On male pattern baldness
My hairline has been receding for a while.
Not just that, but my hair has been thinning too.
This realisation hit me about 18 months ago, one ghastly night when I was stationed out in Portsmouth. Another evening in the same hotel - I was working away at the table in the room, which was outfitted with a giant mirror in front of it. I was, for whatever reason, looking at some old photos of myself and friends. Ruffling my hair as a habit, I glanced in the mirror. To my dismay, the hairlines, quite visibly, did not match.
Since that day, I have watched as it slowly worsened.
My family does not have a history of early baldness. My father's hair was full until middle age, and my grandfather on my mothers' side had a decent amount of hair while living well into his 90's! I am a variation in my genetic trend.
I was given warning. When I was 20, I spent hard-earned finance internship money not on a holiday or a phone but to get a DNA test with 23andme, which had been relentlessly advertised on podcasts I listened to during through the internship.
The experience was surprisingly scary. Weeks after you send them your saliva in their provided kit, you receive an email telling you your tests are ready. Upon logging in, you receive several warnings that the information you're about to be presented with cannot be un-read. The information they give you might significantly alter how you perceive your life.
Although they provide a report on things such as your eye colour, capacity to taste certain bitter foods and whether you're genetically predisposed to being a sprinter or endurance athlete, they also test for whether you carry the genes associated with serious genetic disorders. These include sickle cell anaemia, cystic fibrosis, genes associated with dementia and so on. To my knowledge, no-one on either side of my family had ever had their genes tested.
Thankfully, my genes did great. I had zero active or recessive genes associated with any disorders or diseases that were tested.
However, one of the cosmetic tests flagged up that I had the male pattern baldness gene. At the time, I didn't really worry about it. Some research confirmed that lots of men had this (presumably men in my wider family), and often it only expressed itself later in life.
When I saw the process accelerating, I sought out a doctor - not only because I was concerned for its own sake, but it may have been a symptom of something more serious. The doctor told me it was most likely simple male pattern baldness. Further, he said the acceleration was most likely due to stress. He told me I should focus on avoiding stress and getting 8 hours or more sleep every night. At the time, I was working in a management consultancy job and had been posted in Porstmouth. I was struggling to maintain a medium distance relationship, and I was generally quite lonely. I was stressed and sleep deprived. Not by choice, and it was difficult to take the doctor's advice and avoid that situation.
Even as my work changed for the better, the next 12 months brought on all kinds of new stress in my personal and professional life. I was sad, and as I've written before, I sought out help. While I improved emotionally, my head didn't reflect it.
If you know me and I didn't mention that my hair was receding, you may be thinking "Oh, I didn't notice".
It is gradual, and therefore hard to notice. However, if anyone is in my situation and worried about their hair disappearing, you suddenly see it everywhere.
I've spoken to scores of friends and family about it - this is one of the terrible secrets most men keep to themselves.
Allow me to open your eyes to an insecurity which many men face every day. Take a look around you on the tube or the next time you're in a cafe. Look at the men and look at their hairlines (but try not to make them feel uncomfortable). See the men who have tried subtle cover ups, brushed-back embraces, or are just generally thinner than what you might expect.
Once you see this it's impossible to un-see. It's a whole new dimension of anxiety.
Here are some pictures from only the last couple of months:
I've never really thought of myself as a particularly attractive person. If I've appeared confident about being attractive, I can assure you, it's largely been an act (it's certainly more fun than the reverse)! I am as guilty of vanity as the next person, but it's more to do with my semi-obsession with my physique. That's because as a kid I was useless at sport, skinny and weak, and I've worked consistently for the last ten years to keep myself in decent shape. I'm proud of that achievement, not because that increases my capacity to pique romantic or sexual interest but because I've taken myself through hard work from skinny and weak to pretty fit.
Basically I've considered myself mid-ranking on the attractive scale, if I've thought about it at all.
I have always assumed that anyone who found me attractive did so for my personality. In a strange way I guess this is more audacious than thinking people liked me for my looks. Sure, people who found me attractive said nice things about how I looked - but that just seemed like a natural knock-on effect of what being attracted to a person meant.
I've been described (to my astonishment) by several people I've dated over the years as beautiful. I didn't take this seriously, and always assumed it was just a result of loves' blindness. I can't recall any girlfriend calling me handsome, although my mother has (she enjoys the odd drink).
That said, one of the few things I actively liked about my appearance was my hair. Being blonde was great - it was different. I liked how my hair got blonder and golden when exposed to sunshine for a few weeks, and generally thought it worked well with my other features. So when I first realised my golden locks were disappearing, I was pretty sure it would make me less attractive. I think everyone could understand why one would feel that way.
However, to my surprise, after the initial shock that my hair was rapidly thinning it really didn't bother me that much. I think this was because I never really felt particularly physically attractive in the first place. Hair or no, I'm still me. I'd always assumed it was because of who I was, rather than how I looked, that made people want to spend time with me. This is the basis on which I decide who to spend time with. If they happen to be good looking, it is just incidental. My friends are just great people.
I embraced the moment, and decided to get a buzz cut.
The tipping point for getting a buzz cut was some photos that were taken earlier this month when I went to see Avengers: Infinity War with some friends. I had a bad haircut, and looking at the photos, all I could see was a failing hairline, and a guy who had yet to accept his fate.
Following these ghastly photos, I decided to amputate the next day, and went to get my hair cut. The barber was himself a bald man. When I told him to buzz cut me, he simply smiled and said "welcome to the club".
It was actually an insanely positive experience. This problem that that had weighed on my mind for the last 18 months was now just dealt with. I had a dumb grin on my face for the rest of the day. I now can nod at other men in similar positions, with that knowing look.
Not only that, I quite like it! I feel I've been liberated from an issue that lots of people never stop worrying about - bad hair days, haircuts, and all that nonsense. Sure, it's going to take some getting used to - but hey, my genetics are on the whole amazing. I'm incredibly lucky. I can hardly gripe that I've lost some hair, compared to what some others have to deal with. Life is good.
And besides, I have a bald ideal to look up to and emulate. You might think Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Tim Ferris or Derren Brown. But I say no to you, there is a pop-culture superhero who will be my champion.
The one-punch man. Caped Baldy.
Point being, it's out of my control, so why worry? Embrace it. I can mourn my precious modelling or acting career, or I can look on the positive. My genes are overall, damn great. Hair is no longer a thing I'm going to worry about, however much I did previously.
Will I try growing it out/if we find a cure, would I take it? I don't know - I'm kind of digging being shaven right now. I'll allow myself the luxury of changing my mind. For the time being, I'm going to be living the buzz-cut, un-caped baldy life. It's growing on me.
And if you're someone whose hair is thinning, with a receding hairline (especially if it's pretty early for this to be happening) - I can only echo the advice from the many podcasts, blogs, and interviews that I consumed that led me to shaving my head. Just do it. It'll feel good. Take control. If people don't like it, who cares? There were probably plenty of people who didn't like how you looked before. Life is full of all sorts of serious problems, and this does not deserve to be one of them.
This is of course not to belittle anyone who struggles with this! Male pattern baldness can lead to depression, low self-confidence, and a whole host of mental health and psychological issues. I'm merely stating the attitude that has made this experience a positive one for me. I'm completely sympathetic to those who are struggling with it, as I did for 18 months. Personally, I'm in a good place now, and looking forward to moving ahead in a more streamlined fashion.