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October 20, 2003

Male Pattern Denial

Recently I saw a picture of myself that changed my entire self-image. Normally seeing a picture of myself isn't all that big a deal. My family takes lots of pictures, so I'm constantly seeing myself in pictures (usually behind my daughter, the center of attention that she it) at various family get-togethers. What made this picture different is that it showed me from behind and slightly above. In other words, it showed the top back portion of my head. Specifically, it showed the back top portion of my scalp - because I apparently have very little hair back there. When did that happen??

It's no surprise to me that I'm one of the millions of men experiencing male pattern baldness. After all, I see myself in the mirror every day - I can see that my "face is growing". One thing that looking in a mirror does not show you is the top of your head, or the back of your head for that matter. So for years I had simply assumed that I was going a little thin on top but everything else was pretty much normal. Well, this one, dim, fuzzy picture quite effectively destroyed that delusion. Suddenly I saw how little hair I actually have up there. Quite a while back I had decided that if I lost any more hair that I would do the honourable thing and simply shave everything down to stubble. I did exactly that the following weekend.

Now I have an ultra-low maintenance hair style, I don't have to use shampoo, I'm a couple minutes quicker through the shower every day, I don't get hat hair or bed head, and I've had many compliments on the shape of my head. (Apparently, my head is a shape that is complementary to having extremely short hair. Go figure.) I need to trim my hair weekly, but it's something I can do by myself in about 5 minutes, instead of having to pay $20 at the salon (what the hell was I thinking?) or even $6 at First Choice every couple months. I'm saving pennies a day!

However, the entire experience has left me wondering. Friends, family, co-workers, strangers on the street - just about everyone but myself knew that I was going bald, and exactly to what extent I was bald. The question that immediately pops to mind is, "Why didn't anybody tell me I was so bald??"

Thinking back, I can remember only one person who dared even broach the subject with me. An ex-housemate offered to find out where her father bought his special shampoo and conditioner that is supposed to help stop hair loss. I forget exactly what I said, but I told her something along the lines that it wasn't necessary, as my hair wasn't thinning, I was just styling it differently. Oh, had I only listened to her.

The problem is, now that I think about it, even if someone did try to tell me what was going on with my scalp, I wouldn't have believed them. With 20/20 hindsight I can now see other times when I've seen the back of my head and how little hair there is back there, and each time I've conveniently blocked the extent of my baldness out of my consciousness. A few times when I've had my hair cut at my friend's salon she got out the big mirror to show me the back. I saw it then. In pictures taken just this summer of me swimming with my family it dramatically shows a dark wet band of hair hugging a light pink scalp. I saw it then too. Obviously, I just wasn't ready to admit that within five short years I had gone from having shoulder-length blonde hair that covered my entire head to being a bald man.

Really, it wasn't the recent picture of the back of my head that showed me I'm bald, I showed myself. However, I had to wait until I was ready to accept what I was showing myself before I could actually see my scalp for what it is - a place my long hair used to be, and a place to paint a flag next Canada Day.

Now I have a dilemma. I didn't particularly like this adventure of scalp discovery, and don't want fellow men going through the brief but fairly traumatic experience that I've gone through. If I can help it, I'd rather not let anyone else suddenly say, "What the - I'm bald??" I'd like to be honest with anyone that is starting to show more chrome than curl, but now I realize that even if I attempt to make their transition less sudden, it won't work until they're ready to know. If I push the issue I'll be the bad guy, and their trauma may translate into resentment towards me, which I really don't want either.

I guess all I can do is sit back and be supportive of all bald men everywhere in my own self-depreciating humourous manner. I can let them know that I know I'm bald, and that I don't care anymore. I used to have lots of hair, and have the pictures (and brushes) to prove it. At present, however, I acknowledge my baldness, and realize that what little hair I have isn't worth bothering with. I've got a nice head, and I'm going to show it off. If only all balding men could come to terms with their baldness, we could relegate toupees and comb-overs to ancient history!

It does appear that my generation is dealing with baldness in a much different manner than previous generations. Instead of using wigs or getting hairstyles that are designed to mask the obvious, we're simply cutting our hair really short or shaving our heads altogether. Hopefully that is a sign that baldness is simply a situation, and no longer a stigma. I can only hope.

If you do indeed wake up one day and suddenly find you're bald, take heart - you're not alone. Drop me a line, and we'll talk about the hair we had, and when it all probably went down the drain. If you know someone that is balding but doesn't seem to realize it, don't try to tell him, as they simply won't be able to absorb it. The best thing you could do for them is buy them a nice Tilley for their birthday to keep their scalp safe in the sun.


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