In Quest Of: The Perfect Shave

[Writing Note: I’ve had this story in my head for a while, but till today – when I actually feel like I got as close as possible to The Perfect Shave, I wasn’t very sure how to articulate it. Since this morning I’ve been feeling the side of my cheeks with the back of my hand exalted at the smoothness of the curve, and I think now’s as good a time as any to tell this story.]

I don’t know if my mother can, but I can very clearly remember the first evening I learned how to shave. It was in Grade 9, and I had a pencil-thin moustache going that we both deemed unnecessary. One of my teachers commented on it jokingly at school, saying I needed to shave, and that evening after I relayed the news to my mother, she took it slightly seriously and pulled out one of the travel shaving kits my dad had brought home from a recent Emirates flight he was on. We stood under the dim light of the washroom, me with this new tool in my hand, and after I figured out how to get the foam on my face, my mother stood behind me guiding me to do downstrokes. I washed my face – and that was it. I looked like a baby again. I remember speaking to my father that evening and he chuckled. He’s sported a moustache all his life so after some laughing he asked me about what I used to shave and those sort of things.

After that evening, I began shaving maybe once a month – if you can call removing a moustache shaving. I got my moustache taken off me every time I went into the barbershop, and in general, rarely let it loose, although there are some photographs on facebook to the contrary. At this time I had no hair growing on other parts of my face, so it was all about moustache maintenance – something that was painless, easy, and not at all time-consuming. This phase must have lasted two years. During this period of time, as everyone in class began to go through puberty, we saw each other at our worst. I remember some horrific moustaches my classmates had – and I belong firmly within that club.

Things changed in Grade 11 though. The passage of time meant that I was growing some hair around my face, and being School Captain and a stickler for rules, I used to be disciplined for my grooming quite frequently by our faculty advisers. I must’ve gotten called out atleast once a week with the Tejas, Shave! comments, and some of my friends told me to as well. So I began to take it seriously. I’d shave regularly – I reckon once every week perhaps, mostly when I was in the shower. I wouldn’t use shaving gel or foam, but in the shower, feel around for wherever there was hair on my face and try getting it off. Then once I was out of the shower, I’d look in the mirror, feel around for any spots with my glasses off, and then look at the final product with my glasses on – getting rid of any stray hairs, and moving on. This habit was birthed out of my terrible early-morning skills. I never had the time for a patient shave. I was always late getting up, late into the bath, and everything was a rush.

It was only to family functions and other get-togethers that my mother carried out the check. Apart from outfit checks, the shaving check was a new one for her, and one she forgot to conduct sometimes (notice the shift in blame), which resulted in me showcasing my moustache at some gatherings. She was not thrilled in the car. The dose I received was the you look old, along with some comparisons to those without the moustache. She was very smart, I must say. I’d like to think that I’d grow out the moustache for occasions to get the comparisons to my dad – because puberty had seen my face morph into his after looking so much like my mothers for the most part of my life. She saw right through my laziness. Grade 12 was when I became slightly more responsible, even with moisturizing and self-care.

Then I went to University.

Two things really suffered: skincare, and haircare. I stopped moisturizing, oiling my hair, and shaving in general when it was cold. The first year was okay because I think my body was still in the whole puberty phase so it was a lot of patchwork, my face. Second year onward, I couldn’t explain to you where the hair would grow from. I’d go to sleep freshly shaven sometimes and wake up with rough skin – the result of the hair follicles erupting from the surface. I hated it. I began trying to put off shaving for as long as possible, and the time between each shave grew. In my fourth semester, after one of my batchmates candidly told me I looked better clean-shaven and we had an extended discussion about the state of my face and hair, I resolved to shave each week, promptly, and prevent excess beard growth. My motivation collapsed within the first month.

Second year was truly the lowest point. I grew out my hair a lot and shaved very little, only for times where I saw photo opportunities happening. My mother really took this to heart, and she’d drone on and on about how her grandfather and father shaved every single morning. This is true, my great-grandfather legitimately shaved every morning. But I had gotten so bored of the story it had no impact on me whatsoever. My dad rarely put any pressure on me. He couldn’t care less about the shaving. It was more about the hair for him – was I oiling it? No. So I’d hear a lot about that – especially after some bad haircuts I had. My mum couldn’t have even asked my father to speak to me about it because when he was in College, he had grown out a beard – and had one till his wedding day.

The story is that my mother couldn’t recognize him at the airport because he had shaved the beard and just had a moustache left.

Third year onward I began to care a lot more, which coincided with a different change in my life. I’d shave regularly and take care of the way I presented myself. Especially in the monsoon semester, when things were bearable and shaving was easy. In the winter semester, I couldn’t care less till summer rolled around. The water was cold, the razor felt bad on my skin, I hated everything. Summers made it easier to be clean-shaven because it prevented the accumulation of sweat on the face, so I was pleased with that change.

The biggest change throughout my time at University though was that I became someone more aware of this process of shaving. I began to consider carefully what shaving gel/foam I purchased, the type of blade I was using, and the aftershave care for my skin. I became aware when I missed spots. I cut myself a lot. I watched a lot of shaving tutorials and generally started to invest more time in the shaving process – sometimes upto 30 minutes if the gap between my shaves were large. Other small experiments included the electric razor – which I carried because my dad had told me to keep one, but quickly decided I didn’t enjoy. But this change of becoming more cognizant of the effort to look clean-shaven meant I started to see things I wasn’t really seeing before. I began to notice things like graining and patterns in the way my facial hair grew, and started to spend time ensuring my side-burns were even post-shave.

However, this entire journey of awareness meant I also became acutely aware that every shaving stroke I made was imperfect. I didn’t know what perfect was yet, but to my mind at that point, every single stroke felt like it left some hair follicle untouched by it’s steely graze, and that disappointed and infuriated me. This was particularly true during internships, where I’d spend time on ensuring I was presentable each morning and shaving each morning if I had to. I’d always feel upset after my shaves because there was just one bothering spot. Most of the time this was at the bottom of my neck, toward the edges, or around the sideburns and ears.

In the last six months, when I basically grew my hair and beard out – shaving maybe thrice or four times throughout the pandemic, I decided that moving to the UK would mean shaving every day. I made this decision consciously. I read a lot about how you need to shave only when you need to shave – but the rate of growth for my facial hair was quite high, and roughs appeared every other morning, with a wide enough green to play golf on by the end of the second day. So shaving every day was the going to be the way to go. This was also helped by the fact that my classmates were right. I felt I looked better, and felt better, when I was clean-shaven. I like having soft-skin it appears.

Since I’ve moved to the UK, every day has been this struggle. It appears that although locations change, imperfections do not. So I felt every misplaced stroke, every knick, and every complete, imperfect shave. Running the back of my hand across my cheek I’d feel no hair but my skin would look green which meant hair follicles were just on the edge of the surface, ready to come through. I’d miss spots even on full strokes. Sometimes the razor just wouldn’t catch things fine enough so I’d do multiple strokes.

I was very tired with this, and that turned into an obsession. I was fuelled by these imperfect shaves each morning, and I decided that one day – and sooner, rather than later, I’d have, what to my mind, was a perfect shave. A shave where every stroke got rid of all the hair in the area through which the razor passed, leaving behind, at the end of it, a clean palette upon which all of the hairs may grow. The idea was to prevent re-stroking, or having to pass through the same patch of skin to eliminate some hair. Usually restroking means approaching the patch from a different angle, and believe me, I’ve done some wonky ones, but eliminating it would mean I’d save time, and I’d also save myself some shaving gel. Incremental savings, but savings nonetheless. I’d also save quite a bit of water.

Now, my reading and research pointed to various products I could use to assist me. I’m not going to fall for these new technologies. If people can shave with a single blade and achieve success, I wasn’t going to buy a 4-blade razor, or a 5-blade razor. I’ve had some disasters with those in the past (including knicking quite a bit of skin across my thumb; I had my glasses off). I wasn’t going to invest in new, fancy shaving gel, or a cool new aftershave, or lots of product. Since I’ve taken up some new hobbies, I’ve learned that the greatest tools are the tools you own. So I was determined to carry on with my Mach3, Nivea Shaving Gel, and Aftershave Cream.

I’m a pre-shower shave guy, so I knew the one thing I’d have to incorporate is washing my face a little better. As the days went by I started to see that yielding results, particularly because I have oily skin. That was perhaps the only big change. As for the rest, I decided to take more time, be more patient. Having decided I’d shave everyday, shaving had become a part of my daily routine, and a part of all the time I had dedicated to getting ready for the day. Being patient though, meant reviewing each stroke, and slowly eliminating restroking even if it yielded imperfect results.

That’s the thing about repetition and recognizing errors and flaws. If you do something long enough and weed out things you’re doing incorrectly, slowly – chances are you’ll get it right soon. It took me forty-four days. Forty-four shaves.

This morning, I woke up and had the perfect shave. I celebrated by treating my face to some more TLC.

This is what I felt like:

Creed represented everything I wanted. Just the one perfect shave. At the end of it, I’m certain critics would tell me I did something incorrect to detract from my glory, but I can tell you – it felt, and now (I checked), still feels – perfect.

I don’t know if this will repeat itself. Or when. I don’t know if my motivation to shave will drop. I don’t know if it will stay alive. I could grow out my beard again – it’d be back in a week. All I know is that having achieved this, I am now perpetually in a quest for the perfect shave. I have tasted success, or what I define to be success, and I will search for this now, every single morning.

I know it may not occur. When I am unsuccessful though, I hope to look back at this post and think about the journey that brought me to this point. It has been a glorious path. I am likely to adventure and try out more eco-friendly options, like safety razors and cartridge razors rather than the blade ones I use at the moment – but even there, I will continually remain a student of this quest for the cleanest shave and the smoothest skin.