I am not a vain man. Most of my clothes are more than 10 years old. I get four haircuts a year. There is a tuft of hair on my lower back that would impress the inhabitants of the Shire. But I do not like balding. And it’s not because it makes me look ugly. Or because it makes me look old. It’s because it makes me look like I’m dying. Balding has neither the charm of sun-beaten wrinkles nor the wisdom and class of gray hair. It doesn’t even have the acceptability of flab, thinning skin or hating dubstep. No, balding is like watching a body decompose in fast-forward. If you want to scare someone in a movie, you create a villain with hair so thin you can see patches of scalp through it. The front of my head looks like it belongs to Gollum or Skeletor. Do you think Freddy Krueger would have worn that hat if he’d had a luxurious mane underneath it? The whole reason Dracula needs the blood of living humans is to push his hairline forward.
True, there is badassery in being fully bald, like Kojak, Bruce Willis, Michael Jordan, extraterrestrials and nearly every UFC fighter. It shows that you have so much testosterone it’s too heavy to rise above your waist. It makes you look like a robot or a soldier, like your body is a tool ready to fight or swim, unadorned with girlie accessories like hair. These men make hair seem as if it’s solely for twirling, tying with ribbons and hiding nipples in lesser men’s magazines than this one.
But I am merely bald-ing. In one place—the front of my head. As though I nodded off into a bowl of hair-burning acid. When I shave my head, I don’t look cool. I look like an accountant. Worse, I look like a balding accountant—the scariest horror-movie villain of all. Trappist monks were the only men in history who could grow hair but purposely chose this look, and it was to prevent anyone from wanting to have sex with them. Or talk to them. I never understood the comb-over until I started to lose my hair. The comb-over, I now understand, isn’t meant to fool anybody. It’s not a solution. It’s one step up from just drawing lines on your head. And yet, it’s better than forcing people to gaze upon exposed tracts of scalp. The comb-over allows everyone you see to laugh at the balding guy instead of recoil from the reminder that we are all going to die really soon. Not nearly as soon as the guy with the comb-over, but still, soon enough.
Balding is as close as I will ever come to understanding what it’s like to be a woman and constantly worrying about how I’m perceived. Balding is my big butt, my wrong mascara, my butchered bangs, my top that doesn’t match my skirt, my other things that women are always complaining about that I’m not really listening to. But now I too see pictures of myself and cringe. I worry about choosing the right hair length to hide my imperfections. I drip in Rogaine and sprinkle in fake hair powder. I look in the mirror and see my beauty slipping away. And unlike women, I never had any beauty.
Not long ago men didn’t worry about this kind of crap. And we shouldn’t, because vanity is not manly. We should care about what we can do, not how we look. But young boys today are pressured to tan, bulk up and pomade their hair to match the caricatures of masculinity they see in video games and animated Disney movies.
Of the many unsuccessful ways I’ve tried to make myself feel better about this, the worst was perhaps looking for advice about balding at Topix.com, the local-news site co-owned by the major U.S. newspaper chains. The debate there is titled “Bald Men Are So Ugly!” and contains such comments as “They do in fact look like pig fetuses,” “I would rather have sex with a 500-pound dude or a guy with a tiny wiener” and “Bald men are ugly as hell, especially with glasses. You can see the extra skin when they turn their necks. The ones I know look like a possum wearing glasses.” Sadder still is the fact that the only retorts from the bald men on the discussion board are pathetic, desperate taunts for the ladies to admire their “other bald head.” There are no good solutions to balding. Propecia, which supposedly works, can lead to sexual dysfunction and severe depression—exactly the same symptoms as going bald. It’s as if using Viagra caused men to uncontrollably tell women they’re fat.
So I’m going to do everything I can to embrace the bald me. I’m going to shave it off, get buff, look tough and dress in ill-fitting Italian suits. But first I’m going to enjoy the last few months I can get away with having hair. Because it’s a whole lot easier than working out.