Is a man’s life over when he goes bald?

If you have never heard a comment about your thinning hair or seen yourself in a photo and realized just how much of your scalp is showing through your formerly lustrous locks, be grateful. 25% of men begin balding by age 30. I got an earlier start.

Today I’m going to respond to some of the comments and questions I have gotten over the years about being a young balding man. Most recently:

So, is this gentleman’s life over? Were the best years of my life dead and buried once my hair was gone? I started to notice my hair thinning when I was 16 and immediately became self-conscious about it, an insecurity that lasted for far too long. I constantly checked my hair to make sure that it was optimally combed to look fuller than it was. I took pictures of the top of my own head just to worry over whether it was getting worse or not. I tried not to point the top of my head toward anyone. In short, I wasted a lot of time and energy.

Right after graduating from high school, I went to Africa for awhile. This was my first time flying and first time outside of the US. There, I met many people who led entirely different lives from mine. The people I met there lived much more in the moment, connected with the land, with their communities, with their families. They weren’t constantly seeking escape or obsessing over things that were outside their control. They seemed at peace with their place in the world, whereas I had always felt restless and lost. These were people whose energy was guided largely by necessity–to grow food, to build shelter, to make a living in whatever ways were available. I was born in a country and economic class that allowed me relatively unbridled self-determination, yet I had long felt paralyzed by this limitless possibility.

A couple of weeks after I had arrived in Ouagadougou and traveled into the rural North, I came down with a fever that struck hard and wouldn’t let go. When I eventually made my way to a clinic back in the capitol city, I remember sitting on the steps outside, waiting for the results of my blood test. I was seated in the full sun, it was about 115 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and I was shivering harder than I ever have before or since.

I soon found out that I had contracted malaria. I was prescribed medication that would kill the parasites in my blood, and within a couple of days the symptoms had largely dissipated. The disease had taken a lot out of me, however, and when I returned to the US I weighed only 108 pounds.

I still had some summer left before I started my first year at university. I ate well and started putting the weight back on while I processed what I had experienced on the other side of the world. I started to grow up and realize that there were much more important things in life than personal appearance, and on the spectrum of bad things that happen to people, early male-pattern baldness is pretty lightweight.

Looking at my thinning hair again, I knew that if I tried to hold onto something that nature had decided wasn’t for me, the struggle would only detract from my enjoyment of life and my potential to contribute to this world. I decided to shave it all off. I wanted to say a hard “no” to vanity and stop letting my insecurities determine my sense of self-worth. There is power in embracing the things you cannot change and choosing to swim with the current rather than against it.

I looked through some old files and found these pictures from that day.

I noticed that first comment above a few weeks ago, and I found it again by searching my YouTube comments for the word “bald.” Let’s take a look at another comment that came up in the search:

Haha, this is a good sample of some of the hate I get online, though I’ve been lucky enough to mostly receive praise and positive feedback since I started producing content. He’s right that I did have issues with low self-esteem back then, but shaving my head was a turning point in that regard. I had been trying to hide my coming baldness for years; shaving was about not hiding anymore.

Here’s another one:

Now we’re into the meat of the matter. There are treatments, medications, and procedures designed to address nearly any concern over appearance that a person could possibly have. Have too much hair in the wrong places? Destroy the follicles with laser treatment. Skin too light? Dye yourself a different color with a spray tan. Eyelashes not long and full enough? Glue fake ones on every day.  Want to lose fat in the right spots the easy way? Surgery. Don’t like your nose? Surgery. Breasts too small, too big, or not the right shape? Surgery.

When it comes to male pattern baldness, there are several options that have been shown to be effective (and many more which are not). Finasteride (Propecia) is a prescribed oral medication that blocks the breakdown of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone, the hormone largely responsible for male pattern baldness. It is often paired with Minoxidil, a topical vasodilator that stimulates hair growth (found in brand-name products like Rogain). Of course, both of these options come with a frightening list of potential side effects. Most notably, finasteride meddles with the natural hormonal balance in the body, potentially causing long-term sexual dysfunctions. If you’re on this website, that’s probably something that you don’t want any more risk for than you already have. Also on that side-effect list are depression, memory loss, and suicidal ideation.

Then there are surgical interventions. They are painful, expensive, require a year or more of healing to show results, and leave scars–but they can be effective. Surgery won’t, however, prevent continuing hair loss.

For argument’s sake, let’s imagine that the medical options had no negative side effects or that you are one of the lucky ones who won’t experience them. You are still committing to a lifelong daily ritual of applying these remedies, a constant reminder of your uphill struggle against hair loss. I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds damn exhausting. Yes, you are free to dedicate all of that time and energy toward fighting nature–or you could just accept your body as it is, sporting the balding look or shaving your head completely.

Self-care is important, and I am not at all saying that you should disregard your appearance or that caring about your looks makes you vain. By all means, keep yourself fit, healthy, clean, groomed, and well-dressed. But beware of crossing that line that divides self-care from self-obsession. We should care for our presentation because we love ourselves and want to maintain our inner and outer health, much like we care for a prized automobile. After all, what is the body but the mind’s automobile?

Everyone wants to drive around in a car they can be proud of, and everybody wants to walk around in a body they can feel the same way about.

However, unlike an automobile, we cannot trade in our bodies for a new model. If you were born a coupe, trying to become a pickup truck is only going to cause you a lot of pain. I’ve seen many people go down that path, and it is a path that never ends. Yes, there are options now that allow us to change aspects of our bodies that bother us, but once you try to alter yourself out of shame and self-loathing, you truly do surrender your peace of mind. If we instead surrender to nature and embrace our imperfect lot in life, it can gift us freedom: both freedom from constant insecurity and freedom to direct our energy outward into the world rather than back in on ourselves.

As for attracting mates, being bald isn’t necessarily unattractive. Sure, some women may not be attracted to it, but other women find it a turn-on. Some women aren’t very attracted to white guys or to short guys or to skinny guys or bulky guys or…you get the idea. You can’t please everybody and shouldn’t try. You know what is definitely unattractive? Being a self-absorbed, insecure, doubt-ridden mess whose self-esteem depends on the opinion of others. On the contrary, confidence and a healthy sense of self are the most attractive qualities anyone can possess. This goes for both men and women, though it is especially true for men, because women tend to be less shallow in their attraction.

If you’re balding and really think that fighting it is the right path for you, then you won’t let me stop you. If, however, you find that it doesn’t make you any happier, then remember this article. Remember that it is possible to simply let go. Life does not end at baldness.

I’ll leave you with one last comment that turned up in my search: