In pain, but looking good

As I wrote in this space in the August 2002 issue, my sons have taken to shearing off their hair out on the back porch.

By Mark Hartley

As I wrote in this space in the August 2002 issue, my sons have taken to shearing off their hair out on the back porch. Well, Oklahoma is still warm — too warm for shaggy hair. So I told my oldest son, "Meet me outside, and bring the longest blade you've got." The longest one in his kit is a half-inch blade, and I figured I could live with that length (instead of that scalping blade they use).

My son was so gentle. His gentleness was a little disconcerting. With most barbers and hair stylists, there's always a twinge of discomfort at some point during the appointment. I half expected to go back inside and discover Bozo the clown in the mirror. My wife, who has several corpses stashed around town, said she liked the haircut. The bodies belong to ex-barbers who, she felt, did a bad job of cutting my hair. For reasons unknown to me, she's a brutal critic of anyone who touches my hair. This, of course, begs the question of what a mother would really say. "Son, you did a terrible job cutting your father's hair." Or, privately, in the bedroom, "Honey, you look like Bozo the clown."

Fathers know the answer. "Darling, isn't it amazing how our daughter's kindergarten class is learning how to paint ties? And this tie that she made for you will look good with your blue shirt." When fathers arrive at work, they discover they have been relocated to an area where there are more fire extinguishers per square foot than in any other part of the office building. The administrative assistants are required to keep a hazmat suit in the closet, and the boss sends e-mails such as, "This is an intriguing proposal you sent upstairs. I guess we ought to have a meeting. Has your daughter graduated from kindergarten yet?"

My son heard only the minimum of compliments about his barbering skills. We're in the paying-the-tuition phase for the third year of college. We're not about to say anything to him that implies he would be better at cutting hair than solving trigonometry problems. But the boy did do a good job of cutting my hair — no pain either.

The haircut made me think of a sign I saw yesterday. I'm not into being decorative with my body. But, as I understand it, you have to drive to one of Oklahoma's borders if you want a tattoo. With any other sort of body piercing, though, just go down to the corner, such as one near my house. The artist's sign outside his shop states, "Pain makes you beautiful!"

As we've discussed, there's usually some discomfort along the way to having beautiful hair. Who else is there? Apparently, people who have jewelry inserted into their skin feel a little something. Nutritionists insist that, if something tastes good, it's bad for you — so we eat things that taste like the weeds in the backyard. We witness daily the television commercials that glorify the pain of physical exercise while wearing specific types of eye-catching apparel. We also pay attention to the bulimic supermodels who are legendary for the pain they endure in order to slip into the clothes they model.

Emotional pain is involved with purging your mind (with the help of a psychologist) of what others believe are thoughts that lack a certain beauty. Drugs have a side effect that you must endure if you want to lose weight, appear rested, or make it through the allergens present at the swimming hole without any of that unsightly sneezing, tearing up, or sniffling. Of course, surgeons ignite a craze every time they announce that they can improve the appearance of a body part with a scalpel.

And then there's us. Regardless of how pain-free dentistry has become, patients still experience an unpleasant sensation during dental procedures that transform an ugly or ordinary smile into a beautiful smile. But dentists just can't put a sign out front that states, "Pain makes you beautiful," can they? It would just confirm everyone's paranoia about what you do. Just out of curiosity, though, how much of your time is devoted to reassuring people that a little discomfort results in a great deal of beauty? Would a sign that says, "A beautiful smile can arise from a little pain," prompt patients to brace themselves before an appointment, eliminating all of the soothing chitchat? After all, patients are prepared for pain in everything else they do.

Do I agree with the artist who runs that body-piercing shop? Nah. I've got the haircut to prove it.


Mark Hartley is the editor of RDH. He can be contacted at markh@pennwell.com.

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