Squad: The Calling of the Common Hero - Page 56

point, the most difficult question to answer became why I decided to change my hair into locks in the first place. This is a valid and common question, with a well-rehearsed response that amounts to “I felt like it.” The natural follow up, at least in my mind, is, “why do you keep them,” but I do not remember anyone ever asking. It remains a challenging question and the question I struggled to answer for seven hours, damp and in pain both physically and emotionally, while combing out the nubs of my locks. The easy answer is that I got tired of having long hair; hair that takes nearly twelve hours to dry poses its difficulties. I think the change in how people perceived me is a more evocative explanation, but it works both ways: being passively judged for my hairstyle was the new normal and I adjusted accordingly. Over the years, I had become something of a campus landmark. People I had never met knew me by description immediately, and I do not doubt that they had identified the correct “gingerdread man.”  I have mixed feelings about other people having a perception of me despite having no connection to them. I think the more accurate answer is that I viewed removing my locks as a social experiment, to test if I could notice the difference in how friends and strangers treated me and to see how that affected how I viewed myself. Former acquaintances rarely recognize me unless I go out of my way to reintroduce myself. To a large degree, it was like a partial reset to my social life. Friends still know who I am, but people I am not as close with see 52 Squad me as a vaguely familiar face that they cannot quite place. I had expectations of how cutting my locks would play out—no more people yelling “Sweet dreads, dude,” strangers offering narcotics, or people touching my hair. The day after I cut my locks though, a stranger yelled across the street complimenting my ’fro. I forgot I still had red hair and two of those three examples were irritating long before I locked up my hair. At no point did I see a stranger in the mirror. I looked much younger without locks, but the face in the mirror was undeniably familiar. A year after cutting my locks, I cannot look in a mirror and picture the same face looking back with ropes of hair. My self-perception is independent of my hair, but how others perceived me after losing my locks inevitably changed. — Thomas Marren