I had to have a picture taken for my improv group recently. I hate pictures now. They provide the evidence, incontrovertible, that I am losing my hair. Nothing causes stress like receiving and email that contains the words “has tagged you in a photo.” Before I click on the link contained in the email, I make sure that I am in a good place emotionally because, chances are, my self esteem will be taking a swift punch to the gut upon viewing the picture.
If I spend enough time avoiding mirrors and store windows or anything else that might provide a reflection, the picture I have of myself in my mind’s eye reverts to me in my 20’s when my haircut could best be described as “floppy” and I looked like a Beatle on the cover of Rubber Soul.
One time I wore a tie to work and I caught my reflection in the bathroom mirror while washing my hands. I looked like the villain in a sexual harassment training video, balding and vaguely middle aged. That was a bad day.
It’s time to face facts. I can’t grow bangs anymore. I’ve noticed the recession over the past ten years. I started looking different in pictures. One summer, after giving myself a buzzcut, I got a sunburn on the top of my head. I wrote these things off as anomalies but they didn’t stop. I noticed the hair on the top of my head became a bit thinner. Then it became whispy. Now, it’s barely a tuft. I have the pictures to prove it.
I was a late bloomer, so, when I was younger, any sign of aging was positive. Getting taller, gaining weight, finally having to shave. But now, in my late thirties, the changes are not as welcome. Getting hair on your chest is cool. Getting hair on your back is not.
Your Mother’s Father?
You’ll be bald if your maternal grandfather is bald. I don’t know where I heard that first or what the science behind it is. It was probably some sophomore in AP Bio who thought that he had cracked the case after learning about recessive genes and it caught on. I’ve also heard that it affects white males of Northwestern European extraction, which I am.
I never knew either of my biological grandfathers. I don’t think either one was bald but I’ve seen pictures of my great uncles and their middle aged combovers and think, yeah, there it is, the piss in my family’s gene pool. My father had full head of hair until his 60’s but somehow his uncles’ insidious affliction skipped a generation and here I am staring in the mirror saying, it’s not that bad, is it?
When it gets bad, when I catch myself in a shop window on a sunny day and see shining scalp or when I see myself in a picture I hadn’t prepared for looking particularly thinning, I’ll google “handsome bald men”. It’s embarrassing to admit but it helps. That Jason Statham is a handsome fella. Patrick Stewart. Sean Connery. Stanley Tucci – not a bad looking guy. You know who else is kind of an underrated good looking bald guy? Mike Judge.
Mark Strong is so handsome that they put wigs on him in movies. It’s as if producers are saying “this guy’s so good looking it’s unfair that he’s bald.”
Brian Eno has a cool aging musician thing going. David Cross. Stephen Tobolowsky is cool. Eric Bachmann and Dough Martsch – if it’s cool enough for indie rockers, it’s cool enough for me.
Did I mention Patrick Stewart?
As my obsession has grown and I’ve started to come to terms with my own affliction, I look around at other men and find comfort in the fact that it’s rare to see a man over the age of thirty with a perfectly full head of hair. Most guys I see pushing a stroller have some measure of recession or hair loss. It’s all in how you carry it, which is why I hate the traitors.
Yeah, I’m talking to you Wayne Rooney and Tom Brady and Wes Welker and Elton John and Wesley Sneijder. Jeremy Piven, you were going bald in Lucas, motherfucker. You were George’s stand-in on the show within a show on Seinfeld. You all had the surgery. You are complicit in the suppression of our beautiful bald brothers! The man told you you shouldn’t be bald and you listened. You’ve been hoodwinked! Bamboozled! Run amok! Led astray! We didn’t land on receding hairlines! Receding hairlines landed on us!
I truly believe that whatever is wrong with my self esteem will not be cured by hair replacement surgery. All I’d be is a few thousand dollars in the hole. Due to my general Britishness, I think I’ll look okay with a shaved head when the time comes. I’ll take my place in the stands with the other hooligans. Maybe I’ll start wearing hats.
But the other problem is how the surgery is done. They transplant follicles from the side of your head – the ones that never fall out – onto the top. This is a problem if you’re not done balding when you get the surgery. You could be stuck with a patch of hair that will never go away on the front of your head while the rest disappears.
There’s something about looking the way that you’re supposed to look, for better or worse. Last fall, I sent my girlfriend a selfie from work. I had a beard that was as full as my father’s ever was and my hair was short and combed back. I looked like what I am: a man in his late thirties. It wasn’t that bad (I tilted my head up in the picture so my receding hairline wasn’t as prominent. Pro tip!)
The only reason being bald really bothers men is that women don’t seem to like it. Without the disapproval of women, it’s just an arbitrary change. When I was single, I read online dating profiles that said, “no bald guys, please”. If she’s the kind of girl to say that on a profile, then I doubt that we would be a match when I had hair. I had hair down to my shoulders in college and it never got me women (though, the were probably annoyed at my Phish t-shirt). There are myriad reasons to not find me attractive, my hair is just one of them.
This is all a moot point, though, because I have a girlfriend and she doesn’t care. She tells me I’m handsome and I need to start counting myself lucky rather than looking at her sideways and saying “really?”
Somewhere there’s a guy my age with a perfect head of hair who can’t get past the fact that he’s only 5’3″. We all have our thing. It’s all vanity and in the grand scheme of things, going bald is not a big deal. The problem is that it shares a characteristic with all of the things in my life that have actually been tragic: the feeling that this wasn’t supposed to happen.