herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

The bald facts of life

Hair loss is about much more than a retreating hairline -- your identity and self-esteem are affected, too, writes Patrick Strudwick

Hello scalp. Happy now? You get all the attention since my hair left. You're the first thing anyone notices about me. You have taken pride of place above my neck like an award I never won. You shine. I despise you.

Not only am I bald -- aged 33 -- I'm also a big, fat liar. Years ago I wrote an article entitled Why I Love Being Bald. If ever there was an example of protesting too much then this was it. "It's so low maintenance!" I squealed. "People compliment me on the shape of my head! Imagine!"

I've been deluding myself thus for a decade -- ever since my hairline started retreating like an interrupted burglar. But now, I'm coming clean: I hate being bald. It has robbed me of my identity. For years I have had to watch impotently as my follicle crop slowly failed. And, as hard as it is to admit, it has left me feeling just a little bit ugly.

My hair was my most identifiable feature. I had a blond afro -- a huge halo of flaxen fuzz. In just a few years I went from being "the one with the big blond curls" -- oh those curls, cascading jauntily down my face -- to "that bald guy". Where once I turned heads, now people turn away. My self-esteem has been slapped by my own slap head. I've been single for three-and-a-half years.

It's no wonder I feel less attractive. Last week, a survey of 1,000 women found that a quarter of them wouldn't date a bald man. Mark Rowlands (36), who works for an airline, says: "Some people just aren't interested in me because I don't have hair. It gets to me. It's affected my self-esteem." He has been single for five years.

There are, for example, very few occasions where Jude Law is deserving of pity. But for years picture editors have blown up photos of his widow's peak to enable venomous hacks to scoff and point. ("He might be a rich, gorgeous movie star who can have whoever he wants but look -- scalp! Los-er!") There are many valid reasons to dislike Jude Law (bedding the nanny, being unerringly pleased with himself, Alfie), but having the genetic predisposition to male-pattern baldness is not one of them.

But woe betide any man who speaks out about their affliction. Men are not allowed such insecurities, let alone to express them. The balding men I spoke to revealed the immense sense of loss they felt.

"I used to have big, thick hair," says Chris Bowden, a 42-year-old delivery driver, wistfully. "But then when I was 22 it started falling out. I really miss it. I miss being able to spend hours in front of the mirror playing with it. I went to a school reunion recently and people didn't even recognise me."

Other people's unsympathetic reactions exacerbate this loss. "The worst aspect of going bald was all the ribbing I got from my friends," says Dean (35), a production manager. (He didn't want me to mention his surname, such is the sense of shame baldness engenders).

"Dealing with a client who is unhappy about going bald can involve exploring real feelings of grief," says Dominic Davies, a psychotherapist. "It can come as a huge shock to people, particularly if it happens in their 20s, as there's so much emphasis on looks. Ultimately, it's about helping the client to change their attitude towards it."

Telecommunications worker Michael Careen (26) is about to have a second transplant to replace hair that have been lost since his first treatment, two years ago. "A lot of people tell me they find me more attractive now," he says. "But I think that's also because of the boost in confidence it's given me. I'm much happier now."

Public figures who get caught in the pursuit of the hirsute don't have such an easy ride. Elton John's "rug" has had almost as many column inches as his musical brilliance. Last week, one tabloid sneered at Tom Jones's apparent cosmetic intervention:

"His once receding hairline appears to have been transformed into a full thick mop, sparking speculation that he's had a hair transplant."

Dr Christian Jessen, the presenter of Channel 4's Embarrassing Bodies was "busted" earlier this year by a paper for having "an embarrassing issue of his own -- he has had a secret hair transplant".

"I've always had a problem with my hairline," Jessen said later. So, even a doctor with a bodybuilder's physique felt sufficiently inadequate to have treatment. Recently, the writer Toby Young said that even after 25 years of baldness he still hadn't got used to it.

I hope I can learn to love my own exposed scalp. In the meantime, I cling to the positives. There was the beautiful Argentine who slept with me purely to indulge a bald man fetish. There's the money one saves -- no shampoo, no hairdressers, no extra-fortified styling gunk. What else? Ah yes. There was the time three years ago when I was lying in a hospital bed and I heard the doctor tell me, "We've found a tumour in your large intestine," and my first thought was not, "I'm going to die," but, "At least I've already lost my sodding hair."

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