Going Bald: It’s All in Your Head
Bald men often feel ashamed and inferior. Here’s how to get over it.
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
"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
So how does a man get over the shame he feels about losing his hair?
"The key is to tolerate and neutralize the shame," says Kaufman. "I've spent
the better part of my professional life helping people recognize, tolerate, and
overcome shame. It's an inevitable part of being human. Some degree of shame is
normal and natural, but we need to find ways to recognize it, to live with it,
and to be proud of ourselves in spite of it."
Bald and proud?
Well, maybe not proud of it, but not disabled by shame either. That means
recognizing the shame and making it fully conscious.
"You have to be able to say, 'I feel badly, I feel foolish and stupid,'"
says Kaufman. "And then you must let the feelings of shame pass without
internalizing them as a global indictment. Only when shame becomes overwhelming
or excessive does it become crippling." Just for the record, Kaufman, a retired
Michigan State University professor, has experienced shame, but not about his
hair. "I inherited my mother's hair," he says, "and there's no sign of
Katharine A. Phillips, MD, believes a man's shame over losing his hair can
become a form of body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) - the syndrome that plagues
emaciated women who think they're fat, for example, and male body builders who
think they're scrawny.
"By definition, these are people who look normal but believe they're
unattractive, ugly - some even use words like deformed or disfigured," says
Phillips, author of a book about BDD called The Broken Mirror. "Men with
this problem may obsess about balding even though they have unusually full
heads of hair. It's not vanity - it's a disorder that involves a distorted body
image. These men don't want to look unusually attractive; they just want to