Once, during my late twenties, when I was going bald, a blond my age asked, “What’s it like to go bald? If you don’t mind my asking…” I didn’t mind, as we feminists appreciate our real bodies, but I was slow to talk about myself—the conversation moved right along. Essays are easier.
Losing hair? It’s a loss. As with many losses, “I never thought it would happen to me.” Even though I had a bald uncle, on my mother’s side. Since my friend’s question, down the years, all five boys in my family have gone totally or mostly bald. But I was first. Baldness snuck up on me; we males typically don’t pay much attention to our looks. In department stores I just grab clothes to buy, rather than twisting back and forth at a three-way mirror. I never saw the back of my head.
And so when I got a tender head one summer, like a bruised apple, I figured it was just a coincidence, a little mystery. Nope, my hair was thinning—it was sunburn. One day, at a fashion mirror, I said, “Oh…” and I clued in… That summer, when punk rock was in fashion, I joked in the bar at how, being a rather uptight ex-army guy, I wasn’t ready to dye my hair punky blue, adding, “By the time I do get up my nerve, it will be too late!” A couple years later my platoon had a ten-year reunion, and when my rough old sergeant entered the room—I was standing near the door—the first thing he said was, “Good, someone with less hair than me.” I’m still laughing to tell that line.
I am who I am. Forget wigs, toupees or hair regeneration schemes. No comb-overs. In fact, as part of becoming less uptight, I went to a gay hairstylist—everyone knows they’re the best! And got a nice self-accepting hairstyle. Without using any brylcream, by the way: Gays have these really neat hair gels. Who knew?
As the feminists have noted, society can send so many body images at us that at last it can amount to a form of brainwashing. I guess two ways to counter such conditioning are to keep your eyes open to the real world, and keep your sense of humor. I remember standing in a mall checkout line, at a big box store, with a friend and observing, “It must hard for couch potatoes who stay at home watching too much TV. They finally get out to the mall, and then—they find everybody looks so plain.” A lady next in line burst out laughing.
Being observant can save money. One day, with a big bonus burning in my wallet, I found myself eyeing the large posters of male models. Maybe, I thought with longing, I should grow up, ditch my Big Bang Theory wardrobe and finally dress like an adult: A cool, exotic adult, drawn to neon lights and fashion models, doing not supper but “dinner,” during warm dark evenings where there is no chance of a white prairie blizzard. As it happens, standing by the posters that day, I was indeed on the lonesome prairie, inside the biggest mall in the whole time zone: the West Edmonton Mall. And when I thoughtfully walked away from the posters, walking up and down the great mall, although I’m usually oblivious to how other men dress, I had to admit: No one had clothes from Rome or East London. Well, I saved my money that day—bazzinga!
Meanwhile, going bald, I keep getting messages that something has been lost in my life. Now I know: I’ll never be Hollywood’s leading man or lead cop or wear a costume in the Avengers. Well, maybe I can be Agent Coulson, he of the receding hairline. And I will never get out the words, “My favorite Starship captain is—” without some one gleefully finishing “—Captain Picard!”
Now I know what it must be like to lose the tip of one’s baby finger: it would be a lingering psychological loss, make no mistake.
A non-feminist, not feeling any need to “consciousness raise” about our silly, frilly culture, might ask me if I feel dumb being bald. Nope, not me. Besides, just as the average man self-reports being an above-average driver, I can report that I’m “an above averagely handsome fellow—” If only I had a mustache to twirl! With due respect to Hollywood, and to silly signals from our culture, I have become conscious of looking like so many real people in the real world: I appear like my fine uncle, like a confident Julius Caesar… and like a future Agent Coulson.
Enjoying gorgeous real people,
In plain real life
On the Great Plains
In a snowy December of 2013