I think we can all be too sensitive about this subject. Rogaine thrives on our insecurities and someone swindled a whole lot of men by hawking spray-can cover-ups. Fortunately, the shame over baldness has receded. Where once Yul Brynner was the only celebrity with a shiny noggin, we’ve now got smooth-shaven hunks like Tyrese Gibson, Patrick Stewart, Mr. Clean and my personal drool inducer, Taye Diggs. Baldness is hip. It’s cool. It’s downright studly.
Thank goodness. We no longer have to be subjected to men in toupees (although I find Dr. Oz’s “hair” incredibly distracting). My poor Great Uncle Frank was an impeccably stylish English gentleman, a perennial bachelor—yes, I suspect as much, but that was a different era. He prided himself in always looking dapper, but his hair failed him. While he had generous tufts above the ears and on the back of the head, there was nothing front and center. To cope, he stuck with the comb over, a style perhaps more egregious than the toupee. The poor man would arrive for a summer’s day at our family cottage, bestowing thoughtful gifts to all, reciting witticisms he had no doubt rehearsed on the drive from the city and then sitting on the deck to sip a scotch (or three). Unfortunately, he never conducted a mirror check and his hair stood up like a patchy Einstein imitation, the “hidden” spot naked to all. That’s what happens when you continue to drive a fancy convertible sports car into your eighties.
I love the fact that men in their early twenties choose to shave their heads—and not as an alternative to a pie in the face or kissing a pig after a charitable fundraising goal is met. But for many there remains some sensitivity over losing our hair when it’s completely beyond our control.
Well, maybe it’s just me. I grew up with terribly low self-esteem. I was geeky, gawky and greasy. Acne hit me hard. I attracted no one. But as I coated my face five times a day with Clearasil and Retin-A cream, I held on to the one physical feature that drew praise from my grandmother’s friends. Yes, they loved my hair. And as my face eventually cleared, a few other people noticed my curly locks, too. Best asset, only asset.
Since then—well, maybe for the past year or so—I feel better about my overall appearance, but my hair has always been my fall-back feature. So you can imagine how going bald would send me into a full-on freak-out fit.
At 50, my hair still seems to be fully accounted for. But three weeks ago, I began to panic. One day a week, I teach a class of six- and seven-year-olds. Children that age have no tact. They say and ask whatever is on their minds. Some of the answers I am forced to offer: “dark circles from lack of sleep”, “some people just have bigger noses” and “My knuckles have always been excessively wrinkly. I don’t know why.” It’s all so humbling. Perhaps this is why I considered going as a mummy for Halloween. (I opted for a yellow crayon instead, even if the color far from flattered my pasty complexion.)
But back to that horrid Monday three weeks ago. As the students bounced out of the classroom for recess, one little girl asked me to tie her shoes. I bent down and grabbed the laces and made a double bow. (Shoe tying is a too frequent demand on first grade teachers.) As I stood back up, the girl said, “Wait. You’ve got bubble gum in your hair.”
My face reddened. (It’s all the more noticeable against the backdrop of that naturally pasty complexion.) “No. I don’t have gum in my hair.”
But the girl looked concerned, even worried. “Yes. Yes, you do. It’s bubble gum”—and then her face contorted into a look of absolute disgust—“or something.”
Yes, it was something. And I had to disclose another flaw. “It’s a big pink mole. It’s harmless.”
“Oh,” she said, the look of disgust remaining and at risk of permanently freezing on her face should a sudden gust of wind whoosh through the classroom.
And then she bounced off. On to thinking about chasing the boys, being a puppy dog and/or finding the reddest leaf to take home to Mom. (When they’re not pointing out adults’ flaws, six-year-olds are truly precious.)
I, on the other hand, was shattered. I couldn’t go in the staffroom. This little girl had pointed out something that none of my friends or colleagues had dared to mention. At the top of my head, toward the back, entirely out of my view, my hideous pink mole was fully exposed. And the only way that was possible was if…I had a massive bald spot.
I got through the rest of the work day. I raced home and crawled into bed. But first I hand patted my entire head. Hair seemed to be in all the right places. Then I dared to feel the mole. Yes, it seemed bigger, squishier. Nonetheless, I couldn’t bring myself to hold up a hand mirror and try to position it so that the mole and the dreaded bald spot came into full view.
I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have a coping plan.
For the next two weeks I tried not to think about it. Indeed, at least five times an hour, I tried not to think about it. Alas, just like Lady Macbeth, I was obsessed with a damn’d spot. Fie!
I put off discovering the truth until I could be with an expert who could console me: Kathy, my hairstylist.
“Tell me the truth, Kathy,” I begged as I sat in the spinny therapy chair. With the New Age soundtrack and a cup of dandelion tea, I was in the right frame of mind. (The harpsichord is underappreciated.) “Do I have a bald spot?”
“Not at all.” This is a woman who knows how to earn a generous tip.
“Right here,” I pointed. “Where the mole is.” She’s always nicking that thing with her comb.
“Not at all.”
“Is the mole exposed?”
“Not at all.”
“It doesn’t look like bubble gum?”
“Not at all.” The equivalent of “no comment.” Yes, unlike six-year-olds, adults can be oh so tactful. And, in my case, conveniently gullible. I tipped Kathy well.
I’m taking Kathy’s word for it. I am back to being a functional member of society. Perhaps baldness remains at bay. I’m not going to investigate further until later this week when I see my skin cancer doctor. I’ve got time to devise my coping plan. Something beyond ice cream and a spray can. The specialist, after all, doesn’t work for tips. And maybe, while I’m there, I’ll get that bubble gum removed.