Sunday, November 29, 2009

Balding - The Common Plight of (most) Middle-aged Men

Picture of famous French actor with little hair
Balding must be one of the most uncomfortable and uneasy transitions for most men out there. Hair is often tied to youth and force, the same way Samson used to be invincible until his beloved forced him to pay a visit to the barber.

Hair loss has become a distressing experience for most of us because we are forced to leave behind the wonderful world of youth and vitality and enter the shaky foundations of middle and eventually later adulthood.

It is strange that as time is passing me by - sneaking stealthily but steadily away - I don't "feel" much older. The only reminder of my slowly advancing age is the appearance of yet another birthday, and with it, I keep adding to the mysterious number that symbolizes how much time I have had the fortune to be alive.

My main fear and concern with balding are presumably that others would view me as "old." Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being old, which many equate with growing wisdom and experience. The problem probably lies in the implausible yet appealing Peter Pan syndrome. Part of us does not want to lose –or rather wants to hold onto - the height of physical prowess, and so we are constantly afraid of hair loss as well as wrinkles appearing on our face, traitors that give away our "real" age.

I cannot help but be jealous of those younger guys who are blessed with plenty of hair. And I feel envy towards those who have advanced in age and have a full white-haired scalp. The change of coloring is not that distressing to me, but lack of it and bald spots are.

Then again, I am glad that TV and cinema have tackled baldness in their own way. Some actors are known to be bald, and they do a great job at it! The French comedian Louis de Funès I simply cannot imagine with hair. In my mind, he's always bald-faced, grimacing and gesturing. Yul Brynner, I did not like with hair; one of the cases where the reverse actually occurred: his manliness lies in his baldness! And finally, thank you, Kojak for bringing baldness to Prime TV. We need more people like you guys!

I guess, all in all, baldness is a part of life that we will eventually get used to. It is one of those irreversible changes we have to go through sooner or later. A toupée or hair implant would be like plastic surgery; a way of cheating ourselves and making ourselves believe that we will be eternally young, the “good old” Peter Pan syndrome.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

All you need is Awe and Humility – Finding the Right Attitude towards Life's Marvels

Winged Fortuna handing out gold and riches

On various occasions I cannot help but think that life is so much bigger than me. By life, I mean all the marvelous things that surround us. The simple state of being, the act of thinking, the astonishment and gratefulness we feel when contemplating natural beauty, the elements of friendship and love: All of these sometimes - on those rare moments of clarity - combine to a state of profound and deep-rooted happiness, a joy that is not necessarily related to an external event, but to how we regard and recognize the intricacies and interplay of life's forces.

All this accumulates to cause a sense of awe within. It is a state of wonder; it is seeing the spirit behind natural phenomena. I think it is not necessarily a religious attitude because it can be easily applied to science and scientific thinking as well. It is a childish amazement and curiosity when one finds out how things work or fit together, how one piece connects with another, that moment of discovery or illumination.

Throughout history, various philosophers and thinkers have tried to use the teleological argument to explain the masterful work of a deity or God who has created and designed everything and all perfectly. Yet this awareness transcends religious beliefs and convictions, and you could still feel this awe without recourse to any benevolent conscious Creator. You can refer to it as life force or energy, but the true essence of the matter still remains the same.

This awe would ideally lead to a state of humility. I see humility as the counterpoint of arrogance. There is so much we still don't know, and we as humans are a tiny fraction of all that surrounds us. We are part of it, yes, but we are not the whole itself.

The aforementioned deity or life force is always stronger because it has not only created, but in fact it maintains and sustains us. The breath of life or spirit can leave us at any moment regardless of how much wealth, knowledge or strength you may have.

So much is outside of ourselves and of our limited scope; it is something we often experience in our daily lives. It does not mean that we are slaves; it only shows that our powers are limited compared to the powers that filter from the great beyond.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

You are what you wear: A Brief Look at Ancient Sumptuary Laws on Fashion

Drawing of a Roman toga

Nowadays, especially in the Western world, we take for granted the fact that we are free to wear what we like. It comes as an addition to the highly prized freedom of expression since people do not merely communicate with words, but also through their lifestyles and their choice of clothing.

Uniforms these days are often used for the purpose of recognition or as a statement of belonging. An officer is easily recognized and his or her role becomes apparent and salient through their specialized uniforms. Similarly, employees of the new Canada Skytrain in Vancouver are quickly spotted because of their distinctive green clothing. As such, whether you are a government employee or an adherent of a private school, uniforms help us to avoid confusion and to create a sense of belonging.

Interestingly, particularly during ancient times, there used to be “sumptuary laws,” meaning specific laws or prescriptions for consumption of food and the wearing of clothes. The latter often became a status symbol, and people were consciously limited to their choice of garments. In ancient Greece, gold rings were to be avoided by most men, whereas silk was frowned upon during the Roman Empire. The Romans wanted to ensure that social hierarchy was kept in place, that luxury and extravagance was only meant for the nobility and higher classes. The rules were set out clearly, and any impostor or anyone feigning to be other by choosing clothes beyond their given status was clearly punished.

To us such laws may seem odd and limiting, too controlling for our tastes. We pride ourselves on wearing what we like. But are we really free to choose? Is not fashion a main factor in many people's clothing decision? Are there not certain items that are fashionable and “in” despite their awkwardness or their lack of comfort?

Certain styles seem to me rather torture, both to wear and to look at, but then again I am not a great follower of fashion or trends. For better or for worse, clothing for me is a necessity and not so much a statement. Yet still, I would not like to have those rights infringed upon or be told what to wear. I really hope that sumptuary laws strictly remain something of the past.