Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Hair Is Wasted On The Hairful

As soon as I noticed I was going bald, I took the only sensible action and shaved my head. How could I not? Growing up, I grimaced at the sight of my father’s ill-advised comb over. I swore I would not make the same mistake. I love the man dearly, but I'm scarred by the image of his few scraggly hairs flopping in the wind like a dying fish. I always wondered who my dad thought he was fooling. It’s not as if anyone would look at him and think he had a full head of hair. Eventually he let go and got a buzz cut—only because of an insistent barber and a dose of the truth. To this day, he insists that it didn’t look that bad.

Recently at lunch, I complimented him on his latest trip to the barber.

"I was looking at my wedding photos. Matt, I forgot what it was like when I had hair," he said.

"But even then, you really didn’t have hair, Dad," I said.

"It was something, though," he said.

"More like nothing," I said.

If youth is wasted on the young, then hair is definitely wasted on everyone who isn’t bald. Fortunately, I wasn’t one of those poor saps who started losing his hair in high school or college. Back then I had a mane so thick my scalp would hurt when I put a brush through it. I even used mousse on occasion, which left its bottle as a liquid and then miraculously transformed into a mass in my hand. I can even remember how it smelled, perfumed and syrupy sweet. It left my hands sticky after a generous application. I didn’t realize it would be a love affair that would end.

There are so many things I would have done differently had I realized I would be bald by 30. There are so many hair styles I never got to experience that I wished I had: mohawks, dreadlocks, perms, mullets. All hair fantasies involve music from the 80s and me strutting through a crowd pointing at imaginary fans, letting them know that I see them and I know they see me and my awesome hair.

And when I first began to lose my hair, I thought it was an optical illusion. I found out when I started teaching fifth-graders. My colleague Ms. Cannon inspected me one day. "Mr. Borden, you’re going bald," she said. "You have a big space on the back of your head." I appreciated Ms. Cannon because she was a straight talker, even though she could hurt your feelings while she was keeping it real. What could I say? She was right. Eventually I came to face my reality and got what the kids called a "baldie." All my hair was shaved, and my days of using hair products were officially over.

This hairless reality has not been reflected in my dreams. They all follow the same script: I am in a dimly lit bathroom, staring at myself in a mirror. I glance at my head and gasp in amazement upon seeing myself with a full head of hair. Instantaneously, I realize that my baldness phase had been an enormous misunderstanding… with myself. I was preventing myself from having hair with my insistence on shaving my head. What a fool. If I just stopped shaving my head it would all come back. Then I wake up.

I told my wife about my recurring dream and she laughed. Then she kissed my scalp. "I love you just the way you are," she said. Maybe. But how much more would she would love me if I had hair?

In some ways I do feel responsible for my plight. In my carefree hair days, I mocked my friend Hirsch who used a shampoo in his 20s to stymie his loss. I laughed at my friend Eeyore, who fastidiously shaved his head every other day to deal with his receding hairline. My mother’s father had hair until he died, and so I believed I was to be promised the same fate. I thought my destiny was to be a silver fox, a John Slattery. But the only thing that has turned gray is my beard. That just makes me feel even older.

The hair I have left is a problem now, actually. My eyebrows are going through a difficult time. Stray hairs shoot out from all directions like a child’s drawing of sun. I am grimly aware that it is only a matter of time until these furry caterpillars blossom, not into beautiful butterflies, but into shaggy beasts that will live for eternity beneath my temple and mock me as they softly chant, "You are getting old." Shut up, eyebrows.

But what is it about going bald that is so frightening to so many? What goes through the minds of those who think they are fooling the world with a bad comb-over? I resent and feel empathy, in equal measure, for these men who want to be a member of a club that doesn’t even acknowledge their existence. It’s not as though anyone with a great head of hair sees a man with a comb-over and asks him for the name of his barber. I want to start a website, Just Shave It Dot Com, which would consist only of pictures of men with bad comb overs. I will point them out and humiliate them until they come to their senses. Tough love from one bald man to another. A hairless revolution is brewing, and I am on the front lines. Bald can be virile—just ask Jason Statham, Vin Diesel, Taye Diggs, or Patrick Stewart. Bald can be bold. I choose to be bald, rather than suffer the indignity of balding. Just Shave It. Keep your dignity.

And to all those who have hair, I implore you to treasure it. Regardless of your weight, height, or looks, there will always be a bald man somewhere out there, staring longingly at your hair, wishing he could be you. It might even be me. Although I have come to grips with the fact that I am bald, a part of me will always hope for the impossible. Recently, I received an email from a local athletic store, promoting a new study that purported to show a connection between barefoot running and hair growth. My heart started beating rapidly as I imagined my new exercise regime. It wasn’t until I reached the third paragraph that it became apparent that it was an April Fool’s Day joke. In addition to being virile, apparently bald men can be suckers too.

Matt Borden is a writer in Brooklyn and is in no way connected or affiliated with Matty B Raps Dot Com. Photo of a painting of Charles-Louis Regnault and his startling comb over, c. 1815, by Karen Green.

14 Comments / Post A Comment

shostakobitch (#1,692)

I feel like this should have been posted on The Hairpin.

j.a.b. (#241,133)

@shostakobitch if it had been, there would surely be a much livelier comment thread

Kjle Risch (#3,504)

@j.a.b. I wanted to say something snarky, like that I had no idea that men who shave their hair are bald, but I won't. Because brother's gotta stick together.

j.a.b. (#241,133)

@Kjle Risch it's taking just about all of my self control to prevent a full-scale baldness-anxiety-triggered existential meltdown over here.

i'm very curious how the authors came across the distressingly appropriate image.

Drawn7979 (#242,134)

haha good idea.

GiovanniGF (#224)

I had been shaving my head for a couple of years when I met a girl who asked me to grow my hair back out. That's when I found out I had gone bald in those two years. I now regret not having enjoyed what little time I had left with my hair.

Barry Grant (#239,287)

This may be the first post I've read on the Awl that was about a man's issue as such.

I decided to grow mine out again when I could no longer ignore the spreading peninsulae of bare flesh on top of my head. Thought I'd give it one last shot, remembering my flowing locks from high school days. It looks and feels great to me, but there's really no comparison to my lost glory. I still feel kind baldy.

Oh well.

edgeworth (#8,867)

"But the only thing that has turned gray is my beard. That just makes me feel even older."

At least you have that, and at least you can shave your head. I can't grow a beard for shit and I'm way too skinny to shave my head. My deepest fear is that down the line I'll go bald like all my male relatives, but unlike them, I won't be able to pull off the Walter White look.

gregorg (#30)

I'm always wishing I'd get around to making some cards I could hand out that say, "Rethink the hair."

In 5 years the ironic comb-over will be the most sought-after men's hair-do from Kreuzberg to Kent Ave.

davidwatts (#72)

Am I going to be the first person to bring up that there are a few (extremely effective, I hear) products that manage this very situation? And that they aren't even really that expensive, if you think about how much having hair might be worth to a hypothetical person? Seems that I am.

fried mars bar (#3,055)

@davidwatts Are there? My understanding was that Rogaine is effective at preventing hair loss, but nothing will bring back hair you've already lost.

LondonLee (#922)

I'm 50 and still have a full head of hair. Thick, wavy, brown hair.

But I'm probably terrible in bed.

amyjoken (#243,730)

You know who appreciated his hair while he had it? Peter Frampton. There's a man who made the most of it.

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