The Head, The Hands, The Hair

For some, grooming is a sensory experience: the swish of a sharp blade on skin, the gentle brush of a comb, the moist suckling sound of a well-tended beard. Since I was a boy, I have watched countless men tend to their hair: the careful weighing of a potential new style, the ritual of trimming that occurs, the satisfaction of running one's fingers through a full head of hair. It occurs to me that, in my observation, I have learned a thing or two.

There is a moment, when a man first encounters his reflection in the mirror, fresh from a haircut, where he is seized by a terrifying question: "What have I done?" The sensation does not persist, though. Instead, it is replaced by a quiet satisfaction, a reassurance that, this time, the barber has listened to your instructions and done right by you. You were going for a 0.5 guard on the sides, and you got it. You were going for a trim, and you got it. You were going for a new style, and you got it.

If you are lucky, you have a barber who takes pride in his work, which extends beyond a simple paycheck for services rendered. He is invested in the art of hair, the art of transformation through hair. He is invested in you and your hair. As a result, when you look at the freshly cut hair on the floor, you don't feel sad. You feel relieved. You have survived another cut. You are a better, sharper version of yourself.

In the 1990s, the men of the Fab Five arrived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as freshmen basketball players with a lot to prove. They had talent and reputations preceding them. They were also young, Black, and bald. Watching them emerge, I wondered if they, too, had a similar reflection in the mirror, and if so, what that moment was like for them. Of course, their status as cultural icons has a lot to do with their skill on the court, but I can't be the only one who noticed their aesthetic, their style, their presentation.

I was drawn to them, in part, because they didn't fit the mold of what a basketball player was supposed to look like. But there was something else there, something more nuanced. I wondered if they, like me, had a barber who knew their head, who knew their hair. I wondered if they, like me, had a style that announced, "This is who I am, and this is who I am not." In many ways, their hair, and the way they presented it, spoke for them. It still does.