Nobody told me I was going bald.
Age 17 was the beginning of the end. That’s when my hair started to go. And at the time, I had no idea. It actually took me three years to figure it out.
In 1998, I didn’t really see myself in a ton of photos. It was the disposable camera that you never got the pictures developed era. It wasn’t the I can see myself instantly in a picture on my phone era we live in today.
And for the balding man, the photos were crucial. Because you can see things in a picture that would never show up in a mirror. Things like a receding hair line in the corners of your forehead or things like your scalp because your hair has become practically see-through don’t really show up in the mirror.
I remember flipping through pages of photos in my mother’s photo albums some time when I was 20. I came across pictures of my parents visiting me during my freshman year of college. What caught my eye wasn’t the fact that we were all clad in Northeastern University gear, like we were posing for pictures for the school’s website, it was my hair. Or lack there of. I was 17 going on 18 in the photos and thought I still had a full head of blondish hair. I didn’t. The corners of my hairline were rising. My scalp very much on display covered by just the thinnest of blonde hairs.
If my head looked like that three years ago, how does it look now? I thought as I stopped flipping through the pages of the photo album and ran for a mirror.
And oh by the way, why didn’t anyone tell me?
Hair loss is like a pretty big deal. And it’s hard to grasp.
From the American Academy of Dermatology’s website: “Studies on the psychosocial impact of hair loss have found patients’ self-esteem, body image and self-confidence to be negatively affected.”
You never really want to admit that you’re losing your hair, I guess. So the people around you, don’t want to point it out. They’re afraid. They don’t know how you’re going to take this news.
Once I started to ask my friends they said things like: “Oh yeah, I thought you knew you were losing your hair,” and “I didn’t know I had to tell you that. I thought it was pretty obvious that you were going bald.”
So here I am at 20 realizing what everyone apparently already knew. I was going bald.
What do I do now?
I could do nothing and just let nature take its course. Have the hairdo of a middle-aged balding man at the age of 20. That would be fun. I could try to go get some Rogaine. It might be late in the game for that though. How about I just wear hats all the time. I could be that guy with the hat on no matter the situation. Suit, tie and baseball cap like I was just a lottery pick in the NBA Draft.
Those were my options.
And then there was the option I didn’t think I was ready for. Shaving it all off.
It was my brother who took me aside one day some time before my 21st birthday and said, “You just got to shave your head.” He didn’t really seem to care about hurting my feelings. He was giving an honest opinion. He was a little bit luckier than me on this whole hair thing. He’s older and still had his hair, for the most part. And here he was telling his younger brother that the time had come for him to shave what was left of his hair.
Fortunately, these were not uncharted waters. I know this has been said before, but I will say it again, Michael Jordan’s greatest contribution to society was the head shaving trick. He knew he was losing his hair, so he went and beat nature. He dunked all over nature. And he laid the blueprint for more people like him who were also going bald young to do the same.
And then there was Andre Agassi. That came out of nowhere. He went from long hair and more neon than the Vegas strip to a bald dude wearing the Wimbledon white gear like overnight.
So if two of the coolest guys on the planet were shaving their heads, that meant it was probably ok for me to give it a try, right?
There was only obstacle for me and the bald dome, though. One fear I had to put aside. During this year of discovering I was bald and not really taking any action, I realized I had a rather large brown birthmark on my head. Right up front. Right side of my forehead.
It’s called a Cafe au lait spot. Because it’s light brown like coffee and milk. Not sure why we can’t just call it a coffee spot. We got to be all fancy and give it a French name.
I was worried that shaving my head would put my coffee spot birthmark right out there for everyone to stare and point at. The imaginary people in this scenario would also totally make some sort of Gorbachev reference too. I know it.
The decision was either:
A) Don’t shave my head and look like a middle aged man at the age of 20 and get made fun of
B) Shave my head and show off my giant coffee-colored birth mark and get made fun of.
This was a lose-lose scenario for sure.
I decided I would shave my head one time and if the birthmark was a thing, I’d let my hair grow back. The hair that could grow back anyways.
A week before my 21st birthday I shaved my head for the first time. Turns out the coffee-colored birthmark only really shows up in the summer time. It’s there all year round. But when I get some sun, the birthmark decides it’s time to show off.
During the first summer of total baldness a co-worker came up to me and asked me how I got dirt on my head. I had no idea what he was talking about. It took a few times of him pointing at my head for me to realize he was talking about my birthmark. Once I realized it, I decided to mess with him a bit. I pretended to be upset by the fact that he was pointing out my birthmark.
I stopped talking to him and walked away. I told my fellow co-workers to let him know that I was really depressed. And they did. And they kept it up for hours.
Finally as the day came to an end, he walked up to me and apologized. He offered to buy me lunch the next day. I took him up on the offer and then let him know that I wasn’t even a little offended. We both had a laugh. Mine was a much bigger laugh though. He was relieved. And then a little bit pissed. And then he laughed.
So it happened. The birthmark was a thing. And I didn’t mind at all. It was at this moment that I realized maybe I was going to just shave my head for the rest of my life. This was now my thing.
Until it wasn’t.
About two years into baldness, I decided I was going to let it grow.
“It doesn’t look so bad. I can grow hair.” I thought. My girlfriend at the time, thought it was a good idea too.
And so I let it grow. Tried to let it grow. After a few weeks, it grew enough for me to have to go to a barber. I thought.
I can remember fondly the last time I went to a barber. It was March 2003, during March Madness. It was at the Supercuts in the student center at Northeastern University. It cost me $12 and it lasted three possessions of the college basketball game that was on the TV in the Supercuts.
Team A goes down court and takes a shot. Team B goes down their end of the court and takes a shot. Team A goes back down their end of the court and takes a shot. Haircut complete. “That will be $12, sir.” That would be about two minutes. I paid $6 a minute for a haircut.
And now I knew for sure, again, that I would be shaving my head moving forward.
I know shaving your head isn’t for everyone. Not everyone can pull this look off. I make it look easy. (Editor’s Note: I don’t make it look easy)
But I do think that more guys should stop trying to do the things they do to hide their baldness. Be bald. Be proud.
I already have plenty of anxiety and self-esteem issues. And none of it is related to me not having hair. I am actually very secure about my baldness and am willing to give anyone who is going bald a free consultation on living the bald life.
First piece of advice: Grow a beard.
Second piece of advice: Shave your head in the shower.
Third piece of advice: Talk to other bald dudes.