If you’re in a room (or on a Zoom) with me for longer than 10 minutes, you’ll notice that I fidget with my hair.

It’s a nervous tic, or a bad habit, or a “stim.” I’ve done it for a long time. I used to pull it out, strand by strand, until one day in sixth grade my mom noticed I had two bald spots on my head and I had to go to Supercuts and cut all of it very short for a year until I was broken of the pulling habit. (I don’t pull at it anymore, thank goodness. Vanity kicks in.)

I’m not exactly sure why I do it. I’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and, like most addicts, I have a tendency toward obsessive-compulsive behavior, so I suspect it comes out of that psychological knot. I asked a psychiatrist once why I did it, and he said it was probably a way of grounding myself – a way to subconsciously remind myself that I was here, in my body, in this moment, and not out there, with my brain zinging through the universe. It’s certainly a self-soothing technique; a way to calm myself, redirect my nervous energy, and focus. And it’s a quiet habit, at least: I could have gone with finger-tapping, or pen-clicking, or gum-chewing for the same effect.

Something you might not have known about me is that I am technically an elected official. I’m a member of the Planning Board of the town of Buxton. In a nutshell, a planning board looks at the plans for proposed projects and construction in town and makes sure they follow the town’s rules, as laid out in the zoning ordinance: Is the proposal an acceptable use under the zoning law for that particular property, are they following the fire-safety rules, etc. I don’t talk about it much publicly because I take my responsibilities seriously. I don’t want anyone to read my columns and think they aren’t getting a fair hearing before the Planning Board.

I did figure at some point a town resident would complain about me. After all, I have a big mouth and weekly column space in Maine’s largest newspaper. But it managed to take me by surprise when a town resident walked into Town Hall last week and submitted a complaint that she gets irritated when watching the meetings of the Planning Board, which are uploaded to the internet and stream on Saco River TV, the local community access station, because one of the board members is “constantly playing with their hair” and she wanted the board “to address this unprofessional behavior.”

First, I was surprised that anyone even watches those meetings. It’s not exactly the most exciting part of democracy. Second, I have to admire the gumption it takes to file an official memo complaining about something so ephemeral that does not affect anyone’s life in any way, shape or form. I agree it can be annoying to look at, but there are always other board members on screen with me, and if you redirect your eyes a few inches to the left, the problem is solved. If the intent of this complaint was to make me feel bad about myself, it did work, for about 30 seconds. I don’t like making people upset, especially when they are clearly someone with a civic investment. If the intent of the complaint was to make me feel bad about myself, it did work for a few minutes. I’m aware that my behavior is abnormal. I don’t need it pointed out to me.

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The part that got me thinking was the complaint about its being “unprofessional.” If I were a chef or a surgeon, it would make sense that I shouldn’t fiddle with my hair while I was working. But it’s a Planning Board meeting. What does it matter?

I’ve noticed that there’s a massive, bright-line generational difference when it comes to arbitrary ideals of professionalism. Younger generations (millennials, Gens X and Z) tend to question and push by on rules and regulations and social norms around what is and isn’t “professional” that were placed there, in large part, by older generations (boomers, Silent and Greatest Generations). Tattoos, for example. There’s this idea that tattoos aren’t “professional” and that you should cover them at work, particularly if you are in a white-collar profession.

I once heard a guy refer to hand tattoos – one of the hardest areas to cover, unless, ironically, you’re a surgeon! – as “job-killers.” But – why? As long as the tattoos aren’t obscene or violent, what’s wrong with them being visible in the workplace? In what way do they affect my ability to perform my job?

Same with brightly colored hair. If I dye my hair blue, it’s not going to suddenly take away my ability to navigate the medical records software. Younger folks tend to pay more attention to job performance, rather than job appearance. Jeans instead of khakis? Well, are they clean? Can you still stock the shelves in them? Then sure, why not wear them?

Does fiddling with my hair incapacitate my knowledge of the town of Buxton’s zoning laws? Who’s to say?

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial


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