Sunday, May 31, 2015

Let it go, Mr. President. Let it go

(Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7 Feb. 2015)

MR. PRESIDENT, do you remember Yul Brynner?

Of course, you recall one of Hollywood's biggest stars of the 1960s and 1970s. I guess your family’s seen "The King and I" and the classic cowboy Western, "The Magnificent Seven", both of which were Brynner's most famous movies. I guess you've also seen "Westworld", the 1973 sci-fi film where Brynner stole the show as a murderous android gunfighter.

And you'll certainly recall the distinctive trademark that made Brynner world famous and a standout among other male actors of his era: his shaven head. Brynner was the first world famous shaven movie star.

Well, Brynner shaved his head for his role as the Thai king Mongkut in the stage version of The King and I. He was so successful in this role, and became so well recognized because of his shaven pate, he decided never to re-grow his hair.

Photos of Brynner reveal strength of character and a powerful masculinity magnified by his shaven head.

When he had hair, however, Brynner looked far less masculine and uncomfortably like Vladimir Putin. Come to think of it, “Vlad the Mad” Putin would look a lot more fearsome if he were shaven.

Brynner, by the way, was born a Russian in Vladivostok to Russian parents but later became a naturalized American citizen.

Which Yul Brynner looks more masculine?

What I'm saying, Mr. President, is that change can be for the better. I realize you're very much your own man and you're content with your looks. But it won't hurt if you consider a change that might--might--be to your liking.

Why not take that long-delayed decision to shave-off your hair and do a Brynner?

I'm not saying you do it now. All I'm saying is that you seriously ponder this course of action. I'm certain you've thought of shaving before. I guess people who care about you have suggested the same thing.

We're both battling Mother Nature and there's no way we can beat her. Once you hit 60, your hair will also have to contend with another foe: Father Time. I guess you'll agree no one can beat both Mother Nature and Father Time.

Hair falls. That's a fact. The average guy loses about a hundred strands a day. The only thing with guys like us is our genes won't allow our bodies to produce enough hair to cover our losses.

If we were bankers, our hair would be a losing investment. And smart bankers know the smart move is to “cut their losses”.

I took the decision to shave a decade ago. Before this, I went through the same trials with my "crowning" glory as you're going through now. We've got the same male pattern baldness we don't want but which was handed down to us anyway by the paternal side of our families.

Genetics is a b****, I grant you that. We'd rather be hirsute but, again, it’s our genetics that are the problem.

But what convinced me to shed my thinning locks is the realization it's useless to hold on to something if there's nothing left to hold on to.

Mr. President, I've seen you up close many times. I was there when you inaugurated and toured the Museum of the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea or PEFTOK on March 29, 2012 at the Philippine Korean War Memorial Hall.

I would have wanted to talk to you since we are kindred spirits in a way. Our fathers were War Correspondents who knew each other and who wrote about the Korean War for their newspapers: The Manila Times (your dad) and The Evening News (my dad). We share that rare distinction of being "anakpeftok" or the sons of men that were in Korea during the Korean War.

I was there when you keynoted all the Integrity Summit conferences held at various venues in Metro Manila over the past four years. I've always been impressed by your steadfast commitment to integrity and honesty despite the manic ranting of your foes. It's this steadfastness that's one of your great strengths.

Pres. Benigno Simeon Aquino III

But can you shed this toughness just a bit to consider the advantages of surrendering gracefully to Mother Nature and Father Time?

Advantage 1: Shaving your head like Brynner, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Jordan et al will project two key attributes: strength and dominance. I wouldn't be wrong if I pointed out these men project an image of hyper masculinity.

A few years ago, the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School conducted research on the advantages of being bald. All the tests conducted by the university showed the female participants found men with shaven heads more dominant than men with a full head of hair. These women also found shorn men 13 percent stronger than maned men.

On the other hand, the study discovered that men with thinning hair were seen as the least attractive and least powerful by these women. This is probably because women tend to associate men with thinning hair with "egghead" professors or scholars. You know, the guys some women deride as harmless.

Shaving your head will give you the best of both words: a perception of hyper masculinity and “eggheaded-ness”.

Yes, you'll say substance trumps form anytime. And that you’d rather be the real you instead of somebody else’s idea of you. I believe that, too.

But times have changed and you’re a powerful man. The word selfie means the hypernarcissism unleashed by smartphone cams compels a lot of people to value the gift wrapping more than the gift. And perception affects power, doesn't it?

Advantage 2: A shaven head shows you're badass and sexy at the same time. Most guys want to have more than what they've got. It's a guy thing like I want to be taller, irresistible to women and have a longer....

Every little bit helps in this game called romance. And there are young women who really, really love good-looking shaven men. No doubt about that.

A shaven head is cool. It's fashionable.  It's sexy.

Advantage 3: Having a shaven head makes you stand out. The shaven man is easy to spot in a room full of men with black hair.

This reminds one of Carlos P. Romulo's reaction to much taller American generals who kidded him for being a "shorty" (Romulo was 5 feet 3 inches tall).

Responding to this, Romulo told these men, "Gentlemen, when you say something like that, you make me feel like a dime among nickels".

For the shaven man, this retort would be, "Gentlemen, when you say something like that, you make me feel like a giant among midgets".

This statement isn't just hot air, mind you. Research shows a shaven head makes a man appear an inch taller.

Lesson: Disadvantages can be advantages in disguise.

Advantage 4: You're never going to have a bad hair day again, literally. And you might also have fewer bad days, figuratively.

Think about it. No moaning over falling hair. No dandruff soiling your immaculate business suit. No more frantically combing your surviving locks with your fingers after a slight breeze tosses them aloft like confetti.

No more trying to figure out if propecia is better than minoxidil for you. Or if you should consider the herbal option. Or listen to more sisterly advice.

Advantage 5. A shaven head will reveal the real you, Mr. President. An American academic who did a study on social perceptions about baldness said a shaven head "is nature's way of telling the rest of the world that you are a survivor".

He pointed out a shaven-head projects aggressiveness, competitiveness and shows a "willingness to stand against social norms".

The last trait is probably a good description of the part of your character that allows you to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Stubbornness can be a virtue in your profession.

You can do former President Fidel V. Ramos (also a PEFTOK veteran of the Korean War) one better by going the route he didn’t tread. A shaven FVR as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines would probably have changed history before the People Power Revolution.

“Tanggap ko na,” you answered when Vice Ganda asked you about your thinning hair at the start of this year. That's great news. Your views are changing.

I remember reading about you saying your hair problems were caused by stress. You're partly right but the scientific jury's still out on this one.

I urge you to shave, Mr. President, not because you're being forced to but because it's the natural thing to do.

Let it go, Mr. President. Let it go.