The bald game

Hair today, gone tomorrow. The author’s receding hairline.

Hair today, gone tomorrow. The author’s receding hairline.

Photo by AMY BECK

I’m balding. Being bald is like being in an elite club. The only problem is no one actually wants to be a member. The reality of hair loss possibly exceeds beyond a mere societal preoccupation, and is, perhaps, even deeply rooted in our collective human psychology.

The best pieces of evidence for this are the manifold myths and stories that revolve around the idea of hair loss. It’s almost like indoctrination the way many of us were taught these stories from such a very young age. Take, for example, the Sunday school story of Samson, the magnificent strongman archetype, whose beloved, Delilah, cuts his beautiful wavy locks, which renders him powerless, and in some sad, strange way strips him of his manhood.

Most American males are brought up on a healthy dose of Westerns, where Native American warriors walk the fine line between barber and barbarian by systematically removing the scalps of their opponents in this bizarre ritualistic, symbolic public castration. Or, take Mausolus, the Greek ruler of Caria, who after conquering the Lycians, removed their hair in what was a grand gesture of public humiliation.

Think of the scene at the beginning of Full Metal Jacket in which Stanley Kubrick depicts the first humiliation of entering military service, which begins, of course, with the removal of our hair, or our personal identity. The way that the sequence ends with clippings of hair falling lifelessly onto the barber’s tile floor is like watching the last semblances of these young men’s individuality collectively disappear. Now, think of that for a minute. We as a culture value our hair to such a degree that it represents our own individual spirits.

Perhaps this is why Buddhist monks shave their heads when entering the monastic order. They are literally ridding themselves of the material vanity of the outside world, living in a constant state of humility and forced suffering.

But, what happens when it’s not a choice, as in the case of the monks? This is, perhaps, why Kubrick’s poor military chaps garner our sympathies. They are being forced, because of the draft, to enter this bald lifestyle. But, what does this say about young men and women who prematurely enter middle-age as a result of Androgenic Alopecia? Isn’t it sad to prematurely accept the reality that our bodies are our temples, and as such, constantly require upkeep? The kick in the pants is that no matter what you do—all the herbal topical remedies in the world be damned—you will never grow your hair back. It isn’t like developing a paunch or fat thighs, no amount of work will restore what, in many cases, was a beautiful, healthy head of hair.

When we lose our hair, what are we to think of ourselves? If the symbol of our individuality and youthful vitality is slowly withering away, are we then, as human beings, following suit? We aren’t, but it’s easy to see why we might sometimes feel that way. It’s hard to find the confidence to simply accept the hair loss, and brandish our bare scalps with pride. Every generation has its solutions to the problem. The eighteenth century had powdered wigs. The ’70s had the toupee. The ’80s had plug-ins. And, of course the classic comb-over is a perennial oldie but goodie.

But none of these are actually solutions. They are proxies, pseudo-solutions intended to muddle and mask, rather than actually remedy. It’s a double-edged sword where not only has society forced us to feel shame for the fact that we are folliclely challenged, but simultaneously feel shame for hiding that fact from everyone else—to be forced into a life of deception. Even the most rich and powerful of men go to great lengths, at times borderline ridiculous and physics-defying lengths (see Trump), to hide their true selves. Even Julius Caesar, who was a triple threat military man, political leader and published author, couldn’t muster the confidence to accept his receding hairline, and invented a whole new hairstyle to cover it up.

Hairless apparent

Well, as a youngish man, still in his 20s, still playing the field, I invite all of my follicle-challenged brethren to stop living in shame. And, for those young chaps who still have thick heads of hair, pay attention, because your time will come, and the less you believe it will, the harder reality will fall upon you.

I dream of a world where those who ridicule the bald will be looked down upon by society the way that a racist or bigot is today. Because, let’s face it, bald persons are a minority that no one looks out for, or cares to look out for. I once overheard a cute, hipster-ish young lady acquaintance of mine, who by the way is ostensibly not racist or bigoted, ridicule, for the benefit of a circle of giggling girls, a young man for no other reason than the bald spot on the back of his head.

Androgenic Alopecia is just a genetic sensitivity in men and women, which makes follicles in the scalp sensitive to androgens, specifically dihydrotestosterone, which cause these follicles to miniaturize, thus preventing them from re-growing hair once it falls out. Nothing more, and yet we are subject to ridicule. As our society has racially integrated, we have become accepting of other races and cultures. As our society has become increasingly obese, we are accepting of large body frames, regardless of the detriment it causes to society’s overall health. And, yet bald people continue to walk in shame. As many as 40 million American men suffer from Androgenic Alopecia, a quarter of which are under the age of 30. That means that roughly half of all American men experience hair loss in their lives, and significant portion of them at quite a young age.

But, as age often does, where once there was a burden, now there is a blessing. We bald young men face the reality of aging early on, thus preparing us ahead of time for its onset. We weed out the superficial, vain-types from the beginning, thus we are not left wondering how it was we dated a bigot for six months unbeknownst. And, most importantly, in this increasingly boring country where it seems there is little to fight for, we carry the torch of the oppressed and defiantly, with confidence, shed our toupees, our hats, and clip our comb-overs to proclaim, “We will no longer be the silent minority!”