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Why does losing hair mean so much to men?

Julius Caesar might have hated his bald pate, but for some men, lack of hair on the head is meaningless

brunch Updated: May 16, 2017 12:58 IST
Most men show signs of maintaining status quo when treated for baldness.
Most men show signs of maintaining status quo when treated for baldness.(Rahul Krishnan)

What do Socrates, Gandhi,Napoleon, Aristotle, Darwin, Churchill, Shakespeare and I have in common?  Baldness. Like all these great men, I am bald and I do not mean balding: I mean bald with a nice egg-shaped head that shines equally in the sun and under the moon.

Does it bother me? No.While I have no information about Socrates, Napoleon, and the other men, I have read that Julius Caesar was mighty bothered with his disappearing hair line and tried all types of remedies, none of which worked. It is also well documented that while Caesar may have lamented his baldness, he could not tolerate body hair.

But about that mop on the head, what is it that haunts the male of the human species more than the female? Why do men primarily go bald and not women? Enzymes in male bodies convert testosterone into dihydrotestosterone or DHT and this is a hormone that is also responsible for making hair shorter and thinner. When women hit menopause, their estrogen levels go down and the testosterone in their bodies starts to have more effect. This leads to their hair thinning out proportionately all over their head so normally, women don’t go bald like men. So the man in the house is the one who goes bald.

Hair-raising tales

I was in my late 20s when my hair began to thin. I was 29 when a friend recommended a hair oil that his aunt had developed and was planning to market. It stopped hair fall, she claimed, and I took the bottle. The next year, I was bald. Like my friend, Cleopatra too had tried to help Caesar by recommending a home-grown remedy. As in my case, Cleopatra’s remedy of ground-up mice, horse teeth and bear grease did nothing for Julius.

In the 21st century there are supposedly a lot of magical cures for baldness. But scientifically speaking, there are medicines that can curb the DHT enzyme, which is in surplus in men going bald. When treated, most men show signs of maintaining status quo. The medicines stop the loss of hair, but they don’t restore the hair that is lost.

I find the modern myth that women fall for bald men misleading and outright mischievous.

Billions of dollars are spent annually across the globe in trying to make hair grow where none exists. Some of these drugs have side effects, from the temporary loss of libido to impotence. So, my advice to balding and fellow bald men would be to go easy on the search for antidotes. The International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery – yes there is an organisation like that – warns that no home remedy can cure baldness. The organisation claims that it is a global non-profit medical association and the leading authority on hair loss treatment and restoration that has members across 70 countries, so they should know what they are talking about.

Ahead of the game

There is a theory that baldness evolved as a survival ploy and this is based on the idea that men with less hair are less attractive, so they stay home and take care of the family rather than go out and womanise. But then there is the modern myth that women fall for bald men or/and that bald men are successful and rich. I say modern myth because, based on my personal experience, I find the facts to be misleading and outright mischievous on both counts.

My son was born after I had gone bald, he had never seen me with hair, so the few times I tried using computer software to grow some virtual hair, he would find the result disconcerting. When he was a toddler, he could not recognise me in photographs where I had hair, and now that he is a teenager and as obnoxious as they get, he still says that he likes me bald. To me that means the world because, truth be told, I don’t see myself, unless I am looking in the mirror, so how I look matters more to those who are seeing me. If my only son likes me as I am, and my childhood sweetheart who is his mother, is cool with my hairless pate, why in the world should it bother me?

Fie on you Julius Caesar because in vain did you conquer the world when you could not conquer your vanity.

The author is a Delhi-based TV producer and documentary film director

From HT Brunch, May 14, 2017

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