*record scratch* You see that guy up there getting his hair crimped? Yeah, that's me. You're probably wondering how I got myself into this crazy situation...
"What is this thing?" I asked Eileen indifferently as I set up my laptop. "It's a crimping iron," she said with what I now know was a mischievous smile.
"Okaaaay. What is it doing on my chair?" I followed up, still not sensing what was happening.
"Oh, we're gonna crimp your hair with it and put pictures on the internet." Her smile widened into a grin. I laughed dismissively and tossed her the crimping iron.
"Good luck," I said.
"I knew you'd say that. You're like the least adventurous person I know."
I thought carefully about my response before I spoke: "Am not."
"Just do it for, like, a day," she cajoled. "It's a male crimp. It's a thing, I promise!" Then, seeing my still-skeptical face, "Ugh, I don't even know why I'm trying to convince you. I know you're too scared."
Since you're reading this post now, and you've seen the picture above, you know that Eileen got her way. And although I'm still not exactly sure how I let that happen, I'm going to try to explain it anyway because, as trite as it sounds, the whole experience taught me something.
Ask any guy in your office to crimp his hair, and he's not likely to burst with enthusiasm. However, I'm not just any guy: I'm a redhead. If you ask a redhead how they feel about their hair, eight times out of ten their answer will contain a story of conflict, of insecurity, and, ultimately, a story of coming to terms with their own follicular identity. They’ll tell you a story about learning to be comfortable in their own skin, specifically the skin on their head, out of which an auburn mane sprouts like Lady Liberty’s torch.
Being redheaded isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s not simply about the color of your coiffure. Believe me, I wish it were. No, there’s something bigger about redheadedness, something more central to your identity and the way people see you. You are not a person who happens to have red hair. You are a redhead, a ginger.
It’s not entirely bad, of course. Red hair ages like a fine cabernet, and around the time you’re heading off to college — when the idea of “being different” switches from a liability to an asset — it may even get you laid a few times. But for every well-meaning stranger who runs up on you in the grocery store to tell you that they “absolutely love your hair” or “wish their salon could match that color,” there are a handful of bruises to your ego still tender from the memory of every “carrot top” or “fire crotch” lobbed at you on the playground by some lunch-money-stealing sonuvabitch who doesn't even have hair anymore, probably.
I have hair issues, is what I’m saying. I’m ambivalent about my hair. Most redheads are.
Eileen was asking me to crimp my hair, to ostentatiously manipulate the physical manifestation of my deepest insecurities, and I was not on board. She should have known better. After all, Eileen is a redhead too. When I pointed this out to her, Eileen sat me down and patiently, even tenderly, explained I was being, like, such a baby about this and I would be fine — and also I should shut up, just in general.
Plus, nostalgia is a huge thing right now, she told me, and with '80s and '90s trends being resurrected, like, on the daily, the male crimp was sure to be next. I could be the first, the trendsetter, and the fact that I was a male made it all the more bold. "Look around you," she said. "Guys have all kinds of hairstyles these days. They dye their hair pink, purple, and blue. They grow it down to their backs. They have undercuts. There are no rules. We're living in a post-judgment world, hair-wise."
"Don't you want to be the crimp guy?" she asked and then fixed me with an expectant gaze. It gave me pause. I really didn't think I did want to be the crimp guy, but I did want to be the something guy. We all want to be the something guy, kids. The project of life is figuring out what your something is. The scary truth is, though, none of us knows what our something is until we find it, and maybe — just maybe — my something was corrugating my bright red hair with an iron so it resembled a passing '90s fashion fad.
Hannah, another ultra-fashionable co-worker, agreed. "I think a guy rocking a crimp would be pretty jester," she told me, one eyebrow raised. I had no idea what that meant, but I thought it would be uncool to ask, so I decided to take it as a compliment. As I wavered, a little voice in my scarlet head whispered, "Carpe crimpum."
"I'll even crimp it for you," Hannah offered archly. And that, friends, is how we find ourselves here.
The actual crimping process is painless. Well, physically painless. But with each clamp of the iron I felt my anxiety rising. Eileen fluttered around taking pictures of me mid-crimp with an expression of delight that shook my confidence. Every minute or so, she paused to giggle, exchange a look with Hannah, or whisper, “Oh my god, it’s amazing” to herself. Once crimped, I went on about my day as normally as I could. "Let the people come to me," I rationalized. My sudden desire to pretend everything, including my hair, was normal actually made me quite productive.
As the hours dragged on at my desk, insecurities I thought I had left in my past came creeping back. I became hyperaware of the people around me, what they were saying, what they were looking at. I felt an old familiar flush of embarrassment in my cheeks when the eyes of my workmates moved from my face to the top of my head and their smiles turned to snickers — or worse, looks of simple befuddlement. “Why would I agree to do this?” I berated myself. “It's elementary school all over again. I'm not the crimp guy. I'm back to being the ginger on the playground again, the guy with the weird hair."
Then something occurs to me, and it seems so obvious that I kick myself for not realizing it sooner: If rocking a crimp brought back my childhood insecurities about my hair, then it could also re-teach me the lessons of conquering those insecurities. I had solved this problem once before; I could do it again. I started to remember the self-assuredness that bloomed in me the moment I understood that not worrying about your hair — hell, not worrying about anything — is entirely a matter of confidence.
I started to meet the gazes I saw drawn toward my crimp. I reflected the smiles of co-workers and passersby right back to them without worrying whether those smiles arose from friendliness, amusement, or derision. For the befuddled, I flashed a look that said, “Crazy, right?” and kept it moving. My self-possessed attitude turned the crimp into a conversation piece. I met several people I’ve worked with but never spoken to. “This is my crimp,” I told them earnestly as we made our coffee in the kitchen. “This is the next big look. I'm making it happen.” I got some polite head nods, a few game thumbs-ups.
"It's jester," I offered, remembering only later I had never figured out what that word means in this context.
I ended the day with mixed emotions. Waiting for the office shuttle, I reached the conclusion that I might be a crimp guy, but I'm probably not the crimp guy after all. Still, I wasn't sorry I tried. Dealing with long-buried insecurities about my hair seemed to awaken the self-confidence that enabled me — both then and now — to put those fears to bed. A crimp-iphany, if you will.
So I wasn't the crimp guy. So what? I was still the something guy; it's just that my something was still out there waiting patiently to be discovered. Maybe it's architecture or political activism...or mini golf. As the shuttle pulled up, I quietly resolved never to stop looking for it.
And then one last thought struck me: If I'm not the guy to rock the male crimp, then who is? Surely he must still be out there somewhere, a fellow something guy looking for his place in the world — his lank, flaxen hair blowing coquettishly in the breeze, crying out to fulfill its destiny. And now I'm looking at my computer screen, staring through my computer screen, and watching in anticipation as you read these final words. Do you hear the crimping siren's call? Are you the crimp guy? There's only one way to find out.