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April 29, 2008

Fear of Baldness

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

There are things that men fear. For many men, I suspect, the top three are (in order): death, impotence and going bald.

The first two seem pretty scary, but I'm not so sure about the third.

Actually, that's not quite right. The fear of going bald is real, otherwise there wouldn't be an entire industry devoted to toupees, hair transplants, hair-growing lotions and so forth.

What seems odd regarding that fear is the fact that baldness, in varying degrees, is something a large percentage of men will encounter at some point in their lives. Something a lot less serious than dying. And less serious than a lot of other misfortunes as well. So why the panic?

I don't really know, because I never feared going bald. I suppose that's because I didn't begin losing hair seriously until I was well into my fifties and therefore didn't have to deal with the issue when I was young. And when I did notice that bald spot, I took it philosophically and simply changed to a buzz-cut hairstyle to avoid the silliness of making ever more radical comb-overs as the hair receded.

I'm hardly being original if I speculate that men's reaction to baldness is usually related to two other fears: aging and failure to attract women -- the two often being related. Both fears are probably stronger for younger men, say under age 35 or 40 or so. Some people age early, but most men are more young than old into their mid-30s. To them, baldness is something for older guys, and it could be a real shock if it happens to themselves. They also tend to think that women prefer men who aren't bald.

Although most people probably fear aging, it's something that can't be avoided; when it happens, one must deal with it -- once the denial stage has passed. One way of dealing with it is to camouflage it by means of cosmetic surgery, Botox, hair dyes and those baldness remedies mentioned above. Another strategy is to age as gracefully as possible. But aging is a side-issue here.

The real issue is whether or not baldness is a turn-off to women. I have no doubt that there are women -- mostly young ones, I would guess -- who truly find bald and balding men unattractive for various reasons. On the other hand, a lot of women don't seem to mind it at all. Perhaps some equate baldness to masculinity. Others had fathers who turned bald and, because they loved their Daddy, have no hangup over other men deficient in the hair department. Plus, women tend to prefer men at least a little older than they are, so maturity of the hairline shouldn't be such a bad thing, I would think.

Still, despite all these comforting thoughts from an age of maturity, I'm not sure how I would have reacted if my hair had started to fall out at age 27, say. If I were already married, I'm pretty sure I would have shrugged it off. If I wasn't married, I doubt that I'd wear a rug. And perhaps do nothing more than I did at age 60: get a buzz cut. But still ...

What's your take on going bald?



posted by Donald at April 29, 2008


According to a detailed analysis of personals ads and dating preferences, as recounted in the book Freakonomics, women generally don't mind shaved heads on men but do not like partial, George Costanza-style baldness.

Posted by: Peter on April 29, 2008 8:13 PM

Testosterone is the agent that causes baldness. No wonder women go bananas over bald men. Bald men have a lot more going for them than hairy men. I regret that I have only a little monk's bald spot, but I'm making progress.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on April 29, 2008 8:39 PM

It depends on the man. George Costanza: not sexy. Captain Jean-Luc Picard: very sexy. (I suppose a British accent doesn't hurt none either.)

Seriously, hair (or baldness) matters but not as much as what's underneath. Just first impressions based on looks though... I suppose it's the eyes. First you see the hair, or lack of it, and then you see the eyes.

Posted by: Lynn S on April 29, 2008 10:23 PM

My hair started to go when I was around 23 or 24. I'm 37. I don't really remember having hair all that much. Some vague memories from high school I guess. So I don't miss it. Only thing is there's really nothing you can do with it other than select which clipper guard you'd like to use this week. I guess I could try a mullet or ponytail. (Not really).

Bald dudes are sort of like olives. Strong reactions both negative and positive. It is a masculine look if you have a nicely shaped head.

Posted by: Bhh on April 29, 2008 10:32 PM

My brother just turned 25 this year and discovered last year that he was balding. There was a definite bald spot. He's been taking Propecia for months now. The bald spot is almost gone. I'm not kidding. He has before and after photos. His hair isn't as full as it once was, but, if you look at his head, you would not think bald spot.

Posted by: linden on April 29, 2008 10:46 PM

Men go bald when testosterone wanes. I think baldness is god's way of telling a man to get married. Most women don't like bald men. When I see that a man is balding, I know he's ready to commit. Unfortunately, I prefer the man with the full head of hair.

Posted by: rina on April 30, 2008 12:19 AM

huge turn off:
watching a balding man perform cunnilingus on you...ech

Posted by: sandra dee on April 30, 2008 12:24 AM

As a woman I do not hate baldness just pathetic denial and lame attempts to hide it. It's like anything else about your looks you have to own it and carry it with style, pride and self esteem. It is a package that can be present well or badly.

Posted by: T on April 30, 2008 2:20 AM

I started developing a widow's peak at 20 (I'm now 43), and my hairline gradually receded to where it is now - somewhere between the high part of the forehead and the crown of my head. I was fairly chagrined about it when it started, but I didn't have a crisis over it. I did keep my (remaining) hair relatively short most of the time though. At 31, I was diagnosed with cancer and had to have chemotherapy. Since I was going to lose my hair anyway, I decided to just shave my head completely. After I finished chemotherapy (still cancer-free after 11 years!), I decided to stick with the shaved head. Now, I actually prefer it this way.

Posted by: Laikastes on April 30, 2008 4:44 AM

Fun musings. It's another one of the big cultural changes I've watched over the last few decades. Butts have gotten more important; everything's gone digital; the bald look on men's heads (and, as Peter would point out, on women's crotches ... Anyway, I'm with T -- you gotta own it and carry it with style.

A few questions: Black guys seem to do the shaved-head look awfully well. Is it because their skulls tend to be better-shaped? Because the black skin takes the light well? And *are* many guys losing their hair at younger ages than they used to? I'm really struck by how often I see a certain combo: guy in his 20s; looks like he worked out in the weight room in college but hasn't been doing it recently, so is meaty and flabby and big all together; and sparse hair, if not shaved bald. Where did this look come from? Really, I don't remember anyone looking that way back in, say, 1970.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 30, 2008 9:26 AM

"What's your take on going bald?" I'd rather be horswhipped, waterboarded, or go on a date with Hillary. And I would certainly wear a rug.

Posted by: Lester Hunt on April 30, 2008 9:42 AM

My epiphany came one day in a hotel room while on a business trip. The bathroom had mirrors so one could get a look at the front and back at the same time, and what I saw caused me to say to myself, "you know C.O., technically that's not a combover, but...". When I got home from the trip, the next day I went to the barber shop, and told them "crew cut."

Anyway, that was several years ago when I was in my early 40s. I was divorced at the time, and looking to start dating again. Did some women find my lack of hair unappealing? Maybe, but in my on-line dating profile, I posted current pictures that were an accurate representation of what I looked like - unlike a lot of people who post photos that are 10 years and 40 lbs ago - and I had no trouble getting dates. So I never felt my appearance was a particular handicap, but then, I wasn't looking to date women 20 years younger than me.

BTW, Sandra Dee - ever hear the expression "beauty is just a light switch away?"

Posted by: c.o. jones on April 30, 2008 9:57 AM

Reminds me a an old joke - Men who go bald from the front back are great thinkers. Men who go bald from the back forward (monk spots) are great lovers. What about men who are balding in both areas? They think they're great lovers.

I'd take a crewcut or shaved head over a combover or George Costanza hair anyday.

Posted by: Julie Brook on April 30, 2008 10:07 AM

For every Sandra Dee there's an "ooh can I touch it?"

That's an interesting observation M. Blowhard - there's a certain look I see all the time: white dude, under or around 30, meaty, probably some muscles under the flab, bald head, maybe one of those little goatee beard things. Herds of them everywhere.

I've read somewhere maybe the fact that people are inside more (no natural light) might have something to do with early balding. Maybe it's hormones in the food/water. Ever noticed how high school girls are stacked and fully packed now? Back in my day they were scrawny, ie girls.

Posted by: Bhh on April 30, 2008 10:25 AM

Forgot to add: the less hair I have, the more head I get.

Posted by: c.o. jones on April 30, 2008 11:32 AM

there's a certain look I see all the time: white dude, under or around 30, meaty, probably some muscles under the flab, bald head, maybe one of those little goatee beard things. Herds of them everywhere

Oh, absolutely, men with that look are a dime a dozen. It's sort of sad, too, and not just because it's a sign of sheeplike conformity. You can tell that many of these guys used to be quite fit, maybe good athletes in high school or college, but have let themselves go to seed, as it were.`

Goatees don't help matters any. One thing I've noticed, and blogged about recently, is that a goatee often makes an overweight guy look even heavier. In part it might just be psychological, we're so used to seeing overweight men with goatees that there mere presence of the goatee adds pounds in our minds, but that's not the whole story. A goatee can make a man's face look wider and more jowly, which contributes to an overall appearance of being overweight. I actually believe that in some men a shaved head may have a similar effect.

Posted by: Peter on April 30, 2008 1:31 PM

The meaty balding look mentioned above might be the result of anabolic steroid and/or testosterone use. The meaty is the leftover from the heavy weight training (contrary to myth, you can keep some gains from AS/weight training); the flabby is because they're no longer working out; and the balding is from the chemical supplementation, esp. if they used testosterone.

Mind you, the look seems mostly common among non-jock types, so I don't give much credence to my steroid guess. Still, I have noticed the look myself.

Posted by: PatrickH on April 30, 2008 1:51 PM

fyi: testosterone, waxing or waning, has nothing directly to do with baldness. it's a genetic condition where the scalp follicles are sensitive to DHT (dihydrotestosterone - an enzymatically converted byproduct of test) and don't regrow at the same rate. if your scalp follicles aren't predisposed to DHT shrinking it won't matter how much or how little serum test you have circulating. that's why ronald reagan could have a full head of hair at 90 while a 20 yar old man could start balding -- the mechanism is unrelated to testosterone levels.

i have a bald uncle so i did some research into this when i thought due to family history there might be a chance i inherited the disease. (yes, it is a disease). luckily, i was spared.

women mind balding but not as much as men fear. shortness is much more debilitating for men than baldness. i know many balding guys who shaved their heads and stay in shape and score hot chicks regularly. the full shaved look is the way to go. a monk's ring is just a sign of laziness - like you're saying you don't give a crap how you look.

Posted by: roissy on April 30, 2008 2:09 PM

Hey everyone, be sure to check out Peter's blog. He mainly uses it as a place to record commuting notes and gym workout notes, which has its own kind of Beckettian fascination. But in the midst of it all he also gets off all kinds of perceptive observations about people, about how we live today, etc ....

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 30, 2008 2:17 PM

FWIW, a note on aging from one who isn't going bald (or isn't yet ...) At 54 I still have a full head of hair. I keep inspecting my hairline, convinced it's thinning, but it has never actually receded. (Thank you lord.) All that said, it's not the same head of hair I had at 18. It isn't thinner, exactly, but it's much less vigorous, much less bushy. My interpretation: As a young guy energy is just shooting out of you, and so is your hair, or your hair might be. As energy starts to wane, the hair mimics the energy level. The body grows less vigorous, and so does the hair. You know that thing some full-head-of-hair guys start to do in middle-age of sweeping the hair pretty mcuh straight back? (Hair gelling it or not.) I used to think it was a bit Euro-pretentious or something. Then about 10 years ago I found myself doing it myself, and now I understand what it's about. When the hair loses its vigor yet is still there, it's a fairly sensible and effective way of putting the hair to some relaxed use. OK, so maybe I'm being a little Euro-pretentious too. But I am struck by the number of guys my age who still have their hair who do the same thing. What else are we gonna do, wear it in Beatles style?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 30, 2008 2:39 PM

In reply to MB's beginning "FWIW." That's uncannily like my situation, right down to our ages, with the difference that I did the swept-back thang starting in about 1973, when I was the first ex-longhairedhippietype in my circle. (No gel! Never gel!)

My Oma, who had been in the hair business, always called it a pompadour, but what normal guy wants to be stuck with that?

As to beards, I alternate between goatees and full beards, mainly because I just hate shaving. Luckily my wife likes furry . . .

You folks spot any Hindenburg-style mustache-sideburn combinations? I see them occasionally and half admire the wearers, but I think you need a lot of panache to bring that off.


Posted by: Narr on April 30, 2008 3:24 PM

I think the only people wearing the stache/burns combo are weekend Civil War re-enactors

Posted by: Julie Brook on April 30, 2008 3:31 PM

Steroids and testosterone supplementation do indeed produce balding as a side effect. Many (not all) steroids and testosterone will spike DHT levels and produce a characteristic balding response in users. It's true that testosterone itself doesn't directly cause the balding; its the DHT that does. The balding look could very well be the result of test/AS indulgence back in the day.

Posted by: PatrickH on April 30, 2008 3:46 PM

I want the mullet to come back.

Business in the front, party in the back.

Posted by: PA on April 30, 2008 3:53 PM

My husband starting losing his hair in his 20s. When I met him he was 29 and already bald on top with a bit of a monk's fringe. Yes, he has a goatee and mustache. Yes, he's a bit overweight. He was, is, and always will be the most beautiful man I know.

Posted by: Decca on April 30, 2008 6:10 PM

I'm 27. Five or six years ago, I made the decision to shave it all off. It wasn't a difficult decision - there aren't many options; certainly no cures - and if I hadn't been racked with distress at the time, I might have appreciated how lucky I was to be tall, reasonably fit, and have a nicely shaped head.

But make no mistake: especially for a young man, being bald is an all-consuming psycho-emotional grind. There's a relentless stress that comes not only with being so conspicuously different from the norm, but being treated differently because of it. Being bald means people avoid eye contact with you. I'm afraid this is very true. It means waitresses would rather address your dining partner rather than you, every single time. And no one can tell how old you are - often, they're off by a decade, sometimes more!

I'm sure it's only a matter of time before science demonstrates bald guys make less money, and reduce the calculus to a square-inch percentage.

I've been in relationships and I've been single, and it's way worse as a single guy. Without hair, you're robbed of a significant portion of your ability to communicate information about your identity, status, or fashion sensibility. Can you imagine the confidence it takes to chat up a woman (cold - because you're never working with eye contact), and suppress any doubts you might have about her attraction to you, or her perception of your age? It can be straight up paralyzing (and I am definitely on the confident end of spectrum).

But whether you're dealing with women or not, in 1,000 situations, it amounts to being justified in asking, "Is it because I'm bald?" and never knowing the answer - a feeling of doubt no doubt shared in varying degrees by many of the physically dysmorphic members of the population at large.

There's a trivial aspect to baldness - it's not physically debilitating like it's evil cousin, fatness - but it's very tough nonetheless.

Posted by: ELDee on April 30, 2008 7:24 PM

I shaved all my hair off once -- my only experience with baldness. (So far, I guess I should add.) Right after college. Why not give it a try? The big surprise for me was that I kept smacking into things with my head. What I finally realized was that hair is like a cat's whiskers. It warns you when you're about to run into things. Without the hair -- wham, it's the corner of the cupboard vs. your bare scalp, with no warning.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 30, 2008 7:40 PM

Here is a link to a web site created by a friend of mine (one of those wacky Woodstock area musicians) dedicated to bald/shaved headed musicians The current count is over 1000. It just goes to show that the long haired musician is not the only style in town.

I'm a mostly gray widow's peak guy.

Posted by: Chris White on April 30, 2008 8:39 PM

PatrickH -
I never thought about the 'roids/baldness connection, but it's entirely possible, for the reasons you give. Whether it's the explanation for all the fat bald goatee'd guys one sees, well that's maybe more doubtful. Some of them indeed do look like former athletes - and juicers - gone to seed, but others look like ordinary fat guys who've been lifelong couch potatoes.

MB -
Thanks for the blog plug!

Posted by: Peter on April 30, 2008 10:44 PM

Michael Blowhard-
Every guy who has gone through military training can probably agree with you an that experience- smacking his head into something on the o-course and having it come as a complete surprise because his hair would normally give him the warning to duck just enough. That experience, along with an oddly shaped head, have discouraged me from going really short, despite a growing bald spot on my crown. For now, I'll try to date short women and avoid letting them see me from behind while sitting down!

Posted by: mdmnm on April 30, 2008 11:01 PM

How timely. I’m 43. Bald isn’t going to be a good look for me…long narrow face. I don't look good in a baseball cap. I just started using Rogaine. I’ve been living in denial for the past year, but a photo of me sitting on the floor at XMas was the tipping point. I’m in the early stages of thinning out all over the top of my head. That’s how it went down for my dad and older brother. (My brother did some type of weave for a while and I have an uncle who had a “hair transplant”) I’ve told a few colleagues that I’ve started to use Rogaine and they all say, “You don’t look like you’re going bald.” I keep my hair pretty short and I’m trying to nip it in the bud the best I can. I have a friend who has been using Rogaine for 10 years and swears by it. He has a full head of hair, but I’m convinced he’s a hypochondriac of sorts and was never losing it. I don’t think my wife would have given me a second look if I had been balding when I met her. She was a 21 year old college senior and I was 33. I went through a mini-depression this winter when I decided to take the Rogaine plunge. I was skiing at Deer Valley in February during my hair loss doldrums and I looked across the lodge at all the 60-something guys with full heads of silver hair and thought, “You fuckers.” Then I looked for the younger bald guys. Some looked great…had the right type of head, but a few looked like freaks. There’s an awkward stage for guys who are balding, just like there’s an awkward stage when you’re growing your hair out. I bet losing their hair was even tough on the guys who looked great. Oh, how I long for my last mini-crisis: turning 30. I grew my hair long…

Posted by: Scott on May 1, 2008 12:00 AM

I am 40 and have been balding since my late 20s. I must be different than 99% of guys because it doesn't bother me at all, I don't even reflect on it much.

I think I actually have attracted more women after I started balding as strange as that sounds. Part of it could be because of my charm and confidence, I don't know. I met my girlfriend as a balding man and have lived with her for over 5 years now.

Every now and then, maybe 3 or 4 times a year, someone will make a negative comment about my baldness. For example, in the supermarket line a middle aged male (who had the vibe of a substance abuser) pointed at me and the old bald man in line with me and said "Am I going to lose my hair if I stand in this line"? I also once had a woman tell me that her friend said "Dont talk to him, he's bald". So some people judge me, but I don't really care to be honest.

Posted by: Jason on May 1, 2008 2:53 AM

MB: That's it! My hair isn't thinner or gone, it's....less energetic! Like the rest of me. Actually, at 60, I think I see a little thinning in the forehead-corners, and noticed I'm brushing it to allow for same, but I can't confess to any fear of balding since it's never been a possibility. I always wished I had less hair.

I think I really like Decca. Do you ever tell your husband how lucky he is?

Posted by: Sam_S on May 1, 2008 3:32 AM

Hmmm ... somehow I got the coding wrong on that link to
Let's see if this one works.

Posted by: Chris White on May 1, 2008 6:57 AM

I started seriously going bald at about the age of 23 and didn't like it one bit. I'm now 51 and totally bald on top. Only men have ever been unpleasant to me about it, some seriously so, almost treating it as a moral failing. I don't think any woman has ever taunted me about it and my wife doesn't care and never has done. I think one important influence baldness has had on me is to encourage me to keep fit and keep my weight down. Fit and bald is fine. Fat and bald looks terrible; the effect of extra weight on the face looks especially bad. Conversely, I've noticed that a typically, a man with a good head of hair and originally handsome face doesn't seem to care about the size of his gut.

Posted by: Graham Asher on May 1, 2008 8:13 AM

Not to take this in another direction, but I'm surprised feminists haven't convinced women to go bald, just to compete with men. Beyond a few musicians (you know who they are), the bald look does not seem to have caught on with females.

How can we make baldness a trend among American women?

Posted by: Days of Broken Arrows on May 1, 2008 8:47 AM

35 comments and counting! The subject strikes a nerve and no mistake. Now, the bald truth is … no, no, sorry, you're right, I needed that slap.

But there is something about baldness that goes deep into the feeling bucket. Get this. At 62, I'm lucky enough to have avoided significant hair loss — not that it has given me any self-confidence — but more than once I have had nightmares about looking in the mirror and seeing my head going bald. Literally, dream nightmares.

Obviously I have an unconscious fear of baldness. This must be something deep in the male psyche. As far as I know Drs. Freud and Jung both missed this. Maybe it was too threatening and they repressed it.

Posted by: Rick Darby on May 1, 2008 10:16 AM

How can we make baldness a trend among American women?

It already IS a nearly universal practice among American women, and ... oh wait, you mean heads. Never mind.

Posted by: Peter on May 1, 2008 10:26 AM

Although baldness is the immediate subject, I think that the overall subject here is aging.

God, is it a drag! The Stones were right.

Getting up in the morning is sometimes an incredible struggle. My body feels like it weighs a ton and I feel as stiff as concrete. Unless I do my yoga first thing, I fight against this all day.

Various medical realities have forced me to cease my former life of carousing, drinking, drugging and womanizing. This is such a bore! Unless I have a gig that keeps me up late, I'm in bed by 11:30. I can't even dope myself up with coffee any more... causes prostate problems.

The arthritis is getting into my hand, forcing me to change the way I play certain chords on guitar and piano.

The worst part is that I look at those young girls, and I don't even go after them. To quote, I think, Bob Seeger: "I wish I did not know now what I didn't know back then." I wish that I was still dumb enough to not know or care that most of the pretty young things are worthless pains in the ass. Twenty years ago, I wouldn't have given a shit as long as the pussy looked good.

And, the weight of the deaths of so many friends and loved ones begins to grind. Although I am gifted with the ability to make new friends, the losses really have worn me down. Dana, my lifelong friend from high school, is gone. I miss him keenly, even though I only saw him a few times a year. Even guys who seemed like a pain in the ass, like Will who maintained my house... I miss the bantering and arguing with him. Once a year, his pot crop came in and he showed up with a handful of flowers that we ceremoniously smoked. I don't even smoke pot any more!

The worst part is that the young bucks want me gone. If we lived in the animal kingdom, they'd ambush me behind a tree and bite my throat out. And, I was just like them when I was younger, so I don't have any right to bitch or whine!

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on May 1, 2008 10:59 AM

One more thing. A woman of depth and substance will always value character over hair. If a woman isn't interested in you because you're bald, then you're probably better off without her. Who wants someone that shallow?

(Sam_S, thank you, but I'm the lucky one.)

Posted by: Decca on May 1, 2008 3:14 PM

I heard that hair-loss dreams have the same psychological implications as tooth-loss dreams, but I can't remember what that is.

Apparently even Patrick Stewart - patron saint of chrome domes - was bummed about it.

Posted by: Brian on May 1, 2008 3:48 PM

I have a friend who went bald like Patrick Stewart before he'd graduated from college. Since he was already engaged by that point— they're working on child #4 now— I don't think he was too upset about the business, except for the needing sunscreen bit.

Most of my male friends are actually balding in their early thirties. So is Evil Rob, but his is primarily widow's peaking so he can keep his hair long. Yes, long. Longer than mine, in fact. He's still a true blond so it actually works pretty well on him. (His mother keep stelling him he should cut it short— even now she isn't resigned to a son who looks like a heavy-metal rocker.)

Interesting fact: Male-pattern baldness is passed down through the female line, and is located on the X chromosome. (A non-balding X will overwhelm a balding X, which is why you don't have many women with thinnning hair or baldness.) So you don't go bald like your dad. You most likely go bald like your maternal grandfather.

Posted by: B. Durbin on May 2, 2008 11:11 PM

"Interesting fact: Male-pattern baldness is passed down through the female line..."

Isn't that a myth?

Posted by: Sven on May 3, 2008 12:26 AM

I am 24 years old, about to be 25, and I noticed probably a few months ago that my hair is thinning pretty good. At first I was kinda freaking out about it, pretty much obsessing over it. But now I have accepted the fact that it is happening, and I am very heavily leaning towards just letting it go whenever the time comes and not mess with any meds for hair loss. Paying out the ass for some meds the rest of my life just to keep hair doesn't sound very attractive to me, and plus I feel that taking meds would just be an attempt to try to cover up something that is shameful, which I don't think losing hair is. I have decided to double up on my workouts and try to get my physique as close to perfect as possible. Also I want to say, you people that are saying hair has to do with energy, that is the dumbest shit I have ever heard, are you serious? There are plenty of naturally bald men out there that do lots of physical activity and have a great sex life. Losing hair does not equate to anything except losing hair, that's it.

Posted by: John on May 17, 2008 9:41 AM

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