Contemporary Civilization prepared me for many things, but male pattern baldness was not one of them. In all of Plato’s wisdom for the ages, he never once weighed in on the pros and cons of Propecia. And while Aristotle may have founded empiricism, he left us with virtually no clinical research on effective hair regrowth treatments. In such a furry-headed world, a young me was forced to bottle up my baldness and try to fit in as best I could with the woolier echelons of society.
Indeed, hairlessness is a taboo in our society. Several studies show that children unwittingly discriminate against naked mole rats when choosing pets, favoring fuzzier creatures like cats or dogs. I think the research speaks for itself. So, naturally I was a little worried to talk to my parents about my condition after they noticed the signs: the widow’s peak, the increasingly exposed scalp, the bottles of Rogaine strewn around the house. Thankfully, my father rocks the “Blue Man Group,” completely shaven look, so he was understanding. But I did have to change my primary role model from Bob Marley to Walter White, which took a lot of psychological adjustment.
Then, of course, there’s the external pressure to always sport some kind of trendy coiffure, and because of this, baldness makes it very difficult to meet women. (Granted, dying alone seems hardly that bad when you consider how much the average person spends every year on shampoo.) But that doesn’t mean that hair loss is all fun and games. Sophomore year at Columbia, my peers began to tease me, calling me “cueball” and pelting me with coonskin caps whenever they had the chance. I once woke up with a live possum on my head, which was apparently hilarious to my suitemates who didn’t understand, evidently, the emotions that come with male pattern baldness: the embarrassment, the anger, the hopelessness. My hair will never flutter in the wind. I will never have a mohawk. I will never be cast as the leading role in my synagogue’s production of Samson and Delilah, should they choose to have one. These are realities that I have to accept.
And if that’s not painful enough, I am now deprived of the experience of the barbershop, an institution that has a special place in the male psyche. “The barber is where the concept of maleness itself is constructed,” as Judith Butler used to never say. It’s part of the architecture of our lives. It keeps us in check. And once a month I used to sit in a chair, hand someone a blade, and trust them with not only my appearance but also my very safety. Philosophically, the barber shop means a lot to me. Or, I guess, meant a lot to me. That’s all in the past now. Sometimes I show up just after closing and beg them to trim my chest hair, yearning for that primal, fraternal feeling, that perennial camaraderie you can only attain by paying a stranger to groom you. I’ve sat for many a winter night under the spinning red, white, and blue of Melvin and Pat’s Barber Shop, running a hand over my barren scalp and watching myself wither.
Now, I understand there are some naysayers who might challenge the gravity of my condition. But I want to remind my readership that this is and has always been the plight of the affluent white male, and I feel it is my journalistic obligation to complain on behalf of my people (for whom I have come to be a representative on this campus). I am coming to grips with the notion that in ten years I’ll look, at best, like Mr. Clean and at worst like an uncircumcised penis—from the neck up, that is. That is the horror I wake up to every morning, and your sympathy would be greatly appreciated.
Jake Goldwasser is a Columbia College senior majoring in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African studies. Thinking Twice runs alternate Tuesdays.
To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact email@example.com.