The Bald Truth: how hair loss is more traumatic than you think

Lifestyle | Beauty

The Bald Truth: how hair loss is more traumatic than you think

As Stuart Heritage confronts his own thinning pate, his new book lifts the lid on why men lose much more than hair when going bald

Truth counts for nothing when it comes to baldness, because baldness stinks. Being bald stinks. Going bald stinks. Knowing that you might one day go bald stinks. The whole thing, from start to finish, whichever way you look at it, stinks all the way to high heaven. It is awful. If you happen to be going through it at the moment, I truly feel for you.

I recently got word of a study that itemises all the ways in which hair loss impacts people, and it’s heartbreaking. Bald or balding men, it says, no longer enjoy being photographed. Their social life has suffered. They avoid mirrors. Their dating life has crumbled beyond all recognition. They’d rather save for hair-loss treatments than a pension or a mortgage. In some extreme cases, they claim to have lost their job, or been broken up with, or even experienced panic attacks just because they happened to be losing their hair.

There’s evidence that this insecurity is somewhat justified, too. In 2000, German researchers sent out a fleet of CVs to prospective employers, all with photos attached. In some, the would-be jobseekers had full heads of hair. In others, their appearance had been photoshopped to make them look bald. With crushing inevitability, despite their identical professional experiences, the fully-haired candidates were picked for an interview far more often than their bald counterparts.

With crushing inevitability the fully-haired candidates were picked for an interview far more often than their bald counterparts

The same goes for love. In 2021, Canadian researchers sat a group of women down and asked them to describe the personalities and traits of several men, some of whom had hair and some of whom did not. Again, the bald men were generally judged to be less successful and friendly than those with hair. It’s little wonder that, in a 2022 survey of bald and balding men, three-quarters of respondents claimed to have experienced less luck than their hairier friends when it came to dating.

Hair might be biologically useless but it’s still a sign of youth and vigour in a society that prizes youth and vigour over almost everything. Someone with hair can, if they wish, change their entire personality in an instant. In the space of a few minutes, armed with nothing but a brush and some scissors, they can completely alter the information that they put out into the world about themselves. Are they serious? Sensitive? Really into perms? Hair can tell people that instantly. This does not apply to the bald. Once you become bald, you only have one personality open to you, and that is ‘man with scalp’. If baldness is a sign of anything, it is a sign that you have become less capable of change. It demonstrates that everything will be the same for us, every single day, until we die. Unless of course we go crazy and start experimenting with beards.

Anyway, no wonder our self-confidence is shot. Listen, nobody chooses to be bald. Nobody wakes up in the morning praying that a genetic abnormality will rob them of their hair. Nobody wants to know, deep in their heart, that the first thought that will cross the mind of every single person they will ever meet for the rest of their life is: ‘Oh, bald.’ Nobody wants to look in the mirror and be confronted with an absence. Nobody gains any comfort from having a slightly better idea of what their skeleton looks like.

Once you become bald, you only have one personality open to you, and that is ‘man with scalp’

And all this fuss is just about hair. Stupid hair. The planet is brimming with catastrophes far more serious than hair. If a genie suddenly appeared and offered us the choice between baldness or illness, or baldness or the loss of a loved one, or baldness or any number of the infinite real-world horrors that we experience on a daily basis, only the most aggressively vain psychopath would ever choose to get their hair back.

Going back to that very first study, it turns out that one of the biggest impacts that baldness can have on people is loneliness. Almost a quarter of people who took part felt as if they had nobody to talk to about their hair loss. There’s still a big taboo when it comes to conversations about baldness. And, again, that’s because we’re men. We’ve been conditioned to stomp our feelings down into an indistinct mush lest someone accidentally mistakes us for a child or a woman. Going bald might make us feel bad, but we’re not expected to actually tell anyone that it does, because that isn’t what men do.

Well, that ends today. We have found each other now and together we can try to reframe our perception of what baldness is. It’s easy for a bald man to look at himself and only see compromise; a person whose greatest achievement from this point onwards will be the ability to live comfortably with his flaws. But maybe it doesn’t need to be that way. There have to be some advantages to being bald. Right? Anyone?

‘Bald: How I Slowly Learned to Not Hate Having No Hair (and You Can Too)’, by Stuart Heritage, £12 (Profile)