Cutting Your Own Hair? – Here are 5 Tips from Missionaries

Hmmm…..what do you do when you find yourself living in a new country, can’t speak the language, and need a haircut?  This is great information for those of us on quarantine and are not able to get to a barber.

I mean, on quarantine – who is going to see you anyway?  Right?

When you are on the mission field and need a hair cut, I hope you are good at playing Charades and giving hand gestures, because your barber in Tibet will most likely not understand you saying, “please ONLY take a little off of the sides.”

Many missionaries have to become expert barbers at home after they experience disastrous breakdowns in communication at the barbershop.

One missionary from Virginia that worked with us in North Korea knows that things can go bad really quick.

“Oh yea, I had a Chinese friend take me to a barber downtown. My friend was trying to interpret how I want my haircut to the barber. After a while, the barber got it kind of the way I like it. He stopped and I thought he asked me if it was OK . I said it looked good but something got messed up in translation and with one quick pass of the clippers from front to back he cut my hair down to about a quarter inch! After shaving my hair down to a military cut, he went in the back and came out with a little bottle of hair coloring. It was obviously he thought I needed darker hair. I quickly got out of the seat, paid him and left.”

David Joannes, a missionary in Thailand, was not so lucky.

“Years ago in China—I think it was 1999—when my head was getting a bit too bushy. I had been living in Kunming in Southwest China and studying Mandarin for about 3 months. I felt that I was making good progress, but I was about to be proved wrong. I walked into a hole-in-the-wall barber shop I had recently noticed.”

“I walked in and with my broken Chinese, asked for a quick trim. I found myself confused when the barber handed me a book with strands of fake hair pinned inside, each colored with different hues, from auburn to purple. I nodded emphatically, applauding his diverse selection. I was trying to be nice and communicate nods and smiles, he understood my nods and smiles to communicate something else. He pointed and smiled at me. I smiled back and gave him a thumbs up. The trim began, followed by a quick rinse with what I expected to be shampoo. The wash took much longer than I expected, and upon returning to my chair, I caught a glimpse of my new look in the mirror – my hair was bright orange! I slumped into the chair and asked them to shave my hair off.  I left the barber shop looking like a newly purchased basketball. At that point I realize that my Chinese wasn’t so good after all!”

David isn’t alone. One mother missionary in China wrote, “the Chinese have creative cuts so you never know what your going to end up with but that is the business of life here.” After having several bad experiences in China, she decided to teacher her eighteen year old daughter to cut her younger brothers hair. It didn’t go well. “He is only four years old, so it didn’t matter,” she said jokingly.

“Now both of her daughters are cutting hair in the family,” she said.

Personally, I have NEVER had a good haircut in China. NEVER. I have only tried a handful of times, but each time was a disaster.

Luckily, I learned how to cut my own hair when I was eighteen years old in the US Marine Corps and had to have a fresh haircut every Sunday evening.

As silly as it might sound, cutting my own hair while serving on the mission field has given me freedom, independence, and saved me a butt-load of money over the years. I raised two boys in Asia and I had always cut their hair – for better or worse. Now my oldest is away in college and has his own barber and my youngest is in his final years of high school and would love it if his hair was never cut again.

I do not recommend cutting your own hair, but if you have no choice – here are 5 simple tips I have learned to minimize the damage.

I have learned these 5 simple tips over the years on the mission field that could be helpful for others during this time of the coronavirus.

So if you are starting to look like a scruffy, unkempt, homeless Chia Pet, cave man and are thinking of taking a stab at cutting your own hair, here are 5 things to keep in mind.

#1. When Possible – Try To Cut Your Own Hair in the Summer

Why should it matter what season you cut your own hair? Because during the summer it is warm outside and is the best time to be bald.

Listen, you will most likely screw up biggly’ and need to shave all of your hair off and it is better to be bald for the first time in the summer than the winter. Just sayin’.

Let’s be honest, if you have never cut your own hair before, you are most likely NOT going to cut it correctly on the first try. Just own it from the beginning. Forget any grand ideas of being Vidal Sassoon on yourself (and if you do not know who Vidal Sassoon is, then lower your expectations even more).

Just attempt to cut your hair the way that you want, BUT be ready to shave it all off when it goes horribly wrong.

#2 Buy the Good Clippers

Don’t go for the cheapest clippers at the General Dollar store. Trust me – hair clippers are the best return-on-investment you will ever make.  If you buy the right ones, dollar-for-dollar they will outperform every stock on wall street.  If a haircut costs you between $10-20 USD per month and you are able to cut your own hair for several years, you are literally making tax free money with these clippers, so do not go cheap.

With that being said, do not necessarily buy the most expensive clippers either. Expensive ones can have so many functions that you will not even need to use and it can lead to confusion.

Personally, I use these Phillips clippers pictured above – with built-in adjustable heads. I do not like to have a bunch of attachments all over the place. My Phillips clippers are a simple, all-in-one, easy to store-in-the-bathroom set of clippers. This particular set has lasted me more than five years and I usually cut my own hair every two to three weeks.

#3 Gradual. Gradual. Gradual.

If you use the attachments of your clippers correctly, you should honestly not need to shave your hair – ummmm….completely.

The key is to make the attachments work for you. Start with the largest attachments, even if they are not cutting anything in the beginning, and slowly move down in size. Be patient. Take your time!

My general rule of thumb is the lower down on your head, the lower the attachment size should be. The attachments should be in gradual increments so that you can tie them in together for a great hair cut.

My clippers have an adjustable head where one click up or down gradually adjusts the clippers one centimeter.

The biggest attachment/setting = the top of your head.

The smaller (not necessarily the smallest) attachment/setting = equals the lower part of your head, around your ears, and on your upper neck.

Remember, do everything in gradual increments.

#4 Mirrors and Lights!

One of the questions I always get is – how do you cut the back of your own hair?

The answer is easy.

Use plenty of mirrors and lights in the beginning.  It makes cutting the back of your head easier.  As you get better you will find that you do not need much of either – mirrors or light.

I am so use to cutting my own hair that I have been in an abandoned room in the jungle and used the shiny side of a DVD to look at my own reflection as I cut my hair – merely guessing what I was cutting most of the time – AND IT STILL TURNED OUT BETTER THAN WHAT I HAVE HAD IN CHINA!

When you are doing this for the first time, you are going to need to see what you are doing. It would be great to have bright naked bulbs and lots of natural sunlight, so try to do this in the middle of the day – not in the evening.

You are going to need to get as close to the mirror as possible, so hopefully you have a sink or counter that can hold your weight.

Any mounted mirrors that you have that can give you a look at the back of your head is a must, because if you think that you can hold a mirror with one hand and the clippers in the other and still evenly cut your hair on the first try – well ….good luck.

#5 Put The Scissors Down!

I have cut my own hair for more than 20 years. The scissors are the very LAST thing that I reach for.

Scissors are the most disastrous part of cutting your own hair. Use them sparingly. Use them last.

I advise anyone cutting their hair for the first time to not even think about the scissors until you are done with everything except for the bangs.

Let your clippers do all of the work, you will be a much happier camper.

Whether you are a missionary in a foreign country or in your own home on lock-down because of the coronavirus, cutting your own hair is not the best idea, but might be a necessity.

If you have access to your own barber who can cut your hair perfectly every time for a good price – great – but where is the adventure in that?

And if you take ANY advice from this article, be forewarned that I usually wear a hat to cover my head.  You have never seen my hair for a good reason.

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