Going Bald: It’s All in Your Head
Bald men often feel ashamed and inferior. Here’s how to get over it.
But when you get right down to it, men most dread being bald because they think they will no longer be attractive to potential sexual partners. The best advertisement for hairpieces I ever saw featured a smiling woman running her fingers through a man's hair. Above them the headline promised, "By the time she finds out, she won't care." That line zeroed in on one of a balding man's deepest fears - that he will no longer be considered a sexual contender if people can see his thinning hair.
And let's face it. Our culture has provided plenty of basis for that fear. A bald man in a movie has traditionally been either a fool or a villain, rarely a love interest. Every president in modern times had more hair than his opponent. (Gerald Ford? He was never elected. Dwight D. Eisenhower? His opponent, Adlai Stevenson, had even less hair on the top of his head.)
But the horror men feel at the prospect of going bald goes beyond mere fear of not being attractive to women, according to psychotherapist Gershen Kaufman, PhD. It also involves deep shame, which he defines as the emotional response to feeling inferior.
"Just about everybody experiences extensive body shame," says Kaufman, author of The Psychology of Shame. "I don't believe I've ever met a human being who has not experienced some degree of shame about his or her body no matter how much it seems to match the ideal. There's always something wrong with the body."
Why bald men feel ashamed
Kaufman sees two reasons why men feel shame about losing their hair. First, in our culture, a lush, full head of hair on a man is considered attractive and masculine, and most men want to appear to be both.
The other source of shame, according to Kaufman, is linked to the embarrassment many people feel about aging. "There is tremendous shame about growing older, particularly in a culture that overvalues youth, as ours does," he says. "Therein lies a great challenge - can we accept the fact that our body is changing?"