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Male Pattern Baldness Isn't Your Punchline

Murray Clark
·6-min read
Photo credit: Godruma
Photo credit: Godruma

From Esquire

"There's amazing things you can do now, we have a client who uses these adhesive wigs. You should try it."

I looked up into the reflection of the mirror, brow knotted, unsure quite what I'm being told. "Oh, it doesn't look like a wig," the barber, a stranger who had replaced My Usual Guy, quickly pivoted. I'd come in, asking for the standard grade zero buzz: a necessary, weekly bit of self-care in which I've indulged ever since I started losing my hair at 25. I could have held on for a couple more years, they said. I could go a bit shorter, see how I like it. But no. Go out with a bang, I say. Dignity, too. After staring long and hard at myself for years – bending my neck into impossible angles, mentally calculating recession rates like some follicular glaciologist – I was finally at peace with the fact I was losing my hair. But it took me a long time to get there. I didn't need a stranger hard-selling me a toupee.

Back in BC (the time which we'll refer to as 'before cut'), I always had a suspicion that I'd lose my hair. My dad, the biggest Yorkshire geezer one could ever hope to meet, carried his own baldness with a blend of excessive confidence and slight menace that's so often unique to men in the provinces. I laugh like my dad, but I don't slap people on the back in greeting with plate-sized hands. I was unsure whether I could pull off his lack-of-hairstyle, either.

I lived in fear. My morning would begin with strange, ritual-like ablutions. Tonics labelled with promises as empty as my optimism were driven into an anxious scalp. I eyed the plughole like it was one of Fagin's urchins. I would rinse my hair again, then again, then again; sure that my hair's slow moving abduction could be reasoned by its dryness and dandruff. Google, almost daily, refused to make this connection: 'Seborrheic dermatitis generally doesn't cause hair loss'. I refused to listen to Google.

The world's most villainous search engine was correct. I was, sadly, just going bald – and it's a fear most (if not all) men have. Male pattern baldness is the result of hormonal changes, in which hair follicles shrink upon each growth cycle. It's usually hereditary, affects the vast majority of men in some way, and yet, for some reason, is still ripe material for jokes and comments and observations. To men with their self-confidence in the gutter – and believe it when I say some men really are crushed by baldness – a seemingly innocuous joke is akin to poking fun at a fat person, or recommending a skin cream to someone with cystic acne, or imitating a lisp. All things that nice people just don't do.

And yet. Legion people I know of the highest order of decency have made those jokes at my expense. On dates: "I've never really fancied bald guys before" – a statement somewhat contradicted by the fact that we were on an actual date. On old photos: "Gosh, you were so handsome." I'm not a wheelchair-bound 102-year-old shouting at kids to get off my lawn, but the past tense stings. The worst, however: "God, I'd hate to be bald."

Photo credit: David M. Benett
Photo credit: David M. Benett

Because that's how we look at this. Baldness is undesirable, to be embarrassed about, to stave off. It is something that needs to be cured. The body positivity movement seemingly starts from the forehead down. But like stretch marks, and wrinkles, it is a natural thing. This happened back when we painted cave walls and died naturally at the age of 22. We're letting this be a Thing because we think it is a Thing: we are less handsome and less virile. Except we're not.

Granted, there are various remedies that have been scientifically proven to work. Minoxidil can help retain the hair you already have. Finasteride, once a treatment for enlarged prostate glands, has been shown to stimulate hair growth – though a small but not unnoticeable number of men have pointed to darker psychological side effects. And then there are hair transplants. They work well (if administered properly) but they're costly, and often only successful if repeat procedures are carried out. Which means more cost. Hurts like buggery, too. After a few weeks mulling it over, I decided against this grisly form of crop rotation. My old nemesis Google has a trove of photos; bleeding scalps, purpled by a scalpel that changes your entire head into a wheat field in the Ninth Circle of Hell. The landscape is temporary, but it's not one I want to visit.

I decided that there was no cure because we shouldn't need a cure. I'm bald, and while I have pangs of insecurity and doubt about my appearance, so do we all in these times of lockdown paunches and beautiful people who like to upload 10-second Instagram clips of themselves grinning in their bedroom mirrors. It's sad, but it is normal to not love yourself, no matter how many soap adverts tell us to do otherwise. So accept what you've got. Take the praise you get. A friend, deep in the midst of a post-party witching hour, rubbed my buzzed head with both hands, mmmm'ing like I was the heated seats of the Uber that'd no doubt collect her in an hour so. "This is so much better, keep it like this." Granted, this same friend loves Stanley Tucci. I will never be Stanley Tucci. But during a Saharan period of compliments, it was an oasis, and taught me that, yes, I did look alright. She might've had two bottles of merlot, but that's besides the point.

You will look OK, too. Without potions, lotions and a few thousand pounds, this is your lot. It's unfair, but only if you view it so. And for those still with a healthy head of Disney Prince curls: congratulations, you're one of the lucky ones. Know, however, that a fuller crown doesn't give you a soapbox for your opinions. If it is wanted, it will be asked for – just like the barber that innocently believed themselves to be a confidant for the man in the chair. "Nah, I think I'm good for a wig to be honest," I said, giving my best impression of dad: a man who genuinely couldn't care less about his baldness. I believed myself this time. Perhaps, I'm a little more like him these days.

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