November 11, 2007

The Chroming of the Dome: On the Joys of Being Bald

Just before waking up this morning, I had a nightmare — more properly a morningmare, I suppose, but there's no word in English to describe a bad dream in the early hours of the day. In any case, I dreamed that I was about to depart a lecture hall and had left my hat on a window ledge. As I put it on, I noticed that there was hair getting into my eyes. I could feel it on my ears, too, and the itch it caused was infuriating. I took my hat off but the hair was still there. I reasoned that it had to be a wig and tried to pull it off with no success. The hair was growing out of my head! I found a mirror and looked at myself and thought that I looked ridiculous. All I wanted to do was get this irritating mass of keratin off of me. And then I woke up.

This brief bad dream is a good depiction of how I feel about having hair. Despite countless TV commercials and marketing ploys that have attempted to convince me that I should feel otherwise about my follicular situation, I like being bald. My only regret about it is that there isn't a pill I can pop to make the little bit of hair that still insists on bristling up from my scalp stop doing so entirely. Then I wouldn't have to shave.

I've heard that baldness is a heritable trait passed down through one's maternal ancestry. I don't know with any certainty whether that's true in general, but it definitely isn't true for my lineage. While many of the men on my mother's side of the family saw their hair thinning as they entered their sixties, it was on my father's side that they lost it entirely by their thirties. This is true for the three generations I can trace my family on either side, in any case. My paternal grandfather, for example, was a 6'4" giant of a man who worked as a prison guard for most of his life and bore the nickname Mister Clean among his fellows, a moniker that became the name of his boat after he'd retired and moved to Miami Beach. My paternal uncle was bald as well. Ironically, my father kept his hair. As for me, my hairline began a rapid retreat from my eyebrows by the time I was in my early 20's.

I was a punk rocker in high school. Part of my rebellious regalia was my red and blue hair. When I went away for my first attempt at a university education in 1983, I stopped coloring my hair and let it grow to my shoulders. I'd moved in with a gaggle of neo-hippies by 1985 and let it grow even longer as I toured a few Grateful Dead shows and dropped the occasional dose of acid. By 1988, when I left school, I started cutting it shorter again because I needed to find work and had been brought up to believe, per my prison guard grandfather and police officer father, that long hair told the world that you were a person not to be trusted. When I moved to a very conservative part of Pennsylvania less than two years later, I cut it even shorter and took a job at a printing concern that demanded its employees looked well-groomed as defined by Mennonite Brethren standards.

By the time I'd moved to San Francisco late in 1991, my hairline had already receded noticeably. I let my hair grow again for awhile, but I no longer felt comfortable with the way I looked. I was on the bus home from my job at a promotional print design firm South of Market when it dawned on me that maybe I'd look better with my hair cut extremely short, as in a buzz. I got off the bus a couple of stops early and walked into the nearest barber shop, which turned out to be very near the corner of Irving and 9sup Avenues, a stretch occupied mainly by Chinese-owned businesses. There were no other customers, and the woman who seated me in a chair asked me how I wanted it done. I told her that I wanted my hair cut as short as she could. She picked up a comb and scissors, but I explained to her that I meant really short. She wasn't quite understanding me, so I pointed to the electric clippers hung up on the side of her stand. She looked puzzled, so I tried to explain to her what I meant. She kind of got it; she clipped my hair down to about a half-inch, and I didn't like it at all. I told her to chop it back to 1/8", and she didn't understand that at all. One of her coworkers explained to her in Chinese and then she proceeded to give me the clipping I wanted. I paid and walked the rest of the way home.

The next morning, I still thought it looked all wrong. As I was shaving to leave for work, I decided that the leftover bit of fuzz had to go. I've shaved my head in the same way nearly every day for the past 15+ years now. I have yet to feel the smallest regret for my decision to do so.

At about the same time as I first began shaving my head, I began noticing ads for various hair restoration treatments. I believe this was the same time as Minoxidil hit the market, and of course there was the "I'm not only the president of the Hair Club for Men, I'm also a client" campaign. Nowadays, there are any number of remedies for baldness. We've got Finasteride and copper peptides and spironolactone. If you'd like to pretend that your head is a Christmas tree, you can buy what amounts to hair-colored flocking in a spray can. You can get bits of hair-producing flesh gouged out of one spot and grafted into those at which growth has ceased; I'm told that the procedure no longer results in the look of a doll head. If you're really desperate and not put off by a bit of elective mutilation and a price tag in the neighborhood of $10,000, you can even get the bald parts of your head cut out and the hairy bits stitched together. Yummy stuff, no?

I realize that not all men look good without hair. If one has a lumpy or pointy head, for instance, hair serves an important purpose in covering up the flaws. For those with well-shaped craniums, however, I wonder why it is that there's such a worry about showing the old dome off to the world. In my personal experience, I've found that there are plenty of women who appreciate the look and I must say that long fingernails raked over an exposed scalp in just the right way is one of the most enjoyable sensations one can experience. So why are there so many heavily-marketed remedies for baldness? This isn't a disease needing a cure, after all. This is just what some men look like, particularly the lucky ones... the ones who, twenty years ago, weren't letting the hair go long on one side to comb it over and grease it down (did that ever seem like a good idea?) Of course, there have always been toupees and wigs available. I particularly like the one shown in the image to the right, modeled for us by former NYC mayor and current Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani — who used to wear a combover before coming to the conclusion that he was a gentleman who preferred blonds.

That's what marketing does, though. When there's no real need to fill, it's nice to be able to create one and draw a salary in the process, I'm sure. Would I ever try one? Hell no! I like my hair the way it is: far, far away from me. I've never sat down and calculated how much I've saved on shampoos and conditioners and who-knows-what-else hairy-headed folks slather on their brainpans every day, but I'm sure it's a sizable sum. I never have a bad hair day; the closest I get is when my shaving razor needs replacing, and that's easy to do. I am entirely unafraid of dandruff; the fungus that causes it can find no suitable home on my head. Bugs and bats never get tangled in my bare scalp, and if you think the wind feels good blowing through your hair, you ought to check out how it feels when the hair's out of the way. When it gets cold, I put on a hat to protect myself from potential brain-freezing. If I had hair, what would I have done on all those hot days in Florida?

The marketing would have us believe that hair loss is some terrible thing; have a look at this particularly nasty snippet:

Hair loss is a nightmare to any person, be it a man or a woman of any age. Besides being a medical problem, it also becomes a social stigma and causes worry, trauma and embarrassment to the affected person.


A nightmare to any person? I have nightmares about the stuff growing back! I have never once felt embarrassed or stigmatized, though I am aware of the fact that other people think that I might, and all that is for me is an occasion for icebreaking humor. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, a fellow bald colleague of mine and I were at a happy hour, discussing lab protocols over beers, when a third colleague asked if he could join us as the two of us were part of the mythic Confederacy of Bald Men. My response to him was that if we two hairless scientists were to put our heads together, we could make a real ass of ourselves (think about it a moment). I've never felt the least bit uncomfortable despite all the dollars spent on advertising space to tell me that I should. I look at such things in the same way that I view campaigns that tell women that they need to have a bony backside and perfectly round F-cup breasts for some guy to find them attractive. It's all very silly stuff and none of it takes into account the joys of either a well-padded posterior or a gloriously smooth cranium.

Every morning, I wake up and shave, like most American men. I take an extra three minutes or so to cover the top and back of my head as well as the front. I currently use a Gillette Sensor razor, triple-bladed, as I find the twin blade version isn't as good for getting the little bits where my ears join the sides of my head. I don't need to comb, arrange, flatten or color anything up there. When I'm done, I step outside and feel the wind or sun right there on my bare scalp. The best part of it is, LL loves how my head feels right after I shave, so I'm subject to frequent cerebral caresses immediately after leaving the bathroom. I can't think of a finer way to start off the day.

Speaking of which, I need to go shower and shave, so I'll leave this entry here. Pass the shave gel and hold the Minoxidil slather, please!

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