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You can’t fire me, I quit! How I learned to go bald in my 20s

I was 23 years old when I found myself stuck in the men’s room of a bar in Charlottesville Virginia, trying to get the timing of the door just right. Door closed, door opened. Door closed, last guy left and, finally with the bathroom to myself, I whipped out a pocket mirror, flipped it to the crown of my head and — there! With a quick swipe, I redistributed a few wispy strands of hair and my bald spot was once again… hidden. Relief. Slowly I made my way out of the bathroom, and rejoined the party.

So how exactly did I go from being a fun-seeking college kid, to sneaking into bathrooms with a mirror?

In my early 20’s I realized I was losing my hair. While visiting my parents on college break, on a hunch I checked out the back of my head and saw the unthinkable: my bare scalp. Clear deforestation. WTF! My life has just begun. Just gaining the confidence to talk to women, just growing into my own. And before I had even gotten the ball rolling, my scalp was telling me (or so I thought) game over. In a flash, from young stud to old man, the halcyon years of my youth unceremoniously skipped over.

In the years that followed, I went from panic about my balding head, to a low-level anxiety. I tried all sorts of tricks to make my balding less obvious. I grew it out, thinking more hair might conceal it. I used “volumizing” shampoo and after-shower mousse to make it look thicker. I got special haircuts. I avoided the rain (wet hair was the enemy to my mop). I looked into meds and surgery (ultimately holding off because I didn’t like the side-effects). And so here I was, relegated to shuffling around follicles on my increasingly barren crown. Partying with a pocket mirror.

Today, about a decade later, I’ve given up the game of “hide the bald spot.” I choose to wear my hair as it is, balding crown and all. I buzz it down because I think it looks more kempt, but I’ve grown to accept the underlying condition. A couple things happened along the way to help me get here.

The first was the realization that I had a say in the matter. After years of trying to hide that I was going bald, I noticed that it took a lot of my energy. Energy I knew I could use for things that gave me (or others!) more pleasure than concealing a patch of skin on my head. The game I was playing was exhausting, and nobody was asking me to play it but me. I also like the idea of making the most of the cards you’re dealt (rather than wishing you had a different hand), and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to put that philosophy into practice.

From left: Once-verdant mop; signs of hair loss; experiments with shaving
From left: Power donut in the making; embracing the buzz

The second is that, along the way, I was lucky to run across some men who inspired me to think differently about balding. There was the guy at my company gym — a charismatic fellow who took good care of his body — who joked, unprompted, about his hairline “running away from his face.” Or the bald co-founder of a startup I spent some time at who had an infectious sense of humor. And a beautiful wife — inside and out — to boot. In the larger picture of who these men were: gregarious, energetic, charming, I realized that their hairline was so… inconsequential. What if the same was true for me? As my fellow (bald) friend put it: “Ultimately, I just decided that my worth was measured more by my character than anything else and once I accepted that it was most empowering.”

This shift — from being fearful of balding to accepting it — has for me made all the difference in the world. It’s helped me worry about it a lot less. No doubt, I’m still conscious of my bald spot. What’s changed, though, is that I own it. I do have a cue-ball (on its way to a power donut!). To help me continue to own it, putting into practice a few new habits has also been helpful. For example:

  • I poke fun at my own balding head: at work, with friends, on dates. Being first to point it out — I realized — helps take the sting out of it.
  • I’ve gotten to know my bald spot: literally placing my hand on it, feeling it. Affirming that it’s part of my body, and accepting it the way it is.
  • I remind myself to practice gratitude: I may not have a full head of hair, but I do have a lot of other things to be grateful for, such as my health, and good friends and family.

So why was this journey so hard for me? Maybe it’s because I’m caught up in how I look. Or too hard on myself. That said, it’s also true that we live in a society that — when it comes to hair — delivers a loud and consistent message: keep it. Or else. From Rogaine commercials, to highway billboards for hair transplants, to an endless stream of panic-inducing web ads (google “men’s hair loss” if you dare) our media keeps hammering into us that if we men are losing our hair, we are somehow flawed. Not terribly surprising given our age-conscious culture, but not terribly helpful for those of us trying to grow into a balanced self.

To my fellow balding brothers — especially young men — who feel as frustrated as I did that afternoon in my parent’s house: know that you’ve got a full life ahead of you: of being smart, sexy, confident, whatever it is that you aspire to be. Your hair (or lack thereof) is as big a deal as you make it, no more. I started balding in my early 20’s and I’ve done just fine. And I’m no exception. And if you happen to be reading this in the bathroom stall of a bar, pocket mirror in hand, I encourage you to toss the mirror in the waste bin. Give yourself a pat on the back. And proudly reenter the world armed with a pickup line that only you can truly deliver:

:D Have your own balding experience? Share it below! Credit to Andrew Marantz for inspiring the title for this post.

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