I went bald at 19.
Think about what you and your hair were doing at 19. Just out, enjoying life, probably sporting a look which now makes your older self wince when you look back on those photographs, but nothing really mattered because you were 19 and George Bush wasn’t going to be president forever and your hair was going to grow back.
Not this kid.
One day, a college friend off-handedly suggested we should shave my head with a pair of clippers I had no idea she owned. Come on! It’ll be fun! What I didn’t realize was my hair had been thinning for months and this seemingly random suggestion was probably her polite way of putting the last remaining stragglers atop my head out of their misery. But I didn’t know they weren’t going to come back, so I didn’t have time to say a proper goodbye. I’m not sure what exactly I would have done had I known (rocked a mohawk? gotten a perm?) but ten minutes later, sitting in my bathroom with a towel around my shoulders, unbeknownst to me I received the last hair cut of my life.
Still, it took me some time to figure out I was actually bald.
In my twenties, my mom used to lament the state of my scalp loudly. “I just don’t know why you don’t let it grow out. You should really let it grow. Always shaving it. You’re not giving it a chance to grow.” As though I was standing in the way of a Fabio-style resurgence of my hairline, willfully thwarting my chance at flowing locks with my Gillette. In reality, I was shaving the sides of my head to prevent the full-on George Constanza at 25, because while the follicles down the the top of my head decided they were done at 19, they failed to notify the guys on the side that it was time to close up shop. That might not look odd on a thirty-something married guy, three-kids deep and just trying to make it to the end of the week, but it wasn’t exactly the look I was going for at the time.
However I quickly noticed people have zero reservations when it comes to commenting on baldness. A disability? Never. Weight? Not out loud. Hair loss? Let’s talk about it.
Family, friends, waiters, and complete strangers would regularly weigh in with their thoughts on my baldness with unabashed frankness. “The good news is you have a nicely shaped head” or “Are you colder in the winter?” and “Do you have to shine it? Or is that natural?” Thanks and yes and is it really that shiny?
It didn’t fully sink in until I was filling out some official paperwork which asked for hair color and presented various boxes to check in response: blonde, brown, red, gray, bald. Was I really going to check bald? Well, if someone were to describe my hair situation, they’d probably say bald, right? I mean, I used to have brown hair. But now I mostly have exposed head. So. Bald? Am I going with bald? I’m going with bald.
And I’m glad I did. Don’t get me wrong, there are days I wish I had hair. I have no idea what I would do with it, but I’m pretty sure it would involve running and wind and lots of old-school Bieber hair flips. But then I remember I don’t actually know how to properly dress myself and having hair would just be one more thing I’d probably be doing wrong. I also can’t stand taking time to get ready for things and without hair I can be up, showered and out the door in under seven minutes. Also, think how much money I’ve saved on shampoo over the years.
Take that, Fabio.
But mostly I’m thankful for the perspective I gained from being young and painfully bald. I realized (ridiculously) early on that looks are going to fade (or fall out), so you better like who you are when they do. I discovered we don’t actually have much control over our bodies; we might as well enjoy them and just be grateful when most things are working properly. And most importantly, I figured out that no one is going to card a bald 19 year-old.