I like facial hair. I always have. I now understood why. Recent research has found a positive correlation between the width of a man’s face and the likelihood that he will hit you. More specifically, the ratio of the width to the height of a man’s face is considered an “honest signal of aggressiveness.”
Like many other people, I had to deal with bullies.
One of my bullies favored psychological tactics. I would walk through the main lobby of school and he would yell “Stop smiling!” I would enter a classroom and he would yell “Stop smiling!” I would open my locker and he would yell “Stop smiling!” It got to the point where all he had to do is just look at me and I would stop smiling. So, I learned to stop smiling.
The rest of my bullies preferred invading my personal space. I did not own it. I wanted to.
I needed armor.
So, I heightened my tolerance for pain by participating in Rock, Paper, Scissor, Pain. I began spending more and more time in the gym putting on muscle mass. I mastered the art of not crying by biting the inside of my cheek. And, I started growing and sculpting facial hair. While I did not know it at the time, it seems that I was using facial hair to strategically widen my face. I was manipulating the ratio of my face’s width to its height so as to transmit a signal of aggressiveness (albeit a false signal).
Plate by plate I built a suit of armor to send one message: do not lay your hands on me.
I remember the last time that one of my bullies laid their hands on me. I remember the look of bewilderment on his face as he stood there holding the sleeve of my shirt. It was the only thing he took with him when he tried to move me from my seat. I remember watching his eyes dilate as he realized that our relationship had fundamentally changed.
One by one by one my bullies had to adjust to a new reality, a new dynamic, a new way of relating to me. It was my turn to give the glance, the stare, the look. With each non-verbal communication, I enjoyed a surge of back straightening confidence.
is Long Lasting
The strategic value of my armor has diminished. Yet, I still wear many of the plates I forged a long, long time ago.
is a Blunt Instrument
I wear the same suit of armor when I am walking across campus, dropping off Dillon at school, or going to the grocery store. I only have one. It only sends one message. It is not the message I want to be sending to my students, Dillon’s teachers, or the checkout boy.
is all Consuming
There were times when I lost myself in my armor. My armor was not satisfied with being worn in public and taken off behind closed doors. My armor wanted all of me. It wanted to own me.
is Forged out of Fear
My armor had me sitting on this post for three months. My armor had me giving up on this post on Monday morning and again on Tuesday afternoon. My armor does not want me to admit that I wear armor.
The same research that concludes that men with a wider face are more likely to hit you also finds that others believe these men to be less trustworthy. I will never know the number of connections and collaborations I have missed out on because off my armor.
My son has a tender heart. Each time he rubs my head, tugs on my facial hair, and tells me he loves me (which is often) my armor gets heavier and heavier. He reminds me of someone I use to know.
I wonder what I would have become if I had never put on this armor.
I wonder if there is a way to connect with what I was before my armor.
Hanging up my armor is probably a good place to start.
I am not ready for that. Maybe, I will take off a few plates and thin out the others.
I am going to start smiling more.