5 countries. 7 barbershops. 14 barbers and 20 clients. BAMM Global, a London and NYC based insight agency have been around the world asking the question: ‘What is masculinity?’.
Turns out, people’s answers to this question differ greatly depending on which country, and even which part of town you ask it in. This is what the team discovered while producing their latest interactive documentary, ‘More Than a Haircut’ (morethanahaircut.co.uk), which explores different people’s impressions of masculinity around the world, through the context of barbershops. In light of the #MeToo movement, BAMM believe the impact of male gender stereotyping also deserves much more attention than it is currently getting.
“At BAMM, we make films which tell the real stories of real people.” they explain. “Every barbershop is unique, with its own look, vibe and community. With ‘More Than a Haircut’, we wanted to find the best way to more deeply immerse our viewers within these beautifully idiosyncratic spaces, and get to know the people and the story in their own way. This meant making more than just an ordinary film.”
The beauty of an interactive documentary is the freedom it gives you as the viewer to click through the range of content that includes videos, text and photos in whatever order you choose, building your own version of the narrative.
So, what do people think it means to be a man today, in the UK, India, or Russia? In search of answers, BAMM spoke to people in five different countries - also including the USA and China - to see just how much opinions differ.
“The most important thing in a man is courage,” said one barbershop customer in London, while others were not so assured: “I tend to do the decorating at home” was one conclusion. “A lousy cook,” “standing your ground” and “supporting a family” were among the other answers received.
For some, however, the word ‘masculinity’ was more problematic: “It’s a stereotype which people latch on to that I don’t think is always correct,” says Flagship Head Barber Joe in our very own Covent Garden barbershop. While it’s apparent that traditional notions of masculinity are still going strong in many places, there is indeed a growing awareness of the negative impact of such traditional views.
As we all know, gender clichés can easily become toxic, and for many men, this means hiding their emotions. For some, it’s for fear of showing a chink in the armour. For others, it’s simply because they don’t know how to open up.
Barbers and their shops provide solace: a place where men can relax, share their feelings, or simply exchange a bit of banter about the football. Barbers and their clients share a very unique relationship, which is something we’re so passionate about at Murdock to highlight. The 40 or-so minutes of chat you have with your barber can be a whole lot more valuable than just the end result of a haircut and beard trim. Even life-saving.
Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. Charities such as the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), who we’re so proud to partner with, fight to prevent male suicide through driving continuous open conversation about the subject as well as hosting a direct helpline. If someone is feeling suicidal, conversation can mean the difference between a continued life or a premature end.
Many of the barbers BAMM spoke with recognise the unique position they have in their clients’ lives, and agreed that their job meant so much more than just cutting hair. They often find themselves assuming the role of ‘unofficial therapist' to their clients - without any proper training. Along with other organisations such as the Lions Barber Collective, CALM work to facilitate Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) workplace training for the likes of barbers, so that they can better recognise and respond to signs of depression in their clients. Our barbers certainly didn't need any convincing to begin embarking on the course this year, and have loved working through it, learning and taking so much away both personally and professionally.
BAMM continue, “During the many conversations we conducted with people in barbershops all around the world, a certain word kept coming up: ‘family’. In many of the shops visited, a strong sense of camaraderie existed between the barbers and their clients. Murdock was no exception. Every barber at Murdock has his or her own story to tell, and all recognise the importance of being able to talk about one’s troubles, however serious they may be.”
During filming, Carl opened up about his fight with testicular cancer, and how the surgery and loss of hair led him to feel “less of a man.” It was a long time before he found the confidence to open up about how the whole experience made him feel, but when he finally did, it really helped him cope. Everyone at Murdock agrees that the MHFA course has really helped them to help their clients, and has given them even greater pride in what they do every day as skilled barbers.
BAMM Global are proud to promote the amazing work of CALM and all barbers joining the ongoing campaign; to keep the conversation going around men’s mental health and suicide prevention. We were thrilled to take part in their interactive documentary and we hope that you can take away plenty from it at www.morethanahaircut.co.ukAll images courtesy of BAMM Global. Check them out @bammglobal