How do you wear yours?

don 2

Illustration by Cara Thayer & Louie Van Patten,

Recently, I read something called ‘Hair Part Theory’. It was postulated in the late 1990s by John Walter and Catherine Walter, a brother-sister team of Manhattan cultural anthropologists, in a self-published paper entitled ‘What Is Your Hair Part Saying About You?: The Effects of Hair Parting on Social Appraisal and Personal Development‘. The basic tenants are as such:

“A left hair part draws unconscious attention to the activities that are controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain, i.e. activities traditionally attributed to masculinity. A right hair part draws unconscious attention to the activities that are controlled by the right hemisphere of the brain, i.e. activities traditionally attributed to femininity. A man who parts his hair on the right, and who is striving for positive assessment in a traditionally male role is at risk for having difficulties in interpersonal relationships, since he is sending a mixed, subconscious message by emphasizing the activities of the brain traditionally attributed to femininity.”

According to the theory, men who part on the right often display negatively-perceived characteristics: obsessive-compulsive, extreme mood swings, eccentric, fanatical, defensive, naïve, socially-inept, weak, etc. Consider this: Marshall Applewhite, Radovan Karadzic, Jim Jones, Pol Pot, and Adolf Hitler all parted their hair on the right. AND check this out: the only time there were three successive U.S. Presidents who wore their hair on the right was before, during and after the Civil War, the most divisive period in U.S. history. Mind. Blown.

I part my hair on the right.

Coming of age in the ’90s, I asserted my individuality as a surly suburban youth by proudly parting my greasy hair down the middle, a la Jonathan Taylor Thomas (it was the look back then, cut me some slack.) Exiting high school and entering college, I erased the part altogether, opted for the bro-tastic early 2000s spiky ‘do. Dude, parts were for conformists! My old fogey dad parted his tame hair (on the left). My dorky kid brother parted his hair (on the left, too), stiff and perfect, like Lego hair. After college, I realized I needed a job. So I happily conformed and got an adult man’s hairstyle, but parted it on the right.

“The right-parting male is emphasizing his right cranial hemisphere activities, sending a conflicting message…If he is an individual striving for respect as an artist, a writer, a priest, a therapist, etc., the right part does not help him to be accepted by othersSocial response that is not overtly approving can negatively affect the man’s perception of his personal power, which can increase his insecurities and which can then initiate a negative cycle of behavior and response. This cycle is oftentimes continuous from childhood, which can lead to the personality being affected.“

Perhaps this wrong-sided part in my hair was the source of all my insecurity and personal woes! – I reasoned, wildly. Could a simple change from right to left somehow psychologically align my universe, project positive characteristics, change how people perceived me? Maybe I would rock that interview! Maybe I would impress that girl! Maybe I would get that raise! Maybe, maybe, maybe! My ‘dorky’ kid brother was now a successful man, with a great career, a beautiful wife and two adorable young kids, a spacious apartment, a new car, well-adjusted, well-liked, stable, secure, everything insecure men like myself want to have and be. Could his personal and professional successes all really stem from his left-parted Lego hair?

Staring in the bathroom mirror, I punished my confused coif with cold water, then raked the hard plastic comb through my soaked hair. Like Buzz Aldrin planting his flag on the moon, I firmly drew my part along the left side of my beet-red head.

I wore the left part for two days.

It was horrible. I felt lopsided, dizzy, disoriented, light-headed, like my brain had been lobotomized. My scalp felt tight, painful, like someone was taking a fistful of hair and yanking my neck until it snapped. If this was how I was supposed to look to society, I didn’t like it. Walking the streets of Manhattan or taking the subway, I caught passing glances of my reflection in a window and thought: who is that? I felt like a fraud, like some snarling stranger would suddenly point me out in a crowd and shout, “Look at that faker with the left part! Look at that charlatan trying so hard to assimilate!”

John and Catherine Waters manufacture and sell a product called True Mirror®, “a mirror that reflects you as others see you.” Hair Part Theory is just a psychobabble marketing gimmick. But it’s okay to part your hair on the right. It’s okay to be weird. It’s okay to be a little obsessive and eccentric and uncommon. It’s okay to do it differently. If the right side is the wrong side, I don’t need to be right.

Words: Matthew Bryan Beck

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