On Aging
11:12 am
Thu May 3, 2012

Confronting Your Crown: Male Pattern Baldness

Originally published on Fri May 4, 2012 8:33 am

Men dealing with male pattern baldness have decisions to make — go with a comb over, take medication, get hair plugs or a toupee, or do nothing at all.

When New York Times contributing editor Daniel Jones started losing his hair, he chose what he considers a "cooler alternative" — head shaving.

"Losing your hair," he tells NPR's Neal Conan, "is a little bit like a girlfriend who's sort of drifting away, and you're clinging to her as she goes off and sees other people. ... It gets worse and worse. So it's better to take some sort of pre-emptive move."

In a recent piece for The New York Times, he argues that since actors like Vin Diesel and athletes like Michael Jordan popularized the look, the downsides are almost nonexistent.

Jones, who shaved his head more than eight years ago, explains the difficulties of confronting a receding hairline or thinning crown.


Interview Highlights

On shaving his head for the first time

"It's mostly a difference of feel ... when you're shaving in the shower and feeling the track that's left and suddenly there's nothing there. ... In comments after the piece ran, people described that moment — of sort of feeling it be smooth — as being more remarkable than anything that they actually saw."

On things to consider before shaving your head

"Head shape has a lot to do with whether this is a possibility for you or not, and if your ears stick out and that sort of thing. By the time I got to it, I had a pretty good idea what my head shape was. ... My hair was short enough at that point where I didn't worry too much about it. It's just taking it one last step."

On the shaved head as a sign of the macho man

"Bruce Willis was the idol back in the day. ... Maybe it's sort of the military practice of doing this, but it's also associated with ... the sort of sweating he-man ... in battle. ... The other component of this is people who shave their heads often then work out a lot more and feel like ... they have to, you know, buck up or at least get in shape. ... It's OK to be the in-shape bald guy. So I'd argue that shaving your head is also better for your long-term health."

On the one downside of head shaving

"I learned that the hard way. ... Wearing a bicycle helmet and having the air vents across the top and not thinking to put sunscreen on the top of your head ... you wind up with what I called a sort of geometrically pleasing — if sort of disturbing-looking — sunburn."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, HOST:

A receding hairline forces decisions - to comb-over, medication, maybe a toupee, maybe nothing at all, but even that's a decision. When New York Times contributing editor Daniel Jones started to lose his hair, he elected for what he considered a cooler alternative: He shaved it all off. So if you're balding, what's your pate plan? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Dan Jones joins us now from the studios in New England Public Radio in Amherst. He's a contributing editor for The New York Times, where he edits the "Modern Love" column. And nice to have you with us today.

DANIEL JONES: It's nice to be here.

CONAN: And in your piece, you described shaving as a kind of preemptive strike, breaking up with someone before they do it to you.

JONES: Well, yeah. I mean, losing your hair is a little bit like a girlfriend who's sort of drifting away, and you're clinging to her as she goes off and sees other people and et cetera, it gets worse and worse. So it's better to take some sort of preemptive move.

CONAN: So cut your losses and (unintelligible)...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JONES: Absolutely.

CONAN: ...not to belabor the metaphor. And - but was shaving your first option?

JONES: No. I mean, this started for me back in my 20s, and, you know, it's a very long gradual process with probably 15 years of anxiety about it. And I used Rogaine for a few years, which I'm sort of a minimalist when it comes to using medicines and didn't want to pay for it and didn't find that it did much anyway, so no. Head shaving was sort of a light bulb going off 15 or 20 years into it.

CONAN: And the options are not...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: ...they're difficult. They each present their difficulties.

JONES: Yeah. I mean, I don't think there are any. This is not something that a whole lot of men wish upon themselves. But it was funny after writing this piece, you know, I have to confess I'm not exactly a male grooming expert.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

JONES: I'm not - this is not my area of expertise. And I just wrote this piece because it was fun to write. And it's something that has impacted my life and - but the comments afterward that sort of streamed in of men's sort of anxiety about this and the number who said, you know, some had shaved it off by accident, almost, where they just set their electric razor too low, and it went off. And all of them said I never looked back, like this is just a better...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JONES: ...you know, less anxiety-producing way to go about it.

CONAN: And you do - well, will you ever go back?

JONES: I won't. It's funny because I have a 14-year-old son who I don't think has ever really seen me at least of his conscious life as being any other way. I did this about eight or nine years ago. And he's always, you know, saying to me, Dad, you should grow your hair out.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JONES: I don't think he realizes the impact of what exactly I would look like with my hair around my ears grown out.

CONAN: Let's see if we get some callers in on the conversation. This is a common problem. What decisions have you made if confronted by a receding hairline? 800-989-8255. Email, talk@npr.org. Ben is on the line with us from Kansas City.

BEN: Hi. Yeah. I actually started a - well, I have very curly hair. And in college, I had it grown out like a very big afro or a natural, I guess, or like a - and I - one day, I was looking at myself in the mirror, and I could see the outline of my head through all of my curls. And I - growing up, my mom really thought that Jean-Luc Picard from "Star Trek" was a very handsome man. So I decided, you know, I'll just get rid of it. So I went down to a quarter of an inch, and I haven't looked back. It's actually a good haircut. I wake up in the morning, and it looks exactly the same as when I went to bed.

CONAN: And I'm - that's from one extreme to the other, Ben.

BEN: Yes. It is. Well - and, you know, I had an aunt that told me the - she said, you know, you guys had that Rogaine stuff and I said, well...

...exactly the same as I went to bed.

CONAN: And that's from one extreme to the other, Ben.

BEN: Yes, it is. Well - and, you know, I had an aunt that told me that - she said, you know, you can have that Rogaine stuff. And I said, well, you know, it's like $32 a bottle, and I could go out and have $32 worth of fun being bald.

CONAN: And, Daniel Jones, this is an inexpensive alternative.

JONES: Yeah. No haircuts, you know, no - there's really no care for it, at all, except for how often you're going to do it, and how much time you're going to spend doing it.

CONAN: There are those who would question - and, Ben, I'm sure you're one of those who look just terrific like Jean-Luc Picard, but other people say, yeah. I'm just afraid of what I'm going to look like bald.

BEN: Yeah. I am lucky to have the right bean-shaped head for it so...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Your buddy come out Telly Savalas. You'll never know.

BEN: Actually, a guy told me that he - that I have the same color of hair as him and said that it was egg-shell blond. That's what it was.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Daniel Jones, did you worry about what you - what it might look like when you stepped out of the shower?

JONES: Well, I've heard people say that head shape has a lot to do with whether this is a possibility for you or not ,and if your ear stick out and that sorts of things. By the time I got to it, I had a pretty good idea what my head shape was. My, you know, my hair was short enough at that point where I didn't worry too much about it. It's just taking it one last step.

CONAN: Ben, thanks very much for the call.

BEN: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email from John in Casper, Wyoming: As soon as I go from a light forest to a full on cul-de-sac, I will shave it to look like Mr. Clean and will continue to mix metaphors.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JONES: I hadn't heard the cul-de-sac one before.

CONAN: I hadn't heard the cul-de-sac. Some people get the Friar Tuck. That's...

JONES: Yeah.

CONAN: ...a different image. But can you describe what it was like, the first time you took the razor and stepped into the shower and determine to just shave it all off?

JONES: Yeah. It really wasn't all that dramatic. It's mostly a difference of feel, you know, when you're shaving in the shower and feeling the track that's left and suddenly there's nothing there. And again, you know, in comments after the piece ran, people described that moment of sort of feeling it be smooth as being more remarkable than anything that they actually saw.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is George. George is with us from Gainesville.

GEORGE: Yes. I just wanted to say I couldn't agree more with the guest, there. The way I saw it was - what I had was just kind of a patchwork. You know, when you start losing your hair on top, it, all of sudden, it doesn't make any sense anymore. You have a little bit of hair growing here, a little bit, kind of, growing there. Other than the typical side hair growth right over your ears, you just want to start getting rid of it, and you want to start over again. And so that's the reason why I did it. I think that was probably the most shocking with that initial - the first time you did it. But right after that, all of a sudden, it starts to make sense.

CONAN: By listening to you guys, it sounds as if the toupee business is, you know, going belly up.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GEORGE: Yeah. There's a lot of positives that you can take from being bald. I know one other - I know it's raining before anybody else does.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Again, Dan Jones, you've worried about the problem, though, occasionally, sunburn if you're riding your bicycle.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JONES: Yeah. I learned that the hard way. That wearing a bicycle helmet and having the air vents across the top and not thinking to put sunscreen on the top of your head, and you wind up with what I called a, sort of, geometrically pleasing, if sort of disturbing-looking, sunburn.

CONAN: George, thanks very much for the call.

GEORGE: Great. Thanks. Nice topic.

CONAN: This is from Fernando: I swear this really happened to a friend - he's writing us from Boston - and not from me. When my good friend, about 25 years ago, started to lose his hair, his decision was to hurry up and find someone to marry before he lost it all.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JONES: I think it does mature you, you know? You feel like, I'm not a kid anymore, and it's fading fast. So, yeah, I believe him.

CONAN: We have this from J.B.: What about women? I would argue the emotional toll of losing hair takes on women is even more devastating. And I wonder if you got responses like that after your piece was published.

JONES: There were a lot of responses from women who - yeah. I can imagine that kind of devastation. With men, it's become so common. You know, I was with my family in Manhattan. We walked into a Starbucks and it was - my wife commented that, you know, every other men was - had a shaved head and a goatee. And it had gotten to that level of cliche to be an urban coffee shop and practically lose your spouse if he's got a shaved head and a goatee.

With women, it's, you know, I can't even imagine. Some talked about wearing scarves, but then you can't wear scarves. I heard from cancer patients who go through the same thing, involuntarily. Yeah, that's a whole, another level.

CONAN: Email from Karen: My friend John had dreadlocks at least a yard long, decades of dreadlock dedication, but eventually the top dread was, as he put it, hanging on by a thread. He can toss it aside only with great care. He spoke with a friend about the possibility of shaving it all off, but explained he wasn't ready to be the bald guy. His friend replied, John, I hate to break it to you, but you're kind of already the bald guy with dreads. That was the final straw. John lives happily and fashionably with his new, shiny pate. So eventually, fate will - or genetics forces a decision on you.

JONES: Yeah. And mostly, you don't have to worry about it anymore. I mean, it's - when things are going, they're just going to keep going, and you think about it. And once you've shaved your head, it's just - it's not even, you know, in your thought process anymore.

CONAN: This...

JONES: That's the biggest relief about it.

CONAN: This email from Jan(ph) in Plymouth, Minnesota: Our daughter was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma when she was 19. When she lost her hair, my husband shaved his head in support of her. Three and a half years later, he's still shaving it every morning, and he looks good. Luckily, our daughter is doing great and has no reason to shave her head anymore. Well, we're glad to hear about that.

We're talking with Daniel Jones about his New York Times piece on balding, "Making the Most of Nothing." You can find a link to it at our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, coming to you from NPR News.

And let's go to Mark, and Mark is on the line from Cleveland.

MARK: Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Mark.

MARK: How are you?

CONAN: Good. Thanks.

MARK: I just wanted to say, I think that women, oftentimes, find men with shaved heads to be more attractive and more masculine. I've actually read some - I happened to see some studies on that on the Internet. Maybe it's probably to make us feel better, those guys who are losing their hair. But I have a pretty diffused hair myself, and I just can't bring myself to shave it. I just can't just do it, and I have to do it. I know I have to do it, but I just keep doing the Rogaine, that Propecia thing, and it's retarded the hair loss. But I think I'm much like the guest, I should probably opt not to use those medications. I'm also - share the philosophy (unintelligible).

CONAN: And what is keeping you from doing it? You said I just can't do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARK: I'm only in my early 30s. It started when I was 18. It was a very slow process instead of like a lot of guys got hit with it so quickly and a lot of my friends. But I just - I don't think I have the head that a lot of guys do, where they have that great head that's just looks great, shaved. You got a dent or bumps somewhere in your head, it doesn't look great.

CONAN: Interesting. Thanks very much. Good luck, Mark.

MARK: All right. Bye-bye.

CONAN: This is email from Matt: A man's hair is his masculinity. All the big Hollywood leading man have great hair. Well, we mentioned Jean-Luc Picard, the character in "Star Trek." You can mention a whole bunch of others, not just Telly Savalas, but Jason Statham and Vin Diesel. And this is the new look, no?

JONES: Well, I think it is. I mean, Bruce Willis was the idol back in the day. And, you know, it's always associated with - maybe it's sort of the military practice of doing this, but it's also associated with the, you know, the sort of sweating he-man, you know, in battle or whatever. And, you know, the other component of this is people who shave their heads often then work out a lot more and feel like, if they're going to shave their head, they're going to go with that look, then they have to, you know, buck up or at least get in shape because they don't want to be the, quote, bald - the, quote, "fat, bald guy." It's OK to be the in-shape bald guy. So I'd argue that shaving your head is also better for your long-term health.

CONAN: Good to be the ripped bald guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: I see what you mean.

JONES: Right.

CONAN: Yeah. Let's go to Allen. Allen is with us from Conshohocken in Pennsylvania.

ALLEN: Hi. How are you doing?

CONAN: Good. Thanks.

ALLEN: OK. I was watching an episode of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" years ago, and he said - one of the - the grooming guy, I guess, said at the end of it, if you're losing your hair, wash it with shampoo once a week, twice max. So I started doing that. I wash it once a week, but I rinse it out with water every time I shower. And I mean, my - I had clumps of hair in the shower drain. My hair was getting thin. I saw the top of my head, and I have a full head of hair now. My hair just started growing in, and I think it looks great. So that's like an alternative.

CONAN: That's an alternative. So you're hanging on by a thread.

ALLEN: No, no, no, no. My hair looks good.

CONAN: Oh, good.

ALLEN: It actually works, and I've had a lot of people thanked me for it, also.

CONAN: Well, that is a good piece of advice then. Maybe it will work for you. Allen, thanks very much for the call.

ALLEN: Absolutely. Thank you. Take care.

CONAN: All right. Here's an email from Mike in DeKalb, Illinois: How important is facial hair as compensation? Dan Jones, you mentioned your goatee.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JONES: Yeah. Yeah. I talked in my piece - I laid out various options according to, you know, what certain kinds of people seemed to do, and how people who are, you know, architects will tend to wear, you know, like some sort of flamboyant eyewear along with it, like a stubble goatee. And then there's like the Howie Mandel model of having...

CONAN: The soul patch, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JONES: ...the soul patch, which I don't think too many people are fan of but - and, yeah, it's, you know, you work with what you got, make the best of it.

CONAN: Let' see. We got one more caller in, and let's see if we can go to - this is Waleed(ph). Waleed with us from Detroit.

WALEED: Yes. So I found out I was balding. One day, I was bowing my head in prayer. I noticed the guy next to me, he kept on glancing at me. And then he pulled me aside at the end and said, hey, you know, I noticed that you're balding. And I go, oh, oh, really, you think? Yeah, yeah. He goes, by the way, I sell this product that you can try for your balding.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WALEED: And so, you know, some honey-based products. So, you know, I tried it. You know, one month later, I realized that just my head was getting sticky and then not really feeling - getting good, so I just decided, you know, got to propose to the woman, get married and shave my head off right away so...

CONAN: Yeah. That isn't new hair growth. Those..

WALEED: Not notice I was balding beforehand.

CONAN: That isn't new hair growth. Those are bees.

WALEED: What was that?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: You are attracting bees.

WALEED: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I got a bunch of bees on my head. That's all I got.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Well, Waleed, are you happy with your decision?

WALEED: I'm extremely happy with my decision, yeah.

CONAN: Well, thank you very much. And, Daniel Jones, I think, all said and done, you're happy with yours, though, maybe you wished genetics had built you - dealt you a better hand.

JONES: Yeah, yeah. But this is, you know, this is what I got, and you make the best of it.

CONAN: Tomorrow, it's TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY with Ira Flatow. He'll be here with a look at the new survey that shows Americans want more action on climate change. Plus, Mayim Bialik, on her latest role in "The Big Bang Theory." That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. We'll see you again on Monday. And, Dan Jones, thanks very much.

JONES: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Dan Jones, contributing editor at The New York Times. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.