Our lexicon of cosmetic maintenance procedures grows longer each year. Recently, we have streamlined “Botox” into our everyday vocabulary. It has become totally normal to paralyze our facial nerves with poison to maintain the appearance of youth. The rise in popularity of curvier female celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Pippa Middleton has led to actual, straight-faced discussions about butt implants for women. Because, apparently, a butt implant is a thing that exists and is okay to get without being laughed at unmercifully.
We live in a society where others judge us based on appearance. Do we look professional? Dangerous? Trustworthy? Friendly? Sexy? You only get one first impression, and barring an intense olfactory output, the initial point of contact is visual. We give off a lot of information about ourselves that way. Height. Weight. Gender. Fashion choices. Hairstyle. Posture. Facial expression. We have only limited control of how we are perceived by the other four senses during a first meeting with someone.
It makes sense then, why we manipulate our appearances. Beauty products promise us the opportunity to gloss over our flaws and put our best foot (or face) forward. One common obsession is the fixation on concealing any signs of age. Creams, powders, and gels all offer us the opportunity to reduce wrinkles and pores in an effort to “defy” or “conceal” our ages. Though many products specifically target women in their advertisements, one corner of the anti-aging industry has pointed a laser sight on men over the past few years. The treatment of male pattern baldness as a potentially debilitating but ultimately curable condition is at an all-time high.
Baldness is an undeniable sign of aging. It is visually obvious, and it rarely happens to the very young. In the past, the methods of treating or concealing a receding hairline or a bald spot were limited. The most effective manner of subterfuge was probably the toupee. A good toupee bears an acceptable resemblance to actual hair. If purchased early enough in the balding process, it can obfuscate the impact of hair loss for years.
Other than that, though, the prospects were dismal. There was always the comb over. Possibly the least effective deception in the history of fashion. The success of the comb over was predicated on no one’s asking questions like “How come your hair goes sideways all of a sudden?” and “Why does the top of your head look like a basket handle?” Then, of course, you could be the guy who wears a hat everywhere. That tactic works fine at baseball games and old time-y jazz shows, but it dissolves anywhere there’s a gust of wind.
More recently, however, technology has given us new ways to disguise, and even reduce male pattern baldness. “Hair plug” technique looked largely horrible through the 1980s, giving the recipient the appearance of having a head of crop circles, but recent strides have given the procedure a more natural look. As doctors have adjusted the size of the hair grafts, the density of the hair, and the angle at which the follicles protrude, have all increased the verisimilitude of the process.
Also, since the patent on chemical compound minoxidil expired in 1996, the hair regrowth drug industry has exploded. It is marketed to the public for oral and topical use as Rogain, Regaine, Mintop, Avacor, and Loniten. In 1997, the drug Finasteride was approved for treatment of male pattern baldness under the names Propecia and Proscar. These compounds all show results regrowing or maintaining levels of hair as long as the patient continues to use the drugs.
No chemical comes completely free of side effects, however. Common problems with these medications include: Itching, redness, eye irritation, unwanted hair growth (be careful what you wish for!), increased risk of prostate cancer and male breast cancer, and irreversible sexual dysfunction.
There is one alternative remedy to hair loss. It may seem a little renegade, but it has proven effective in trials. Gentlemen, you can just be bald.
Yes, I know. It sounds crazy. Why would a man possibly subject himself to the indignities of a bare scalp when he could spend hundreds or thousands of dollars (plus physical comfort and ability to feel sexual satisfaction) over a period of years to maintain a semi-credible head of hair? Who wouldn’t make that trade?
Probably anyone who feels secure in his identity and does not associate hair loss with a diminishing of virility or masculinity. Going to surgical or medicinal lengths to prevent hair loss is no different than getting a facelift or breast augmentation. It takes deep-seated action against a superficial problem. While we teach children to love their own body types and hold themselves to realistic standards of beauty, we allow adult men to mask their insecurities behind (beneath?) an artificially engineered head of hair.
Pills, grafts, hats, and toupees treat the symptoms but not the disease. At the root of the problem (pun nearly unavoidable), the issues are not baldness, but rather aging, sexual identity, and social and physical strength. Instead of allowing hair to determine how others perceive us, we as men should live in a way that embodies the way we hope to be seen. While society paints women as fastidious and neurotic about their appearance and men as slovenly and oblivious, the issue of male pattern baldness gives us a look into male vanity.
Just as all elective cosmetic surgery provides an external solution to an internal problem, the fixes we offer for baldness fail to treat the real malady. If we really wanted to give men a remedy, we would encourage them to age gracefully, and to realize that their personalities, achievements, and relationships send a far stronger message than the density of their follicles.