Razing Revolution

Balancing good grooming and the environment

| July 7, 2005

I was paid pennies last summer to play Frisbee, herd kids, and grow a beard at a sleep-away camp in New Mexico. My spotty chinstrap was a failed attempt to make campers take me as seriously as they took my boss, a Quaker general of the outdoors with a thick, powerful goatee. Truly an aesthete of facial hair, he saw it as his duty to send his male troop home to their parents with faces free of nascent whiskers. On the kids' last day in camp, he assigned me the task of making the pubescent 'staches disappear.

I lined up the twenty 14-year-olds in my charge and handed each of them a one-time-use safety razor. With a few exceptions, it was everyone's first time shaving. A rite of lavatory life almost underway, clouds of anxiety and feigned-confidence condensed under the roof of the shower shed. With a drill instructor's holler, I shared all the lore I knew: shave with the grain, wet with warm water, rinse with cold, etc. The whole thing went down without much incident -- a few small cuts dressed with scraps of TP and a few stray hairs sheared on the second try. Of course there was one kid who insisted on dry shaving, mutilating his upper-lip into a pulpy mash of blood, skin, and hair. And two kids shaved their eyebrows.

A year later, reading Umbra Fisk's eco-advice column on Grist Magazine's website, I realize that I missed an opportunity -- the chance to start a shaving revolution aimed at cutting down on waste. As Fisk says of the 2 billion disposable razors sold every year in the US: 'That's a lot of space in the landfill.' With my position as shaving supervisor, I had the power to introduce my new batch of shavers to the sustainable art of using straight razors, strops, strop pastes, shaving brushes, and shaving creams that don't come in aerosol cans. Sure, letting 20 teens hold straight razors to their throats is a liability issue; Adam's apples could have been flayed. And I will admit that I had and still have no clue how to shave with a straight razor. Still, I can ask, what if?

Fisk and her readers pick up where I never started. Together they spread the word, parsing the issues of bristle grooming for the sake of hairy people everywhere seeking alternatives to today's wasteful shaving practices. Among the options to sort through: straight razors, electrics, refillable blades, body-sugaring, waxing, and other depilatories.

Guys go here >> Stubble Trouble

Gals go here >> Hirsute Yourself

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