Is the only cure castration?

In an age when appearance is everything, do we discriminate against bald people? asks Jim Pollard.
Bald and proud: Woody Harrelson, Samuel L Jackson, Joseph Fiennes, Bruce Willis

Baldness figures prominently in the malehealth postbag — below penis problems but above six-packs. In fact, since I started writing about health, I reckon people have asked me more questions about male baldness than about everything else put together. 'Why are you such a bald git?' is how they usually put it.

You'll find the bald facts in the Hair Loss FAQs. This is just my take on it. Baldness is common in the UK. A Gallup survey in 2004 of five European countries last year put Britain second in the baldness league behind Germany. It is also genetic. You're very likely to go bald if your male ancestors on both sides of your family were also bald. Half of white men inherit from their fathers. The best way to avoid it is to be castrated before puberty.

Testosterone increases body hair and reduces scalp hair. But baldness doesn't necessarily mean you are some sort of 'Dr Lurve' producing above average amounts of the male hormone, it's simply a reflection of the way your body reacts to a normal amount. (Not that you need to tell your hairy headed mates this.)

Men who go bald on the crown (the top of the head) rather than at the front may be at slightly greater risk of heart disease - if you're one of these, it's worth avoiding the other risks which means watching your weight, cholesterol levels and blood pressure, taking exercise and avoiding the fags.

Down the years, pretty much every possible cure has been tried. (The ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates favoured pigeon droppings.)

Boosting blood flow to your gleaming dome might help hair growth so have a gentle massage. For the same reason you could try hanging upside down - very popular with the indisputably hairy orang-utan. Whatever you do, discuss it with your doctor first rather than some private clinic you've spotted advertising somewhere.

But the big question is:

Why are men so worried about baldness?

Hard to say. The BBC reported US research from the 1990s showing that the proportion of bald men holding elected office in the USA is four times less than the proportion of bald men in the population at large suggests that in the TV age bald blokes aren't popular with the voters. Perhaps its the way your pate glows under the studio lights. Here in the UK, no bald British prime minister has been elected since Churchill beat the equally bald Attlee in 1951. 

Is it discrimination? Or perhaps bald men don't tend to put themselves forward for elected office - a sign of good sense or lack of confidence, depending how you view politics.  

In the Gallup poll, three-quarters of men who had started losing their hair said they had lower self-esteem and two-thirds of them felt insecure. Half of the British men said starting going bald made them feel old and less attractive.

Yet zoologist Dr Desmond Morris who studies humans as animals reckons that it is a sign of virility. He says: 'Because it is linked with high levels of sex hormones and because it increases with advancing age, it is obvious that baldness is a human display symbol indicating male dominance.' Hmmm. Aristole thought much the same thing. Needless to say, Dr Morris is as dominant as a coot.

Maybe it's because sometimes men don't know what women want - yes, amazing but true. Because men are at their sexual peak at eighteen - an age when few men are bald, men assume that hair is a sign of virility and that loss of hair suggests loss of virility. Fair enough - but that assumes women see the same thing. They may actually be more interested in mature men and since baldness increases with age, baldness is clearly a sign of maturity (Homer Simpson notwithstanding.)

Whichever way it is, don't worry about it. Stress diverts blood from the less essential areas like the scalp to the muscles and brain which will only worsen your slaphead tendencies.

If you're worried about baldness think about what it really means. If your self respect depends on whether you average 600 hairs per centimetre of scalp or 400 or 200, it is probably your self-respect you should work rather than your hairline.

So forget that Bobby Charlton sweepover haircut, throw away the syrup and don't get great turfs of hair sewn to your bonce. Keep it as short as you feel comfortable with. In a recent NOP survey in the USA, women aged 18-34 were particularly likely to find shaved heads attractive - 36% called them sexy. All told, three-quarters of women said that most women found men with shaved heads sexy.

Think of all the money you'll save at the hairdressers and enjoy your naked head. Unless you're thinking about becoming prime minister, of course. Well, that's got that off my chest. Now, where's my hat?

Jim Pollard is editor of malehealth. A longer version of this article was first published in 2005.

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