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We asked bald, balding, and scared-of-being-bald guys to talk to us about The Fear

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There are few things as scary as looking in the mirror and thinking, “Oh, man. I look old as fuck”. And there’s nothing that makes that so blindingly obvious as seeing that the once thick, lustrous hair that topped your head now all over your hands. There’s an axiom that men look better with age – Paul Rudd, George Clooney, Larry Lamb – but that’s rarely something that extends itself to us simple, non-already-quite-conventionally-handsome-celeb folk and even less often to those without the luxury of having the hair of a Norse god.

Me, I’m not bald. Not yet. But it scares me constantly. There was a moment of terror last summer when, while shampooing my hair in the shower and I looked at my hands and saw hair. I started freaking out. My self-image has been tied to my hair for as long as I can remember – always thick, curly, reasonably unruly – and now I was sat on the floor of the shower utterly depressed, thinking about where the hell I was supposed to go from here. Male pattern baldness (MPB) doesn’t have deep ties in my family but my dad is certainly pretty thin now and as I grow older I look more and more like him. I can see it. In my mind, my hairline creeps up each week, a slow and steady motion, unstoppable like the shifting of tectonic plates, the inevitability of time. I’m told it’s barely noticeable, but there remains a single truth: it’s coming. And when it comes I must be ready.

It’s all extremely common – with around 6.5m men in the UK affected by MPB and alopecia, 30 per cent of whom are under thirty – but, like so many things, these are fears men largely keep to themselves, things that can lead to high-levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. 

We spoke to a few men – bald, balding, and the not-yet-bald-but-still-worried – to get their story.

JOSH, 29

1

How would you describe your current hair situation?
 
I shave it with a razor every other morning. There is a little bit on top but it grows way more at the sides, so if I leave it for more than a few days it gets a bit Mr Burns. I'm bald, I can say it. I'm 29 now and have been doing this since I was 23.
 
When did you realise it was going?
 
My dad and his dad are both bald so I always suspected it would happen. When I was about 15 I noticed the hairline at the front was starting to recede, but I covered it by growing it long and sweeping it over. In the summer after my first year at uni, within a couple of months I lost a lot of hair. I had a fringe at the time but the hair was so fine you could see right through it. It won't reassure anyone, but from my experience, devastating hair loss can happen rapidly. By that point I was resigned to the fact it was not ‘if’ but ‘when’, I was going to have to shave it all off.
 
When did you make the big “okay, it’s all coming off” jump?
 
I was losing hair but it wasn't too obvious if I had it cut very short at the sides, and long on top. Plus I was using this product called Toppik, which was like these weird iron filing-type things that you could shake into your hair to make it look thicker. Sounds ridiculous but this stuff is brilliant – if they still make it. Anyway, I had a sort of Daniel Craig-type haircut – 2008 Daniel Craig – and so I took a picture of him to a hairdresser but she made such a hash of it. Like ugh, I still shudder to think about it. I got home and looked at myself and kinda thought I couldn't look any worse if I shaved it, so I shaved it down to a No3. I was living at home at the time and I did it and came downstairs and my Mum burst into tears. Supportive, you know.
 
What was the hardest part of it all?

Kind of ashamed to admit it but I lost a lot of confidence around women. I found it very hard to believe that they would still be attracted to a (nearly) bald 21-year-old guy. So for a long time I didn't really go out with any girls unless they approached me. Which didn't happen very often! I think maybe I was a little bit insecure about my looks anyway, and this just exacerbated it. It's a big regret of mine, I often wish I could go back in time and speak to the younger me and convince myself it didn't really matter. 
 
I can laugh about it now but again for a long time I was angry about the injustice of it all, I guess. A bad thing was happening and it was out of my control. And no one else was going through it who I was friends with.

How do you feel about your hair now? Do you begin to like it or just accept it?
 
I guess I just accept it. It doesn't bother me anymore… I think it's just part of the process of growing older and feeling more comfortable with who you are. The only frustrating thing is that it actually takes quite a long time to shave my head – I thought it would make life easier, but it's quite time-consuming.What I do like is that I don't have any doubt about whether I should give myself a different look, or whether I'd look better with a different haircut  – I can only really be bald. One less thing to worry about.

CHRISTOPHER, 29

Christopher

How would you describe your current hair situation?

Uh, my hair began murmuring about secession my freshman year of college and eleven years later is now in the early stages of forming an egg skirt (thin on top, super-normal on the sides and back).  
 
How often did you think about going bald? Were you scared of it?

I didn't worry about it much growing up because of the whole "baldness comes from your mother's side." Needless to say I did not expect that my grandfather would be turning 74 with a full, albeit completely white, head of hair and I'd turn 29 and am looking up the best razors to shave your head with.
 
How much was your hair tied into your self-esteem?

I have a sense of humor about it but I do wish I had it. The most frustrating part is the balding pattern. If it was just a receding hairline or all over thinning that would be one thing, but the egg skirt is the WORST because it just is a scalp divided. Most of my hairs are happy and want to stay, the rest can't stand the place and are in the process of leaving. Fuck unifying America, I need someone that can unify my hair follicles. 
 
At what stage did you just give in and cut it all off?

About two years ago after I asked a barber to just even everything up and it was WAY shorter than I expected it being. He showed me the thinning at the back and I turned into a Michael Jordan crying meme.
 
What did people say?

I'm black and spend most of my day around white people not familiar with black hair so unless you have a ‘fro, braids, or dreads they already think of you as being bald. For the most part, none of the white people I knew noticed a difference. My family did but I only see them once or twice a year so they assumed it was a fashion thing until one trip where I hadn't cut it in a while and my dad said "Boy, you goin' bald!" 
 
Fuck.

I'm at peace with my situation but mostly I just feel lucky that I don't have a weird shaped head.

GREG, 27

5

How would you rate your balding situation right now?

Non-balding. As in, no sign. I've just got The Fear.

You wear it pretty short already - do you think that's precautionary?

Maybe. It's mainly for low maintenance. I'm shit at looking after it and keeping it tidy at the best of time, but then maybe I'd care more if I didn't, deep down, think it was in such a precarious situation, however unfounded.

Do you ever get paranoid that the process has started?

Yeah, I used to. A lot. I think there's an element of control. I can make my hair short and like it that way but I don't want it forced on me. The idea of not having the option to have hair terrifies me.

Have you set yourself a timeline? Like, "Okay, it'll probably start going in X years - I'm going to have to come to terms with it by then"?

I think I did when I was younger. Less a time to plan for, more an age I thought I wouldn't be devastated to have lost my hair by. Tellingly, it got older every year.

Do you have MPB in your family?

Yep, and my uncle would always take the piss and really try to use it to upset me [laughs]. I'm from a pretty "banter" prone family. We often take it too far. So once he figured out it got to me, he kept it going big time. Walking past me and constantly pointing out bald spots that weren't there. My sister and my mum joined in. My uncle lived with us so I got that stuff off him all the time.

Fuck, I bet that joke got old real quick. When did it stop?

Well like a lot of guys, he can think he's mega smart and hilarious when he's not, so it just kept happening. Our relationship wasn't great for a time. It could all get a bit angry and he didn't like it when I called him out. Think he was working through some stuff. So was I as a teenager.

I can imagine that would really affect your confidence at the time. 

Big time. I was a pretty big lad as it was. So I didn't really need much else to knock me down. This was combined with other usual stuff you get at that age - kids calling you gay and that. Genuinely feel like it's part of growing up though so no tears here. It's still a lingering worry but not something that gets me down.

I think all the dread and anxiety over baldness is about identity as a man. I don't want to identify as someone who needs caveats or compensations to be "normal" or okay. The whole "bald men are more virile" and other bits of bullshit like that are all just made up to balance things out - because it is a disadvantage, flaw, or whatever you want to call it. I'd rather deal with the faults I've got than develop another extremely visible one with obvious connotations I don't like. When you're young, being a man seems about not sticking out too much or being too different. It made me think stupid shit when I was a kid, like wishing Zidane had a full head of hair so I could allow myself to think he's truly great, not flawed. Annoyed me he had a bald spot. I couldn't get past it – resented it almost. It was all very silly.

TOM B, 26

3

How would you describe your current hair situation?

I'm currently flexing the 'young Obadiah Stane' look from Iron Man, except much less attractive than Jeff Bridges (obviously), or even the comic-book version. What I lack in head follicles, I'm absolutely making up for in a beard.

When did you realise it was going?

It was pointed out to me when I was at university. At the age of 18. EIGHTEEN. I put it down to the stress of a long-distance relationship while I was there. Maybe the work had something to do with it as well... Came out in massive amounts during the first year. Madness.

What did you think when it started to come out?

I first thought, "Ah, it's well thick anyway, my hair can handle this so shouldn't be a problem. Actually, could probably do with losing some." ...then it carried on. And it felt quite emasculating, if I'm honest. To lose control over something that you never really had control of in the first place was a bit depressing.
 
How much of your self-esteem was tied up in your hair?


A lot. Everything matters in first year, when every night out is a 'meeting new people' situation. And if you're doing that while anything physical is changing, it affects you. I was definitely less up for going out because I thought there was something wrong with me, so I'd retreat to Pro Evo and a few cans in the halls of residence instead.

When did you make the big “okay, it’s all coming off” jump? Or was it much more gradual?

I started getting it cut shorter and shorter, but I'm not overly keen on going to the barber. I just can't be arsed, to be honest. The actual big jump took place earlier this year, when my girlfriend essentially said, "Look, mate, it starting to grow outwards from the side. You're looking increasingly like an old mad professor. Get rid."

What was the hardest part of it all?

Hardest part of it all was that I used to have a really thick head of hair. (I think) I looked great with it, and would always love playing about with it in the mirror when getting ready for something. But now it's time to embrace the bald.

DAVID, 28

4

What’s the deal, mate?
 
I’m thinning. At least, I think I’m thinning. Every now and then I style my hair and realise I’m unconsciously ensuring there are no ‘gaps’, where product starts gathering strands together in one area and leaving other patches revealing a bit of scalp. I think I’m developing a slight widow’s peak, with hair beginning its inevitable retreat up my temples, like it’s scared of my forehead. I’ve not really tried to go about measuring its decline – it could all be in my head, so to speak.
 
Are you shitting yourself? 
 
I definitely used to be scared of it. My dad was essentially bald by the age of 24 – which left me in a state of perpetual fear at the age 18. “Only six more years of looking my age,” I’d think. Mercifully, I’ve taken after my mum’s side of the family – my grandfather still has more hair than my dad. I probably only think about it whenever I get a haircut or try a slightly different style. I wonder if I could be ‘wearing’ my hair better, or if a slightly subtle change of cut could do me some favours. I’ll see the odd photo someone’s taken of me from an angle I wouldn’t see in a mirror and slapped on Facebook and think “Yep, it’s definitely going.” It doesn’t scare me anymore. I guess I’m numb to it. There’s a tedious inevitability to it – like an Arsenal season.

Nice.

You know it’s going to end in disappointment, but there’s no point trying to work out exactly when it’s going to capitulate. It’ll just happen.
 
How much is your hair tied to your self-esteem?
 
My hair definitely used to be tied to my self-esteem, but as part of my overall aesthetic rather than a significant component. I’ve got fluffy, frizzy hair, it’s never really been able to do anything interesting. Every time I’ve tried to do something different with it, it usually returns to a unspectacular ‘fro by the end of play. So long as it’s tidy, I’m fine with it – so having less of it might actually help matters.
 
So when do you think you’ll be calling it a day?
 
I usually shave my head once a year, around that point in Spring when it’s starting to get warm out and I fancy a bit of a change. I’ve not got a strangely shaped skull; no lumps, no weird birthmarks. I think I’ll surrender when there’s a serious widow’s peak forming. That could be five years from now, or it could be ten. One day I’ll wake up, look in the mirror and I’ll just know...

TOM U, 29

2

How would you describe your current hair situation?

I mean you've seen it. It's pretty bleak.

We need it in your own words, Tom.

I am fully in the balding process.

When did you first notice the tide turning, so to speak?

I remember when I was like 16. I used to have long black hair because, you know, Emo. And I looked at my pillow one day and noticed how many black hairs there were on it when I woke up...

How did you feel at that moment?

I felt pretty scared, I was freaking out for ages, and then I kind of had a moment where I thought fuck this. I'm butters anyway, so my hair isn't going to make any difference. So I just got my brother to shave it off and have basically been like this ever since.

What were reactions like when you first took it all off?

I thought "Yeah why not? I can do this". I kind of suit having no hair so it was a blessing really, and I looked at my pillow and felt happier I couldn't see my hair anymore laying there after me. Plus I had a really chung girlfriend at the time, so I was feeling pretty confident with myself. 

How did you know it would look alright all off? That's a risk. Did you practice?

Nah, I never practiced. I think we were just very in love and she genuinely thought I was attractive for some reason even though I was heavily punching above my weight.

What about your family? What did they think?

My mum said I looked like a skinned rabbit. She still does. I was just like "Mum, for fuck's sake, I can't grow my hair any longer than this." 

Ever wish you'd held on?

Nah, fuck it. I've never had to worry about my hair once for 13 years so it's bless actually. It saves me loads of time and now I got a vibe going where my hair suits me I think.

How would you describe this vibe?

I think what it is is that the older I get the less I care about my looks or maybe am more at ease with myself. I'm not the chungest guy in the world and I'm comfortable with that now, I still manage to get with attractive girls but I just rely on my lols rather than anything else.

Illustration: Tristan Cross

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