Sitting in high school biology, listening to the teacher drone on about
genetics, I snapped to attention when she used male pattern baldness as an
example of a dominant trait. My heart started pounding with fear - with bald
men on both sides of my mother's family as far as the eye could see, I was
doomed to have a chrome dome.
I remained anguished about the prospect of being bald for the next 20 years
as my hairline retreated and my hair steadily thinned. Bald men seemed
disfigured to me. I felt pity for them, so I tried to disguise my own condition
by keeping my own hair clean and fluffed with a blow dryer. That hardly
qualified as a treatment for baldness, but no other options seemed viable. I
recoiled from the cost and the upkeep of a hairpiece. Minoxidil didn't seem to
work very well. Hair plugs looked awful - one man I met looked as if he had
been burned several times on the top of his head with a cigarette and each spot
had sprouted a tuft of hair.
"Help me ... help you. Help me, help you."
That famous line from the film Jerry Maguire may be the best advice a
doctor could give his or her patient.
"Some patients have the attitude, 'I'm putting myself in the hands of a
professional,'" says Stephen Permut, MD, chairman of family and community
medicine at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia. "They want
you to make all their decisions for them."
Permut prefers to have patients get involved in their own care and engage
Like a man told he has a terminal illness, I worked my way through denial,
anger, negotiation, and depression. Finally, I reached resignation - I would
join the ranks of bald men - but I was far from resigned to the prospect.
Then, when I was in my mid-30s, I suddenly stopped caring about being bald.
I felt as though someone had flipped a switch inside of me that turned off the
shame I felt about losing my hair, and I never worried about it again.
But why do bald men feel shame? And how did I overcome the shame,
embarrassment, and dread that baldness once inspired in me? And even more
importantly, how can other men achieve the same blissful indifference to their
own hair loss?
Going Bald: Understanding the symbolism of hair
As advertisements, Hollywood, and the behavior of countless men demonstrate,
hair represents strength, power, and virility. Freudians used to argue that a
man's hair symbolized his penis, so losing one's hair amounted to symbolic
But when you get right down to it, men most dread being bald because they
think they will no longer be attractive to potential sexual partners. The best
advertisement for hairpieces I ever saw featured a smiling woman running her
fingers through a man's hair. Above them the headline promised, "By the time
she finds out, she won't care." That line zeroed in on one of a balding man's
deepest fears - that he will no longer be considered a sexual contender if
people can see his thinning hair.
And let's face it. Our culture has provided plenty of basis for that fear. A
bald man in a movie has traditionally been either a fool or a villain, rarely a
love interest. Every president in modern times had more hair than his opponent.
(Gerald Ford? He was never elected. Dwight D. Eisenhower? His opponent, Adlai
Stevenson, had even less hair on the top of his head.)