I have known my barber for most of my life; (even before he became a full time barber) so I feel more comfortable with him than most of you would feel with yours. Many people find themselves extremely uncomfortable in social interactions and sitting in a chair making small talk while someone uses sharp objects above and near their face is quite nerve racking. A student of mine recently did his 12th grade job-shadowing at a barber shop near our school and it got me to thinking about the history of barbering and hair stylists. Before the ‘shave and a haircut – two bits’ time, barbers served a much darker purpose. Barbers performed surgery, did bloodletting and leeching, performed fire cupping, gave enemas, and even extracted teeth! They were known as barber surgeons and the barber pole that hangs outside of your local barber shop references the time when barbers performed the medical procedures. The red symbolized the blood while the white symbolized the bandages.
As early as 6,000 years ago, barbers were part of society. The nobles of Egyptian society had ‘barbers’ shave their heads with sharpened stones. In the middle ages, barbers performed shaving, gave hair cuts (most of the time checking for and treating lice), dressed wounds and performed small surgical operations. Which leads us to today where the American barbershop is a respect place where communication is passed through reversed glances in a mirror. You can picture Andy Griffith sitting in Floyd’s barber chair discussing town issues with Barney. The barber shop has also been vastly important in the African American community. Kentucky State University professor David Shabazz said that, “African American barbershops are discursive spaces, where identity is shaped as young men are initiated into manhood and African American culture,” in his Journal of Black Studies article. But in our current cultural climate, even the barbershop has lost a lot of its social significance. Some people have lost the desire to interact with others due to the convenience of the $5 impersonal cut.
So you’ve been used to getting your hair cut at the clip-and-go shopping mall location (and there is nothing wrong with that if you do!) and you want to try something new. The first time you’re sitting down in the leather armed chair of a real barber shop…what do you say while you breathing the same air? Let’s just say that until you get to know the person, it might not be the best time to throw your hat into the ring with the most controversial of topics. To forgo the awkward arguments from fellow patrons or from the barber himself, sit aside your yearning to discuss religious and politically themed topics until you have gotten to know your barber and the environment better. Honestly some people look to their barber as if they were their own personal therapist; or even a mirrored confessional where the falling hair symbolizes another penance with a pile of Hail Mary’s here and 2 Our Fathers still holding tight to the black cape pinned tightly around your neck. Maybe even ask the barber about his life. Point your conversation to them. Ask how their day is going. Ask them if they have any interesting stories because you can only imagine the interesting stories that have happened been shared while standing behind that <a href="http://Authentic“>authentic barber chair.
Barber Pole in Jersey Shore, PA by and attributed to Doug Kerr from Albany, NY, United States – 083009 495Uploaded by GrapedApe, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25151791
Featured Image – Rural Barber attributed to the Archivo General de la Nación Argentina, circa 1890, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33842286
Xela, Guatemala Peluqueria Barbershop in Quetzaltenango by Gamdrup – Guatemala, Fair use, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27379073