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bald hair loss
Robert Kazandijan

How to cope with going bald before you’re ready to

Four people muse on the experience of hair loss and what can be done about it

Have you heard the story about Elisha and the Two bears? Well, Elisha was on his way to Bethel. Two boys bumped into him on the road and rinsed him for being bald. “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead,” they said. Elisha wasn’t having that. He cursed those boys in the name of the Lord. Two female bears came out of the woods and slaughtered the boys, plus another 40 of their pals for good measure. The story appears in The Book of Kings, and what it tells us is even the prophets of The Old Testament were salty about losing their hair.

Fast forward a couple millennia and there I was, in my twenties, with my hairline running away like it’d stolen money from my eyebrows. Before then, I guess I’d been in denial about the inevitable demise of my hair. My dad is bald. He was once the centre of my universe, so I assumed all boys grew up to be big, strong men with shiny domes. When I clocked that wasn’t the case, I pushed thoughts about thinning hair to the recesses of my mind. 

My little bro, two years my junior, with long, thick Sampson-like locks, became convinced he was losing his hair at 17. It seemed laughable to me but he was devastated. He got proactive real quick, splashed the cash on miracle shampoos and laser combs, and made appointments with trichologists. He jumped on a routine of applying Minoxidil, a topical solution, to his scalp and taking Finasteride. These are the two most widely available ‘treatments’ for male-pattern baldness; Minoxidil encourages blood-flow to hair follicles while Finasteride blocks the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, the hormone that turns our precious hair against us. With both of these, the catch is that when you stop using them, the benefits are reversed, which helps explain why globally men spend £2.7 billion on baldness cures. Oh yeah, and Finasteride might stop your dick from working. 

A fair chunk of that £2.7 billion is spent on hair transplants, by those stacking paper-like Premier League footballers. Chucking a few thousand pounds at a surgeon who can perform follicular unit transplantation, where strips of skin are removed from the back of the head and healthy follicles harvested, or follicular unit excision, where individual hair follicles are transplanted, is your best bet. If you watch ‘Match of the Day’ you’ll know results may vary, but Andros Townsend’s hair transplant is the best I’ve ever seen.

My little brother is 31 now, and still has an impressive mane. He stopped using hair-loss ‘treatments’ in his mid-20s and should’ve blessed me with all the money he spent instead, as my hair was clearly on the way out. I made an appointment with The Belgravia Centre, a slick hair-loss clinic in Victoria, which in retrospect played out like a scene from Black Mirror or Maniac, where an unfathomably beautiful woman in a pristine lab coat reassured me that my future could be hairy, before presenting me with an unfathomably steep price list. I puked a bit in my mouth and left, resigned to my fate. 

The process was a gradual one. I didn’t actually shave my head until my 31st birthday, when my weak and wispy barnet had become too much of a burden. Before then, I’d adopted a ‘Peaky Blinders’ style trim, what Julius Caesar termed ‘Illusion Styling’ before he linked Cleopatra, to accentuate the hair I did have. I slapped on plenty of product to safeguard against the cruellest enemy of many a balding man, the wind. And I did my utmost to spin out ‘Beanie and Beard Season’ for as long as possible.

Hurtful banter is one of the great ways cis-het men express affection towards one another, so plenty of my friends and colleagues enjoyed rinsing me for the declining state of my head-top. The lads, lads, lads might view everything as fair game when it comes to taking the piss, but it’s now widely acknowledged that hair-loss can have a severe impact on psychological well-being and in some cases, trigger body dysmorphia. I work in education, and when one the children bopped up to me in the lunch-hall and simply asked, “Mr K, why you lil bit bald?” I decided enough was enough. 

I hoped I might find shaving my head liberating, but I didn’t. I’ve struggled with my mental health to varying degrees since I was a teenager. Losing my hair gave me another reason to hate myself. My wellbeing has taken a steep downturn in the last couple of years. It’s reasonable to say going bald has been one of the many factors contributing to this. A lot of my depression and anxiety revolves around death, and losing my hair is a constant reminder of my mortality. 

“Losing my hair gave me another reason to hate myself. My wellbeing has taken a steep downturn in the last couple of years. It’s reasonable to say going bald has been one of the many factors contributing to this. Losing my hair is a constant reminder of my mortality”

A positive aspect about going bald is I am definitely not alone in my struggles. The process affects 6.5 million men in the UK, up to 30 per cent of 30-year-old men and 50 per cent of 50-year-old men. I spoke to my fellow ‘Bald Gang’ members, Tom and Jesse about their experiences.

Tom started losing his hair when he was 16. “I used to have long black hair but I started noticing it more and more on my pillow and I became a bit obsessive about it, so I shaved it all off.” I rate Tom for his decisiveness. He actually enjoys repping ‘Bald Gang’ because he’s never had to care about his hair throughout his adult life. “I’m actually really grateful for Jason Statham because he fully normalised being bald, hench, and chung. I just love bald, famous guys because they have a faint ridiculousness about them but they’re also like semi hard-men at the same time. I can relate to that a lot.”

Tom and I play for the same football team. He is double hard. In a recent game, I smashed someone in a tackle, knackered myself and then came off. Tom replaced me. He flattened the same poor bloke, who shot up furiously and shouted, “You again! What’s your problem?” Has my identity been reduced to an interchangeable bald, bearded guy? 

Jesse can relate. “The number one bald life struggle is mistaken identity, for sure.” He finds it annoying being compared to Freddie Gibbs and Mahershala Ali. If we’re keeping it real, that’s way more appealing than being compared to Phil and Grant Mitchell. “I didn’t dwell on it when I first noticed at 23. One day I just shaved my head bald and haven’t looked back. Now I’m like Tupac, picture me rolling in a whip, singing India Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair”. I’d even say I feel sexier bald.”

While I’ve never had to consider the political implications of my hair, or lack of, Jesse has. “Hair is political in the sense that we’re often taught from young that it needs to be tamed in some way, usually in the form of a skin fade or one all over. I can say that hair-loss and baldness has freed me from ever having to think about how my hair’s perceived.”

I guess it’s tempting to buy into the myth that being bald is symbolic of this powerful, super virile, turbo-testosterone fuelled manliness. That’s definitely an idea that my dad used to bat away any questions about his baldness when I was a boy. “It means I’m a real man,” he’d claim, before challenging me and my little bro to an arm wrestle. But is that idea helpful if you’re trying to unpick the toxic masculinity that has impacted so dreadfully on your general wellbeing?

Writer, speaker, and editor of Fruitcake magazine, Jamie Windust offered me a radically different perspective on ‘Bald Gang’ membership. Their decision to shave their head was partly to see whether they would feel comfortable in their femininity with a hairstyle that could be perceived as masculine. “It actually allowed me to explore my femininity more and align myself with that essence of being non-binary, of being able to know there aren’t any rules with it and know that we aren’t bound by stereotypes. It allowed me to continue to give less care to what other people thought, definitely a tool for empowerment.” Like Tom and Jesse, Jamie enjoys the freedom of a shaved head. 

I’m now two years deep into bald life. I’m not at peace with my reflection and feel a sense of doom every time I step in front of the mirror to shave my head, before the regrowth reveals what I’ve lost. But in that time I’ve also accepted my issues run deeper than my scalp and I’m in the process of confronting what lies beneath. And if that fails, I’ll put on The Transporter.