Life

A Young Man’s Guide To Going Bald With Dignity

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I have said all of these things:

18 YEARS OLD: “This is the same hair dye that Fred Durst uses, right? It is very important to me that I look exactly like Fred Durst.”

25 YEARS OLD: “I’m not going bald, my hair is just naturally thin.”

31 YEARS OLD: “Okay, maybe I am going a little bald… but I think I can pull this look off. I’m gonna be a sexy bald guy like Patrick Stewart. Or Bruce Willis. Yeah, Bruce Willis. Plus I can totally shave my own head now — think of the money I’ll save!”

A FEW WEEKS BACK: “Do you think I’d look good in a fedora?”

The fact is, I’ve been losing my hair for a while now. It started at the crown of my skull during my mid-twenties, and the deforestation has spread to my forehead in the subsequent years. When I first started balding, I would get my hair cut at the peluqueria/bootleg DVD market down the street. Then, after the $6 “especial de Miercoles” became too extravagant an expense, I started shaving my own head with an electric razor.

This looked okay, but due to low self-esteem and high apathy, I often put off any self-grooming until the hair on the sides of my head grew in thick, while the few hairs on top grew in long and stringy. There is nothing that makes a balding man look balder than having a few, scattered long and stringy hairs on the top of his head. Some may argue the combover look is worse, but at least the combover demonstrates a bit of optimism and can-do gumption by its wearer. Everyone loves an optimistic man with gumption.

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(Author’s note: except that one)


But as much as I hated the way my hair looked, I never did anything to change it. After spending many hours in deep reflection and many dollars at therapists’ offices, I finally identified the root cause of my apathy: I never tried to look better, because I never absolutely had to.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I’ve still been able to date during my scalp’s protracted betrayal (I suspect it’s my shapely thighs). This dating has only been accomplished through concentrated effort, strength of will and my best attempts at charm, but still, it’s happened. The fairer sex has also somehow tolerated my occasional forays into obesity and improvisational theater, so I clearly know how to pick forgiving types. In fact, the only thing that well and truly repelled girls was my “brief” period of unemployment when I lived in my parent’s basement.  

Once I started working as a writer and moved out of said basement, I continued to put very little effort into my appearance, and approximately zero effort into my hair. After all, if girls didn’t seem to mind how I looked, then why should I?

It was a flawed strategy in a variety of ways, but it I rode it through the better part of a decade. Here’s the tricky bit about not caring, though: it works great until the second you start caring. For me, that moment came when I saw this photo:

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#planking

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A few thoughts:

1. I was trying to bring back planking way before Andy Samberg.

2. That throw clashes with the couch.

3. It was time to make a change.

Since I had neither the confidence for a combover nor the insurance for Propecia, I was left with only one viable option: the shaved dome.

For the better part of the past decade, I have known the shaved dome was my destiny, and for the better part of the past decade I have battled against this fact. Because I’ve also had a beard for the past eight years and while some people can pull off the bald head and huge beard look:

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Those people also usually have a certain “spritely” quality to their body composition; while my family comes from a long line of stocky Mennonites and Swiss peasants. I am a husky guy, is what I’m saying, and a husky guy with a bald head and a beard either looks like the Tuesday night bouncer at a strip club, or the guy milling around at an orgy.

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Still, it seemed like the time had come to accept my “shaved dome + beard” fate, so I booked a haircut at Vinny’s Barber Shop in Silver Lake. Due to the schizophrenic cultural and economic nature of the neighborhood (and Los Angeles as a whole), the barber shop is surrounded by an artisanal toast restaurant, a school for security guards, a TV repair shop, an El Salvadorian chicken spot that sells implausibly good donuts, a vintage clothing store and enough Spanish language evangelical storefront churches that when the wind is right it sounds like five men are having a megaphone argument about Jesús.

Inside Vinny’s, there’s a Johnny Cash painting on the wall, an antique Coke vending machine full of Tecate, a barber fussing over a French press in the corner and a general vibe of friendly, shit-talking camaraderie that I haven’t experienced since the post-basketball practice banter in high school.

Thankfully, Vinny’s smells much better.

The barbers also take every bit as much pride in their craftsmanship as the places selling $7 ricotta toast and $7 shade-grown coffee around the block. But unlike those hipster mainstays, Vinny’s Barber Shop is not annoying or pretentious in the least.

My cut was with Omar Romero, the owner of Vinny’s. As soon as I sat down in his chair and was draped with the plastic smock, I wished that I had taken one of those Tecates while I was waiting for my turn — because I was suddenly nervous and when I get nervous, I babble and when I babble, I babble like Hugh Grant in a romantic comedy.

As I scooped ladle after ladle of word soup, I started to realize why I felt so nervous in the first place: I was sure that when I told Omar to cut my hair in a way that made me look “not so terrible,” he would go straight to the shaved dome. Then I would leave that barber shop with my bald head and my bushy beard, and that would be my look for the rest of my life.


To my surprise, Omar didn’t immediately grab the straight razor. Instead, he pulled out a pair of scissors. As he clipped my hair, he started talking. And pretty soon, he completely changed the way I thought about the entirety of my head — both the few regions with hair, and the many without.

For years, I’d thought going bald meant having more freedom. That I didn’t have to care about the way my hair looked, that I could save money on haircuts by shaving my own head, that I didn’t have to worry about looking good because my faulty balding genetics had already guaranteed such a thing was impossible. But after Omar finished my haircut and gave me an unexpectedly awesome neck massage with a pair of old-timey vibrating robot gloves, he told me something very important: going bald didn’t mean I had to put less work into my appearance, it meant I had to put in even more.

Omar’s words made me think about the few (but mighty) bald men in entertainment: Larry David, Bruce Willis, Paul Scheer, David Cross. I never thought about it until I was in Omar’s chair, but all of those actors had found a hair style that worked and strictly maintained them — because when a bald man finds a hairstyle that works and a barber that can execute it, he had better goddamn well hold onto both of them. In contrast, a man with thick hair can pull off pretty much any hairstyle. Take Brad Pitt for example: he looks amazing with long hair, he looks good with short hair, that handsome son-of-a-bitch even looks fantastic when he’s bald. But someone like Larry David sticks to one look. Because he knows that look works.

And he knows the alternative isn’t pretty:


Once I looked at myself in the mirror after Omar’s haircut, I knew I’d found a look that worked for me. It wasn’t just my hair that looked better; Omar also styled my beard and (to my simultaneous embarrassment and relief) trimmed my evil wizard eyebrows. Something else happened when I looked at myself in the mirror, I was struck by a thought I hadn’t had since the night I rocked an all-white tuxedo to senior prom: I thought I looked good.

Not Brad Pitt good, but I didn’t look like a Tuesday night bouncer, either. 

It felt good to have that thought.

The fact is, no matter how reasonable the haircuts are at Vinny’s Barber Shop (and they are reasonable), they are still infinitely more expensive than the zero I spent on my appearance before. But I’m okay with that now; spending the money felt good. Because when I went to Vinny’s, I wasn’t just paying for a haircut…I was investing in my happiness (as cheesy as it sounds).

UPDATE…

On my next trip to Vinny’s, and after much internal debate and emotional support from my barber, Drew (Omar was off that day), I finally went with the shaved dome + beard.

Like I said, this look was always my destiny.

And maybe my destiny doesn’t look so bad, after all.

 

 


 

Ben Esch is a professional writer/amateur beefcake model who lives in Los Angeles. He wrote a book. Please direct modeling requests here. Tasteful nudity only.

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