People can see what you’re trying to hide from them
What would it mean to "own it" instead? C.O.M.B.O.V.E.R. Mindset, explored
Welcome to Blackbird Spyplane.
Our interviews with Nathan Fielder, Jerry Seinfeld, Tyler, The Creator, Emily Bode, Online Ceramics, André 3000, Matty Matheson, Lorde, John Mayer, Danielle Haim, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, The Kid Mero, Daniel Arnold, Thomas Mars from Phoenix, Phoebe Bridgers, Evan Kinori, Michael Stipe, Sandy Liang, Héctor Bellerín, John Wilson, Mike Mills, Ezra Koenig, Action Bronson, Seth Rogen and more are HERE.
— Jonah & Erin
The other day we received a Personal Spyplane question on the subject of HAIR LOSS that has unlikely relevance for all of us —
“I’m going bald. Do I embrace nature and go full Larry David or try to hang onto it?” —@yamsforever
Personally, yr boy was blessed with a glorious cabbage, peace to the thick-maned stallions in my family tree for encoding these lustrous curls into my d*mn DNA 👹. But since I’m also an unorthodox sletter-philosopher, my thoughts often turn to hair loss — and specifically combovers — all the same, as I contemplate issues of self-presentation and the swag sciences. Because hair loss, and how people react to it, has implications you can extrapolate far beyond the domepiece, illuminating the many ways we all attempt to “correct” our appearances.
Everyone has things about themselves they might like to hide, augment or alter — wearing clothes is, of course, one of the simplest “technologies” of body modification. When we attempt these augmentations we become vulnerable, because in trying to obscure or mitigate a self-perceived weakness, we risk drawing unflattering attention directly to that weakness and (even worse??) drawing attention to the insecurity we feel about it. The combover fascinates me as just one (particularly comical) example among many. Steering into inexorable forces, like they’re icy patches of highway, tends to register as more graceful and more “honest,” thus more attractive. Whereas a combover-type maneuver — steering against the skid, hope against hope — creates a cringingly overcompensatory “LOL who do you think you’re fooling??” scenario.
There are all kinds of non-literal combovers all of us deploy in our self-presentations. Which ones are embarrassing? Which ones are successful??
Today we are exploring a new Spyplane mindset: “C.O.M.B.O.V.E.R.” Mindset, which holds that Cringe Overcompensation Maneuvers Bespeak Obvious Vanity — Embrace Realness. Let’s get into it—
These days, combovers seem to exist more as punchlines / retro sight gags than actual hairdos. This is because, as an attempted bulwark against baldness, they read as so screamingly inelegant and inept — a too-small band-aid on a too-big boo-boo. Case in point: Christian Bale rocks the wild combover in American Hustle, and while you have to grant moments where he looks strangely dope, as in the still immediately above, that dopeness derives less from his combover than from its juxtaposition with the belly-out / gold Star of David / silk cravat styling. (Not to mention the fact that it comes swaddled in irony, and it’s a movie, and he’s Christian Bale.) The combover is not there to make Bale look attractive, it’s there to telegraph his character’s ridiculousness, dishonesty and — crucially — vanity.
That’s the root problem with the combover. It radiates vanity at its most sweaty and delusional, and vanity gnaws termitelike at the foundations of swag. Another way of putting it is that there’s a lot of cruelty in the world, especially when it comes to body image, and while it’s hard not to absorb and be deformed by that cruelty — wielding it against yourself in unhealthy, crazymaking ways — it’s infinitely doper to proceed not from a place of internalized self-loathing, but from a place of externalized self-love baby!!
What’s cooler: Someone whose presentation seems like an unhealthy symptom of other people’s coercive unkindness, or someone whose presentation communicates sauced-out, f**k-these-lames autonomy?
Blackbird Spyplane is 100% reader-supported. Paying for great hand-made things feels fantastic. 2 great reasons to join our Cla$$ified Recon Tier if you haven’t yet — Jonah & Erin
The most common men’s-mag-type wisdom when it comes to hair loss is therefore to go all in and cut what hair you do retain down to a close crop, or buzz it off entirely, rather than clinging futilely to the past and putting a ridiculously heavy burden on your remaining follicles. There’s obvious merit to this, and given your style / vibe / head shape / etc., it may work great for you.
But we can get even more profound than that. It’s interesting that this reader mentioned Larry David, because to our eyes Larry represents a third path, as do, e.g., Danny DeVito and Stavros Halkias (all below). These are swaggy bald kings who mine male-pattern-baldness for distinct hairstyles, rather than just buzz it all off: If Larry David started rocking a buzz-cut on his Jason Statham s**t he would risk losing many of his “bald Samson” powers in the process.
In part, these dudes’ hairstyles feel successful because they’re beloved comedians capable of confident self-mockery — the alpha-mode opposite of vanity — but they also illustrate alternative, self-assured ways of “steering into” baldness.
Peep ‘70s-era Terry Riley (chilling below with the sunglasses). Riley wears lots of beautiful crocheted kufis on his head, but he has also long known how to turn crunchy outfits, popping accessories, a big bushy beard and a visionary kindvibed demeanor into a self-assured framework for his balding pate. He illustrates another version of owning yr baldness, which is to go visionary-prophet-shaman-mode…
Or take ‘90s-era Michael Bolton (top above). He was a multiplatinum soft-rock icon, and while many “tasteful” people at the time mocked his paradoxical “receding hairline with flowing locks” presentation, it stands as an inarguable, highwire-act case of someone saying, F**k what you think. There’s an important lesson here, which is that the semiotics of swag are in constant flux, and that the norms around what looks “natural” or “aberrant” at any given historical juncture necessarily shift… We can look back at old flicks of Bolton today and respect his weird sauce — and, while we’re at it, give props to the cool contemporary musical prince John Carroll Kirby, inset above, whose music we love and whose radiant, flowing hairdo is not a million miles from Bolton territory. (This connects to a previous Spyplane exegesis on the Guy Fieri-inspired F.I.E.R.I. Mindset, about focusing inward and embracing resilient idiosyncrasy.)
IN CONCLUSION —
Spy Nation, please be clear: When we say embrace realness, we’re not using realness in some essentialist-determinist sense. “Obey the natural order” is one of those reactionary mandates that masquerade as appeals to objective truth, meant to clip yr wings and enforce conventionality — not our style.
We mean realness in the more interesting, protean ‘70s- and ‘80s-era NYC ballroom / Paris is Burning sense, where queer kids faced off on runways in extravagant dance & fashion competitions. At these balls, realness was a semiotically multivalent state achieved through a combination of artfulness and artifice. Ingenious, virtuosic vogue moves and slapping outfits won applause and trophies. Fumbling, inelegant vogue moves and subpar outfits received boos and low scores. But no one denied anyone else’s fundamental right to achieve realness through performance, because balls were about exploring ways to bring your presentation into more-perfect alignment with your own sense of who you are.
You can apply that principle to all types of presentation-augmentation, whether it’s doing kettlebell rows because you want yr shirts to hang off yr shoulders a little differently; or rocking a jacket with enormous shoulderpads; wearing vertical stripes ‘cause you want to look longer; rocking chunky heels or soles to gain some lift; wearing oversize silhouettes to downplay your curviness; even getting follicular transplants or undergoing other cosmetic surgical procedures; etc., etc.
Some people would tell you that some or all of the above necessarily represents a “deviation from nature” to be avoided and disdained. We don’t see it that way. There are more and less gifted cooks — but you gotta let people cook!
REAL QUICK — we’ve got some Cla$$ified Autumnal Intel on sick unisex fall-ready footwear (currently on sale) that is made in Italy and looks extremely at home with thick socks & slacks or jeans and offers a great way to inject elegant unexpected SPICE into a fit. Check these out —