's that satisfied feeling you get after rearranging the furniture in your living room. Everything is still there, nothing has really changed. But the way you get around, and the angles from which you experience those same four walls take on new, refreshing perspectives. I think it's healthy to see yourself from different angles. And continuing to "get used to" new things is what keeps us young.
So I say, this year, do something daring and shake things up. Re-invent yourself. And take a fresh look at the world around you.
Happy New Year!