I’ve been a member of AANR (you can join at age 50) for more years than I’d like to admit. In that time I’ve seen any number of ads and sales pitches aimed at old people. One day it occurred to me that there was a form of discrimination out there that I hadn’t noticed before. The victims are bald men.
Now I’m not personally offended, even though I’m bald. Sure, it would be nice to have a full head of hair, as I did in my 20s, just as it would have been nice to have enjoyed the financial assets I have now when I was that age. Every age of man has its pluses and minuses.
Still, I can’t help but notice that when mature men are portrayed in ads, grey, silver, or white hair is acceptable. Bald heads are not, even though 50% of men will display androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness) by age 50. In a nation where every conceivable demographic is demanding equity, bald men are the exception. Need I point out the irony that our national symbol is bald? Also endangered, which could have even more metaphorical significance.
Needless to say, discrimination against bald men (or should I say people experiencing baldness) is just that: discrimination against men. Some women may have thinning hair as they age but baldness is exceedingly rare.
Of course, a woman with long, lustrous hair is the stuff not just of advertising art but fine art. It is no secret among women that healthy hair and lots of it is a key element when it comes to attracting the opposite sex. I think that was pretty much the case up till the 1920s when women began bobbing their hair. Rapunzel would have been hopelessly out of place in the Jazz Age. Since then all sorts of strange, unnatural hairdos (a beehive, seriously?) have passed in and out of fashion. And don’t get me started on purple/green/blue hair.
Men’s hairstyles are not as important since men are primarily prized for what they can do or provide, not for how they look. The dandy, the fop, the peacock, and the pretty boy have long been objects of scorn by men of substance. Any man who spends as much time and effort on his appearance as a woman is suspect in the eyes of his peers. For working class men, long hair can be a nuisance – and possibly dangerous around heavy machinery.
As for you men who tie up your long hair into a man bun…you are no more a samurai than was John Belushi in one of his Samurai Night Fever skits. OK for cosplay or Halloween but not as a regular look. And ponytails…they were once the province of teenage girls. Need I say more?
When young men began to wear their hair long in the 1960s, it was mostly men, not women, who criticized it. Had teenage girls expressed distaste for long hair on their male counterparts, then long hair on young men would not have been a thing. Short hair was supposedly more masculine, possibly because of the military connotations. For the wayward adolescent, military school was a threat and sometimes a reality. In fact, judges often gave budding criminals a choice: go to jail or enlist in the army. It was implied if not expressed that the army would make a man out of you. It was a dubious assertion then and one not likely to be uttered today when we are experiencing a bumper crop of pronouns, a testosterone drought, and a paucity of enlistees.
The military aside, it’s hard to see what short hair has to do with masculinity. What about all those centuries-old paintings of long-haired, grim-faced European men in museums? Do those guys look like soyboys to you? Granted, those elaborate ruffled collars are rather sissified.
Those 18th century guys with the powdered wigs were a bit suspect also. Someone should tell those jurists in the UK that it’s time to relegate those hairpieces to the dustbin of history or a compost heap, whichever is more convenient. How can a litigant in those countries have any confidence in jurisprudence when the presiding judge has a carpet remnant on his head? He’s like something out of a Monty Python sketch…the minister of silly wigs.
Of course, when it comes to hairstyles, the World War II generation had few options. Was veterans’ distaste at the idea of long-haired young men based on ideals of masculinity, or were they just envious that they never had the opportunity to sport a leonine head of hair? By the 1960s it was too late for the middle-aged baldies.
A good head of hair does count for something. It certainly helps if you are running for public office. You can get away with vapidity if you have good hair. Hair is much like height. The more a man has, the more alpha he appears – even if he is a dolt otherwise. If you are a chrome-dome candidate you’d better do your homework on the issues and brush up on your oratory skills.
Now I don’t necessarily blame the advertising folks for eschewing bald men. Models are supposed to be attractive and at any age a full head of hair is much more attractive than an incomplete head of hair. I think it’s been that way at least since the time of Samson (c. 1200 B.C.). Even in his case, his hair was prized not so much for its appearance but because it endowed him with great strength. It was more a symbol of virility and vitality than an aesthetic statement. It might have given Delilah pleasure to run her fingers through his luxuriant locks but that was nothing compared to the buzz she got when she emasculated him with a buzz cut.
Now baldness is not the worst fate that can befall a man, though there are a couple of drawbacks, albeit mild. When a man is young, he may not appreciate how hair protects the scalp from sunburn. Also, it provides a modicum of protection when you bump your head. A hat offers protection against both, however, so the physical drawbacks of baldness are easily overcome. The psychological drawbacks are another story.
One case in point was Curly of the Three Stooges. His nickname was in opposition to his boot-camp haircut. In reality, he had sported a rich crop of chestnut-colored hair before he joined the act. When he looked in a mirror and saw his sandpaper noggin, he got depressed. He felt his sex appeal was nil but his haircut was part and parcel of his comic persona (and his paychecks). He was indeed a victim of “coicumstances.”
Yet today a man who totally shaves his head is often considered a bad ass. How many movie villains, professional wrestlers, security guards, and bouncers have exploited that look? A man with both a shaved head and a beard has a demonic demeanor. Exhibit A is the renowned Satanist Anton LaVey.
Why does a shaved head make a man look more dominant? A bald pate with a ring of hair from ear to ear around the back of the head is a more natural look but it reeks of beta maleness, unless you’re a monk. Even worse is a man with a bald pate who lets his hair grow long in the back. That is downright creepy. Aging rock stars, take note.
It seems one must have a full head of hair or a totally shaved head to be considered sexy. There is no middle ground. A dome covered in peach fuzz is arguably worse than baldness. You might get by with a receding hairline if you maintain a prominent widow’s peak. Call it the vampire look. The chicks dig it – at least in horror movies.
Of course, if you are a billionaire, you need not worry about what’s under your chapeau. Worn at a jaunty angle, a yachting cap goes a long way towards camouflaging baldness. Especially while greeting guests as you stroll the deck on your yacht.
But for the average joe who is going bald, there is little hope. Forget about toupees. There is no bigger butt of jokes than a man with a bad hairpiece. Still, you cannot help but notice that hair transplants work for some. If you look at old videos of Joe Biden and note his bad comb-overs and then look at him today, there’s no doubt he has had hair plugs. Any number of movie stars (e.g., John Wayne and Burt Reynolds) have done likewise. But if you’re living from paycheck to paycheck, hair plugs are probably beyond your means.
If it matters that much to you and you are middle class and can put some money aside, you might be able to afford hair plugs. My uncle did this. It didn’t look bad. If you didn’t know he’d had some work done, you wouldn’t notice anything unnatural. But to anyone who knew him, the difference was obvious. His excuse was he worked with younger men and didn’t want to be at a disadvantage. Corporations are always looking for an excuse to clear out dead wood, but growing old is not necessarily a death sentence in the workplace as long as you don’t look or act old. You can take pain medication for your arthritis. You can wear a diaper for incontinence. You can get stoked on caffeine to counteract flagging energy levels. Just don’t look old. It reminds younger colleagues of their mortality. Your presence should not be a bummer.
If one could blame baldness on capitalism or the class struggle or racism, life would be so much easier for the non-hirsute. It is difficult to attribute your baldness to oppression when everyone knows that genetics is usually the cause. I guess you could blame it on your parents but it’s not as though they deliberately passed on toxic genes to you. And if your parents had decided against bringing into the world a child who would likely suffer the stigma of baldness, you wouldn’t be here. So you can’t blame your baldness on anyone. Baldness is a male thing, and you know what that means: man up and deal with it. The rare woman afflicted with baldness can get by with a wig and no one will make fun of her.
So what’s the answer to discrimination against bald men? Safe spaces? A political action committee? Reparations? Demonstrators super-gluing themselves to barber poles? Frankly, I don’t know.
Now there may come a time in the future when medicine will have some sort of a remedy (gene therapy?) for baldness. If it is affordable, then perhaps one day bald men will be no more.
In the meantime, we must do all we can to make the world safe for baldness.
Bald Lives Matter! But don’t turn that into an acronym. Too much potential for confusion. The Bureau of Land Management might take offense.