Thousands of years after Roman emperors popularized shaving, the habit has begun to lose cultural relevance. Today’s American men go to work unshaven without embarrassment for their scruffy faces, and fashion magazine covers suggest that women love the rakish look of an unshaven man. The appeal ends, however, when the scruff becomes a beard, or when the beard is cut into something more sinister. Few men today dare trim all but their upper lip.
Nobody overlooks the mustache. Conspicuously located between our eyes and our lips, it claims the most visible part of our body. In spite of its modest size, it changes our face entirely. Shaving in general offers a joyful reversion to childhood in the sudsy playtime it provides, but its influence on our image and personality is formidable. Now is the time to return a sense of ceremony to this highly symbolic act.
The area around the lips is one of the most sensitive parts of our body. How different it feels to touch our lips than to touch our elbows or the backs of our hands. When we let our facial hair grow, the nerves in our skin are stimulated to the point of distraction. When we choose to shave, it is as if the chalkboard has been wiped with a wet sponge, or the clouds have been vacuumed out of the sky. We step outside and the wind stings. We feel the temperature on our faces. We are raw and reborn.
As we grow out our facial hair, our appearance changes both to others and ourselves. Occasionally it benefits us to look in the mirror and see an unfamiliar face. Cultivating and then shaving a mustache is a process of distance and relief that reconnects us to a juvenile, more hopeful version of ourselves, counteracting the social pressure to feel old with convincing and disturbingly visible evidence of our ability to instantly look and feel younger.
Shaving is the most potent nonfatal alternative to suicide. Albert Camus in his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” plays with the idea of suicide as “a solution to the absurd.” The problem with this solution is that we cannot survive it. While both activities seek a form of catharsis by holding a razor to the skin, suicide releases our life force irrevocably, while shaving cleanses us and delivers us anew to the world. When you shave off a mustache grown over the course of a painful month, you literally rid yourself of waste matter generated over this trying period. Hair grown in times of distress, once shaven, is forever discarded. The skin is cleared and allowed to breathe again.
Friends or acquaintances may regard your mustache with suspicion or comment on it sarcastically. Take their behavior as a bracing test of your endurance. Mustaches represent resolve. A beard could easily be accidental, but no one has ever grown a mustache by accident. This inseparable sense of intention makes every mustache a symbol of free will and brazen decisiveness.
From now on, use your razor wisely. Grow a mustache. See yourself change. When you finally shave, it will be as if you have swept clean an entire gymnasium, leaving the waxed basketball courts gleaming under the humming flood lights.