“What’s the worst that can happen?” my roommate Samuel Sullivan asked me.
Yesterday, I tried to cut my own hair. I watched a couple of videos on YouTube after a long run and thought it didn’t look too difficult. And if I messed up, what’s the worst that can happen, right? My roommate Sam and I talked about what’s the worst that could happen if I messed up my haircut — the worst that can happen was that my hair would look terrible and I’d look like shit. Since I don’t take too much stock in my own appearance anyway, I figured why not try to cut my own hair.
The story behind why I tried in the first place is a birthday present from my girlfriend. She bought me a set of Wahl’s clippers with guards for all the hair lengths any man could possibly want, and I wanted to try them out. I certainly needed a haircut. I hadn’t gotten one for two months when my friend cut my hair, and the most recent haircut I got from an actual barber cost me $50, and I ended up looking like a chicken.
I want to give each barber a chance, but the fact is not every barber knows how to cut Asian hair like mine. In a predominantly white community where one older man was known to give terrific haircuts and received glowing reviews, he really struggled with my hair. Asian male hair, like mine, is very very straight. Hairfinder also calls Asian hair “coarse and resistant.”
When I was younger, my parents often brought me to Flushing in Queens so I could get haircuts from other Chinese barbers since they thought it was personally very important for me to get haircuts from other Asian barbers. However, in my lifetime, the best haircuts I’ve gotten are from two friends who simply dabble in cutting hair and love to experiment. My best barber in college was my friend Luis, who cut my hair for free and even helped bleach my hair orange. He always did a very good job and I’ve struggled to find paid barbers who could match his quality.
But back to cutting my own hair — how hard could this be? Here, I could save money and learn a new skill. Not to mention if I completely messed up my haircut, I could just shave my head off military-style and look like a monk.
So I went into a small back porch in our apartment and put the “4” guard (half inch) on the clipper, and tried to cut my hair. Immediately, something was wrong. The clippers weren’t actually cutting my hair. When I forced it enough for the clippers to actually cut my hair, they pulled the hair instead of cutting them. I FaceTimed a friend who cut my hair before and asked him what I was doing wrong, and he’d never encountered the problem so he didn’t know.
Again, I looked to the greatest resource at my disposal to solve the problem: YouTube. I watched YouTube video after YouTube video to find out why the hell my clippers were not cutting my hair or pulling my hair. One solution was that the blades needed oil — so I oiled the blades as per the instructions on the video and then tried to cut my hair again. The clippers seemed to run with more power and I had hope for a second the clippers would finally work.
For a bit, they did. I was cutting the sides of my hair and was, for a couple seconds, happy the clippers were actually cutting my hair. But then they didn’t, and they kept pulling or not cutting my hair, so I was back to square one. I found another YouTube video that told me exactly how I was supposed to fix my clippers — use a screwdriver to take the clippers apart, then adjust the tension within the clippers. I watched a man deftly move the wiring and screws in the interior of the clippers, so I naturally thought I could do the same thing once I got into the interior.
I took apart my clipper and started tweaking with the electromagnet. It was kind of hot, so I figured to not burn my hand, I should probably unplug the clipper. I tightened everything and made sure all the interior screws were also tight, and then I tried to put the clipper back together. Apparently, I made everything too tense. When I tightened the clipper, the outside broke, leaving me holding it in an awkward way to hold it together.
Nevertheless, I hoped the thing could still cut hair. I had cut both sides of my head, but now I wanted to try the back. I loosened the side screw of the clippers and noticed this was the most powerful the clippers sounded, so in my exhaustion, I was relieved to finally have a hallelujah moment. My clippers now worked! After over an hour of trying to cut my hair and not actually cutting anything, I could finally get to work.
But the clippers kept pulling hair. They kept not cutting when they weren’t pulling. In my infinite wisdom, I decided to get some help. I called up to my roommate and asked if he could assist. In his generosity, he came downstairs within seconds and tried to cut the hair on the back of my head, which I could barely reach anyways. He had the same problems, and we agreed on a common sentiment.
This was a terrible idea. I should have just gone to a barber. After an hour and a half of this ordeal, this is what my hair looked like:
As you can see, the hair was a mess. And it looked barely cut, to begin with. I was late to my girlfriend’s place as well, and she used guards on a razor that had two settings: 1 and 2, for 1/8 inch and 1/4 inch. Since I was so late, we got the whole thing done quickly with the 1 used for the side and the 2 on the top. Here is an action photo midway through the process:
The whole process was a disaster, but now I can, but now I can say my hair is cut. I now look like I do in the cover photo, which will take some time to get used to, but my hair will grow back.
A big takeaway from trying to cut my own hair is that you pay professionals for a reason. I don’t regret trying to cut my own hair, and I’m glad I could dare greatly and try and experiment with something new. But once it wasn’t working and once the clippers kept pulling or not cutting my hair the first time, I should have stopped. I could have saved myself a ton of time and emotional investment. Next time, I’m better off paying a friend or going to an actual barber rather than trying to do it myself
A lot of life lessons have been learned from this one experience, but the largest one is to trust the professionals and experts. There are significant upsides to having a “do it yourself” nature and attitude — but there’s a limit and a threshold for knowing when to give up. I certainly should have given into my frustrations sooner, but at least I got a funny story out of the whole experience.