Haircut Blogging pt. 2: Vanity
“I ... look at my hair in the mirror, think about how good it looks, and actually appreciate it.” That sounds incredibly vain, and normally it’s something that I wouldn’t do – wouldn’t even think of doing – in part because it would be so vain. But right after a haircut, well, then even this caricatured account of my thought process doesn’t seem so bad. Why is that?
Well, for starters, I have a perfect excuse/reason for examining my hair. I just paid to get it changed, now how did it turn out? Looking good, I hope. There are other times when I have a good reason to examine my hair, like when I want it to look decent before I go out, but there is a crucial difference. When I’m fixing my hair I have a very instrumental, results-oriented point of view about it. It’s one of those things I have to do, like brushing my teeth, and I want to get it done. I just need to bring it to some standard of acceptability so I can stop paying attention to it. After a haircut, though, I’m just looking at it, without any time pressure, without any need to bring about some result, and with the hope that it does look good. This observational stance is more like the way that someone looks at art, and more likely to bring about some kind of appreciation.
Like looking at art? Appreciation? I’m starting to sound vain again. How could anyone besides a self-centered pretty boy look at his own hair that way? The answer is that I’m not looking at my hair as my hair, but as someone else’s handiwork. “How did they do?” I’m wondering. “Is it a good haircut?” I’m not asking myself “How good is my hair?” or “How do I look?” Sure, it’s the same hair on my head, but I have a different intentional stance towards it: “How does it look?” I can appreciate my hair because the barber steps in between myself and my hair, and lets me see it from more of a 3rd person point of view rather than as part of me.
Something similar happens with my writing. Excluding the actual process of creation, my appreciation for what I have written well is strongest months or even years after I’ve written it. Then the writing is distant, well in the past, and I'm not so emotionally tied up with it. At that point, admiring what I’ve written no longer feels like admiring myself. Plus, as with the hair situation, it helps that I’m looking at it as something that’s done, rather than as something that I could work on or should have fixed up more.
So what's really happening here? Am I not being vain at all, but only appreciating something that I'm not associating that closely with myself, even though it sounds a bit vain when I talk about it out of context? Or is my true vanity only showing through in these situations where I let my guard down? I do not know.