The Psychological Menace of Hair Loss
I was 31, standing in the bathroom of my hotel room in Crete when I first noticed my hairline was changing. The former strong line of hairs, like the well kept edge of a forest on a Royal estate, had begun to look akin to the jutting edges of a wild wood.
It was subtle, but I could see it, the strip light above the mirror shining down upon the gaps that weren’t there only a week previously.
I’m now 41. Each day of the 10 years that have passed were stained with hair loss paranoia. Sometimes, it was all consuming, sometimes I barely acknowledged it, but it was always there, the quiet background hum of entropy, slowly eating up my hair follicles. If I concentrated hard enough I was sure I could feel it happening in real time.
Hair loss is the haunting menace that plagues and pursues men through their years.
Its quiet arrival is never felt at first, until that moment; a photo, the mirror, a friend with loose lips, the cold terror of realising your hair is changing, going, is under attack.
It comes with the first moments of feeling truly mortal. The clammy hand of Father Time resting upon the shoulder, the loss of something that was once there, never to return.
“Don’t worry about it!” They say.
“Your hair looks fine.” They crow.
Platitudes offered by well meaning friends and family that only seem to make things worse.
I end up bickering with the very people trying to quell my fears, feeling isolated that no-one acknowledged hair loss had its fangs in me.
But of course, hearing agreements about my claims would have been far worse.
A friend said to me that I’m only worrying about hair loss because I’m insecure, suggesting that only neurotic fools who require therapy would fret about losing their hair.
Yet the friend in question has no hair loss. Nor does he have any grey hair. These rare, fortunate men cannot fathom what it is like to lose something that has always been there, and so they take it for granted, and have the luxury to wax lyrical about coming to terms with a matter they themselves will never have to come to terms with.
I’ve grown obsessed with other men’s hairlines. I sneak looks at their scalps like others glance at cleavage. Receding. Thick. Perfect. Thinning. Widow’s peak. Combover. I take mental notes and compare their predicament with my own.
I’m at the stage where I’m relying on pots and potions to keep the hair in my head. They do say prevention is better than cure. Nixon thickening shampoos. Topical sprays. Hair texturisers. It costs a fair amount of money but if it slows down the rate of loss even slightly I believe it is a worthwhile investment.
I have a friend who went bald in his 20’s. I asked him recently how long it took to accept he had lost his hair. He looked forlorn and replied “You never really get over it.”
A couple of years ago, I was on a weekend break at Center Parcs, a woodland holiday village for families. The bedroom had angled mirrors and I noticed a bald spot on the back of my head. Subtle, small, but there.
The emotional disturbance caused by this revelation ruined the weekend for me. My gut churned and tightened at the thought of losing hair both at the front and back. A pincer movement set to rob me of confidence and to repel women.
I began to look at prominent bald men to see how they’ve handled it. At first I drifted to the finer specimens, Jason Stathem, Dwayne Johnson, Bruce Willis.
Then the eye slowly gets cast down the genetic line, to Patrick Stewart, Matt Lucas and the unfortunate looking Alain de Botton, perturbed that my fate too might lie in looking like a surprised potato.
I worry that my wife won’t love me if I have to cut my hair off. I’ve always been the guy with the hair, I don’t know who I am without it. You can keep in shape, keep your weight down, workout, work on yourself and work on your attitude. But no matter what, you cannot stop the hair falling out of your head if DNA permits it to do so.
I sometimes lie on my bed and hang my head over the edge, hoping the blood will stimulate the follicles to grow. I’ve tried handstands against the wall but it’s too taxing on the arms to remain in such a position for long.
And old photos. The past is always close behind, regurgitated by social media on anniversaries and birthdays. Always an opportunity to be reminded that your hair was thicker. Was darker. Was better.
I know everyone claims they look younger than their years, but for the longest time, I displayed very few hallmarks of ageing, though hair loss has changed that.
If you saw me in the street, you wouldn’t immediately think I’m losing hair. But a lingering look would be enough to notice a hairline that has acquiesced to time, and know me for long enough and you are likely to spot a thinning patch at my crown.
My hair is entering middle age even if I am not ready.
Then there is the magical panacea of a hair transplant. Balding and desperate men flock to Turkey to move follicles around their domes and are given pills to gobble up daily by cavalier doctors, pills that keep the hair in place but allegedly hamper sexual performance.
To me, this is less of a solution and more a Faustian pact. I want my hair back at a financial price, not a physical one.
And so I fall back upon the usual approaches of acceptance, gratitude, optimism.
I am grateful for all I have. I have upmost gratitude that the quality of my problems are trivial matters such as hair loss.
But I don’t believe this means acceptance must be thrust upon me. I am not yet ready to accept my hair is changing. And of course “changing” is just a euphemism for falling out of my head.
Surely we are granted the opportunity to grumble about such matters and still be able to feel joy for life?
Surely all men would chose to keep their hair if they were able to influence such matters?
Surely it is right and proper to acknowledge the disappointment of hair loss, rather than bury it in a landfill of positive thinking?
I truly hope so, because contradictory thoughts are part of being human. But mostly, I truly hope so because I’ve just committed this rambling lament to record.
If you enjoyed this walk through the existential quagmire of ageing, you might also enjoy this article.