I’ve been on an improve-my-appearance kick lately, completely due to my unexpectedly falling head-over-heels for a girl over summer. She was, it turned out, unavailable – but also uninterested (though very kind about it). This kicked me into action, possibly because – and I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a total dickhead – of the five women I’ve asked out in the last decade, she’s the first to properly say no. I don’t mean by this that I was surprised or anything – god no – but until now I haven’t actually had to think about what I might be doing wrong, if you see what I mean1. I wasn’t thinking I could win her over, because I couldn’t, but in the throws of what-am-I-doing-wrong I realised I was worrying about things everyone else figured out in their teens, but I somehow missed: the right kind of clothes to wear, etc.. I obviously know that appearance isn’t everything, but it’s also obviously naive to claim it’s irrelevant. I decided to start educating myself about this stuff, so that, even if I didn’t change anything, I’d at least be making informed decisions. Then the next time someone turns me down I can unambiguously blame my looks, tastes & personality 🙂
But where the hell do you start? It’s an awkward thing to ask people about, and general googling results in thousands and thousands of often contradictory answers. But I found a solution that works for me: Ask Metafilter. It’s a standard ask-questions-and-get-replies-from-commenters site, but with a twist: it costs to join (but not to read). It’s just a small amount – £1 or so, I think – but enough to filter the diamonds from the soup. As a result, the community is both knowledgeable and kind. This means people are willing to ask all sorts of personal questions, and the responses are always compassionate and helpful. It rocks. So I hit the Ask MeFi archives, looking for people in a similar situation to mine.
I found many. Lots of questioners – mostly men – have no idea how to even start thinking about how to dress ‘well’, and the replies provided lots of helpful advice, as well as links to the better online guides. I’ve replaced much of my wardrobe in the last couple of months, because some of it was years old, some of it far too big (it’s amazing how obvious this is once someone points it out) and some of it just dead boring. I don’t claim any great skill, but I’ve at least some idea of what to think about, and I’m told there’s been an improvement. Definite progress. Next task: haircut.
Now, I’ve had pretty much the same (lack of) style since I was five2. I thought it looked all right, and I couldn’t be bothered spending much time thinking about it. I just went to the local £10 barbers every two months and had it shortened. Sorted.
That was until this week, when I went into a local Not-A-Barbers and said ‘do whatever you think looks good’, then shut my eyes and hoped for the best. Turns out that, as promised on Ask MeFi, proper hairdressers do indeed do a better job. It’s not lots different, but certainly enough to be obvious. Nice Hairdresser Lady told me some five-minute-not-annoying stuff to do in the mornings, which I’ve been trying ever since, and I’ve had quite a few nice comments – it’s possible people are just being polite, but hopefully not. So that’s pleasant. I can’t understand why I didn’t think to do this years ago, but whatever. Next: shaving.
I wasn’t anticipating needing to learn anything about shaving – I mean, it’s not the most complex procedure ever. But while browsing Ask MeFi I remembered a debate my friends and I have had for years over the best way to shave: should you go with or against the grain? I said against, they said with. So I investigated and found many online shaving guides, which were often contradictory, but, I had to admit, almost all said ‘with the grain’. Ok. But, in a surprise twist, every single one also recommended using aftershave.
I’ve never used aftershave. It always seemed very expensive, I didn’t see the point, and I remember that bit from Home Alone. But since I was changing things anyway, I thought I’d give it a try (the guides also said that it’s definitely not meant to sting).3 Well, if my local Boots has a shelf for aftershave, I couldn’t find it; I figured I’d drive to the bigger store outside town, but then I spotted the single available bottle in Somerfield: it was by Nivea and the size of a baby gerbil, yet cost £5. This seemed bonkers, but I bought it anyway, rationalising that the petrol would come to that much, or something.
I have discovered that shaving with the grain is both better and worse. I can’t get a clean shave, but it means I don’t cut my face to shreds. After a couple of weeks I tried going against the grain in a couple of areas, and promptly started bleeding in a thousand different places. So I’m pretty sure I’m doing the right thing. But as I said, I can’t get as close as I used to – I guess I’ll have to be one of those permanently slightly-stubbly people. Nobody seems to address this problem. Maybe I have a freaky head. As for the aftershave, I have no bloody idea what it’s doing. It says it ‘calms and protects’, which is pretty vague. What does that mean? Still, you need to use so little that the teeny bottle should last months, so that’s good. I’ll be an advertisers’ puppet and assume it’s doing *something*…
So. Um. Yes. That’s what I’ve been thinking about lately, and it seems to be going ok. It all feels a bit vain, but it shouldn’t – everyone does it, right? My confidence has certainly increased as a result, anyway, and I thought I’d post about it in case anyone else is in a similar situation. But the primary message is: for advice about things you feel a bit stupid asking anyone about, and general googling doesn’t help, Ask Metafilter is your friend.