Baldy. Slaphead. Chrome dome. Spamhead. If you're bald, you'll doubtless be familiar with these expressions. In spite of the fact that 40 per cent of men under 35 in the UK have thinning hair, hairism is rife. Small wonder, therefore, that a recent report claimed: "Some men are so distressed by balding that they consider suicide or request chemical castration in a bid to halt it."
I confess, for many years I was a shameless baldy-baiter. At school, I made squeaky noises (pretending to polish my forehead) behind the back of the chrome-domed Latin teacher. I admit, I once shouted "Oi, you with the crash-helmet on," out of a car window at a follicly challenged pedestrian. And at university, my friends and I would go to the town cinema not only to see the film but to study the usher's remarkable ginger toupee. But all that has changed now. My Damascene conversion happened last Wednesday. I bumped into an old school friend I hadn't seen for five years and he made the comment that every man in his twenties dreads. "You look different somehow," he began, "but I can't quite put my finger on it ... I know, it's your hairline!"
He confirmed a suspicion I've had for some time - my hair is heading north. I wouldn't say I was officially "balding" (yet), but for some time I've been convinced that my eyebrows and hairline have had an argument. I always thought I was being paranoid - after all, my father has a glorious head of hair at the age of 58 - until I discovered that the baldness gene skips a generation. A cause for some concern, as both my grandfathers were as bald as coots.
Naturally, if my hair departs, I will mourn it. But should I? After all, at least I won't have to agonise about whether I'm going to have one of those "bad hair days", hats will look better on me, and I'll be a faster swimmer. And in these back to nature, deconstructed Nineties, losing your hair is really nothing to get worked up about. The pendulum has swung, short hair is in, and baldness is largely accepted. In fact, it's finally becoming cool. The best exponent of this burgeoning movement is French Connection's current choice of male model. His name's Jason Statham, he's 26, he's an ex-high-diver, and his hair is unmistakeably sparse. "We chose Jason because we wanted our model to look like a normal guy," says Lilly Anderson, a spokesperson for the high street clothing chain. "His look is just right for now - very masculine and not too male-modelly."
Using balding male models is not new. Tamara Fulton, of the men's style magazine Arena, reckons it gives models character and individuality. "We've been using bald or balding models for a few years now," she says. "If the guy's got the right shaped head, it can look incredible."
There's also something about having little or no hair that suggests you're a "lean, mean, ready for action" kinda guy - a fact not lost on skinheads, of course. Take the footballer Paul Gascoigne, a man who's had his share of heinous "hair-don'ts" in the past: it's no accident that his recent return to the football field after a year's absence coincided with his losing two stone and, we note, having his head shaved. "I'm back, and this time I mean business," Gazza's hairless pate proclaimed to the world.
And yet, bald men continue to be portrayed as weak, sexually inept or just plain silly. Ironic really, given that the condition is linked to an excess of testosterone. Psychologists say that men's fear of balding arises mainly from its associations with ageing. A well-groomed, full head of hair sends out signals of youth and vitality, and men feel that the less hair they have, the less attractive they are. This belief is so entrenched in our society that you sometimes find the letters "FHOH" in lonely-hearts column adverts. It stands for "Full Head Of Hair".
The Samson Complex was humorously addressed in one of the UK's nominations for Best Short Film in this year's Oscars. Syrup (rhyming slang for "syrup of figs/wig'') is the tale of a wimpy office clerk who swaps his Bobby Charlton combover for an Elvis-style toupee and thus rekindles the flame of passion in his conjugal bedroom.
If anything, the hero of Syrup should have considered himself more of a sexual tiger the less hair he had. It's true that bald men look older, but they also look more virile. Look at Sean Connery - he regularly gets voted the sexiest man on the planet, and there's an ever-growing roster of balding sex symbols, such as Ross Kemp and Steve McFadden (Grant and Phil from EastEnders), Ed Harris, John Malkovich ... There's a rugged, uncompromising masculinity common to all of the above sexy slapheads. Would it be going too far to suggest that their sexiness might be linked to a similarity in appearance between a bald head and a penis? Er, yes, it probably would.
I asked some of my female friends what they thought of baldness. Most said they "don't mind it" and some even claimed to find it a turn-on. "There's something muscular-looking about bald men," says Jane, 27, "They never look namby-pamby." All the women agreed that there's no bigger turn- off than a man who looks like he cares about his hair too much. It follows, then, that bald men are perfectly placed to make the most of the current backlash against New Men. If it's true that women now want "real" men - good old-fashioned outdoor types - then a virile-looking baldy is certainly at no disadvantage in the dating game.
So, in view of all these factors, what's so funny about baldness? Well, first it's one of the few remaining ways of insulting a minority group that hasn't yet been vetoed by the PC police, and, second, it hardly needs saying that it's not the baldness that's funny, it's the fact some men try to hide it.
They continue to scrape and paste spidery tendrils of hair across their domes (yeah, like we hadn't noticed), they continue to wear rug-like contraceptions on their heads and they continue to subject themselves to painful and humiliating "cures" such as "punch-grafting" or doing a handstand for an hour a day. Pick up a paper and you'll see columns of ludicrous adverts that prey on the insecurities of these men. The worst one I've ever seen had the headline "Gary Baldy", with an emphatic NOT inserted (with an arrow) between the two words. It made me wonder if losing my hair will mean losing my reason. But then again, it's usually ex-baldy-baiters like me who find themselves feverishly studying the small-ad hair-loss cures ten years later - a fact that leads me to believe that God's probably bald ... and pissed off.
The secret to dealing with hair loss is to wear your bald pate with pride. Get your hair cut short at an early stage, to ease people into the idea of your having less of it, and if anyone asks why, say: "I'm in the grip of Alopecia Androgenetica - far more glamorous than "I'm receding". Don't worry if your new haircut makes you look like John McVicar, and off-licence owners reach for their baseball bats when you walk through the door - men will respect you as a man of action, and women will swoon over your high testosterone levels.
And finally, remember: there is only one surefire way of halting baldness - and that's castration. I don't know about you, but the only snip I'll be having is a number-one crop. So don't worry, be slappy.
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