I discovered it on the morning of my thirtieth birthday. It was staring back at me in the mirror, sticking out like an icicle or a stalagmite. There, in the sea of dark brown, was a solitary hair, as white as a winter morning.
For a few seconds I deliberated on what to do with the new addition to my left eyebrow. Then I fumbled around for my wife’s tweezers, gripped the hair, and tugged it out of its follicle. “That’s better,” I smiled to myself in the mirror. “As good as 29.”
I wished I was still 29. But the truth was that I was 30, and after that I would be 31, and after that, I might be 42 or 54 or 79. The numbers only went up. They didn’t go down.
It was a fitting birthday present from my body. The week before I discovered it, I had an encounter with a hair dresser that left my ego smarting. While the hair dresser was cutting away, she alerted me my hair was thinning, a sure sign that all of it would go very, very soon.
“Don’t worry,” she said, trying to cheer me up. “I’m sure you’ll make a very beautiful bald man.”
Me? A beautiful bald man? She might as well have kicked me in the balls! I had fallen ill two months before my birthday, endured high fevers for days, and had paid for my suffering with hair loss, a scenario I had experienced when I was in college. Back then people thought I was going to lose it too, but it all grew back, thankfully.
“It will come back, this has happened before,” I tried to convince her that it was temporary, but the lady was unmoved.
“Do you have any bald uncles?” she asked.
“Well, one of my mother’s brothers is bald,” I said. “But the other two—”
“See,” the hair dresser cut me off. “It’s genetic.”
“Genetic? Fuck genetics!” I thought. And the second I got home I began studying up on therapies to prevent baldness. I had chicken for lunch and loaded up on other high-protein foods. Exercise was important too, so I went for a jog. After that, I went to the store and bought up a load of vitamins and hair loss prevention shampoos and sprays. I was prepared to do whatever it took to win the war against biology, no matter the cost.
The Apteek seller gave my full head of hair the once over as she sold me these items, as if I was the most pathetic customer she’d ever had. She looked very amused, but what did she know? I was just about to turn thirty, and, any day now, I would wake up hairless. The hair dresser had said so. And she was an expert, right? It had to be true.
Or maybe not. When my wife visited the same hairdresser the next week, she was promptly convinced that the mole on her face was an advanced case of skin cancer. Fortunately, a dermatologist diagnosed it as harmless a few nervous days later.
So paranoia was at play, but I have to admit that it wasn’t just the hair dresser who was paranoid, it was me. Looks really are important to a person, even if that person happens to be a man. It wasn’t always that way. Maybe there was a time a generation or two ago when men never looked in the mirror and didn’t mind going bald and getting fat.
In these golden days, the guys just sat around, watching TV, scratching their balls, patting their wives on the ass, content to be married and ugly. But these days the stakes are higher. Just as women are bombarded by images of skinny models that are “forever 21,” men have to compete with their male counterparts, even if most of those guys in the underwear advertisements are probably gay.
I was recently asked in an interview to name a man whose appearance I admired. Off the top of my head I said Keanu Reeves, only because when I went to college in Washington, DC, the black kids on the train used to mistake me for him. “Yo, Keanu!” they would yell out. “What are you doing riding the train, my man? Don’t you have a limousine?”
Still, a glance around the room of middle-aged male stars reveals scant bald heads, and certainly no white eyebrow hairs. Maybe Keanu Reeves and Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt dye their hair or wear hairpieces, but it really doesn’t matter when your wife sees their pictures and then looks back across the table at you.
And if this is a world where a modern woman is entitled to everything, then certainly this modern woman is entitled to a good-looking man with a full head of hair.
This is something I’m loath to accept. To obsess over ones looks though is pure vanity, and vanity is one of the traits that I find the least attractive in people. To me, women have always looked best in the morning before they mask their soft faces with various fraudulent products. They look so natural, so beautiful, so why do they work so hard to hide it all away?
I had to ask myself the same question in the mirror as another white hair grew back in the old one’s place a few weeks later. How much damage was I willing to do to myself just to look younger than I was? Tweeze every white hair? Even the dozen or so that were now sprouting on my chin? Spray my scalp with irritants to stimulate growth? No. Nothing could withstand biology, even me. One way or another, genetics would have its way. So I gave up on the special shampoos and creams. I did try to eat better and exercise though because I realized that, white hair or no hair, you’ve got to take care of your body. It’s all you’ve got.
The last time I saw the hairdresser she was happy to see me, but her eyes were on my hair line the whole time. It appeared that it would take more time before baldness would strike me down. I tossed me hair a bit, and let it flow in the wind. For some reason, the hairdresser seemed disappointed.