OBSESSION - A Balding Testimonial

Disclaimer – the purpose of my story is not to deter anyone from seeking hair replacement as an alternative to doing the ultimate shave, or to denigrate the hair replacement industry in any way. I acknowledge that the hair replacement industry provides a service that people request and agree to, and that the hair replacement industry’s work with cancer victims and sufferers of alopecia, for example, indeed anyone seeking hair replacement as an alternative to baldness, is exemplary. Throughout my journey I also found the vast majority of hairdressers employed in the hair replacement industry to be wonderful, compassionate and caring individuals.  I also acknowledge that at any time during my experience with the hair replacement industry I could have simply opted out. Having said that, everyone’s journey is their own. Everyone’s lifestyles and perceptions also differ. This, however, is my story, my journey.

Hello, I’m a 58-year-old person from Australia, and my obsession with my hair began at age eleven. Yes, you read that correctly. Eleven years old. Forty-seven years ago, back in grade six primary school.

Here in Western Australia back in the late sixties, it was the hippie era, and long hair was common among men, generally, including boys. All of my school friends had long hair. It was the trend of the time, which many embraced.

I wanted to embrace the trend also, but, unfortunately, (I won’t go into the reasons why) I had a crewcut all throughout my primary and high school years, and as a consequence, my closely cropped hair attracted numerous taunts. 

You can guess the sorts of heckling I received on an almost daily basis. Hey, baldy! Hey, skinhead! Hey, did you have a fight with a lawnmower!

Kids can be so cruel sometimes. But worse still, those words stuck in my developing adolescent mind, and, as I’m sure you can imagine, they did little for my confidence level at the time. Back then, I didn’t have the strength of character to fight back. I was just a little kid.

By age seventeen I’d moved out of home and relished the freedom.  No more strict house rules. No more not watching TV during dinner. No more having to make my bed every morning. But, above all, no more damn crewcuts! 

I allowed my hair to grow wild. Long, wavy, messy; I even stopped shaving.  I embarked upon a journey of rebellion and freedom that was both liberating and fantastic! 

But, only a few years later, aged twenty, someone pointed out to me that my hair was thinning. And that’s when my obsession with my hair started all over again. That’s when my obsession really began.

It was thinning, alright, as well as receding at the hairline on both sides. Faced with the reality of going bald, understandably, I panicked, badly. In fact, I was absolutely devastated.

By that time, I had long since been into fitness. I’d done it all – running, gym work, indoor and outdoor sports, martial arts. I was more than just fit. I was an athlete in my prime – but, because of my rapidly receding hairline, I suddenly became a distressed and unhappy person, and my only thought, every waking moment, was that I was going bald.

I mentioned earlier about kids being cruel sometimes. Well, so can adults.

You might find it hard to believe, but in the late seventies’ early eighties’, baldness remained the butt of many jokes and taunts, not only from kids, but from among ‘so-called’ comedians and young adults, as well. 

Personally, I attribute this to the absence of social media and the internet at the time. We barely saw beyond our backyards. The rest of the world was the great unknown, something that we only knew about because of what we read in newspapers or books, or watched on our televisions.

You couldn’t research baldness on the internet because there was no internet. There were no forum sites such as this excellent site, to guide and help people suffering the sheer anguish of watching one’s hair fall out in the shower.

There was nothing. Until, one day, a few years later, by which time I was wearing a hat pretty much everywhere, I saw an ad in a newspaper.

Enter the hair replacement industry and their remarkable claims at the time.

‘You, too, can once again have a great head of hair!’

‘You, too, can attract women and workplace success!’

It was a no-brainer. I went in for a free consolation. I looked at the before and after photos of guys just like me. Sad and balding in one picture. Jubilant and smiling in the next, with thick, lush, full heads of hair, and pretty girls latched onto their arms.

With the assurance that the hair was simply fused in with my own, could never part ways, so to speak, and could withstand the rigors of swimming, diving, hard physical sports and the intense scrutiny of any observers, like a lamb to the slaughter, I signed up immediately and paid a deposit on the $1,000 fee, which was a lot of money at the time. 

Six weeks passed, whilst my new, ‘undetectable hair’ was being made. I was understandably anxious, but I was ready to embrace my ‘new beginning.’

I went in for my fitting. Shaking, as I remember, as could be expected. I sat down in a hair-fitting room. A hairdresser arrived, carrying my new hair. She gave a me slight haircut, but then, to my absolute horror, she shaved the remaining hair from the front of my head before I even had a chance to ask why.

Naturally, I was shocked, but the hairdresser assured me that it was necessary because of the fitting process, again, what I had believed at that stage was to be a process where synthetic hair would be somehow ‘fused in’ with my own existing hair.

What immediately followed was perhaps one of the most embarrassing, disappointing and hardest days of my life. The hairdresser placed a wig on my head, taped at the front, which she then stuck onto the shaved front part of my head. She then proceeded to pull strands of my own hair through about eight holes surrounding the wig before literally twisting and then gluing my hair into the eight different holes so that the wig couldn’t fall off.

You have to understand. It was more than just knowing that I had been misled about the actual process. It was cruel, plain and simple. This was no melding of synthetic hair with my own, as I was promised. It was a goddamn wig held on by strands of my own hair!

I don’t know whether or not it was some kind of sadistic act on the part of the hairdresser, but before I stood up, she told me that I would have to change the tape at the front at least three times day, (I later discovered that once every morning was fine) that I would need to come back every four weeks because ‘the unit’ would get loose as my own hair holding it on continued to grow, and that whatever I did, quote: ‘don’t raise your eyebrows.’ She then smiled and left the room. (raising my eyebrows, I later discovered, caused the hairpiece to rise and fall in a funny way.)

I was mortified, but there was no going back. The front of my head had been shaved. In shock, literally, I stood up and left. I went home (I lived alone). I looked in the mirror. I lay down on my bed, and then I cried my eyes out for about two hours.

So much hope. So much trust. So much betrayal and disappointment. So much anticipation. Gone, (snap) just like that. 

Fortunately, now the hair replacement industry fully explains the process. Remember, this was back in the early eighties.

In the weeks that followed, I tried hard to accept my predicament. In many ways I had no other choice. To have the wig removed, would have revealed the shaved area at the front, meaning I would have needed to get a crewcut. But even then, the shaved area would still show. I would have had to wear a hat for the next month so that the hair at the front could grow back, but unfortunately, I only had one week’s leave left before going back to work.

Over the next thirty-five years, the hair replacement process did improve. The original synthetic hair with which I had been fitted proved to turn an orange red colour after about six months, especially in the sunlight, and the stitching in the unit became visible as the hair thinned and occasionally fell out in small clumps.

Enter human hair wigs. The latest and greatest. Dead human hair, basically. Decuticalised, so as to reduce tangling. But still stuck down at the front and held on by hair-tie points around the perimeter.

What the industry failed to tell me though was that dead human hair was weak and would fall out within six months, meaning that I’d need another unit to replace it.

Doesn’t it seem ironic to go from worrying about natural hair loss, to worrying about hair loss yet again from a human hair hairpiece.

Years later, the industry developed a gluing technique whereby units were literally glued to existing hair, which continued to grow, meaning that every four to five weeks, they’d need to remove the unit, clean my scalp and reglue the unit. The tape at the front remained. It has to, so that you can wash your scalp and remove the build-up of oils and dead skin.

You have no idea how terrible it is to have to glue your hair down at the front every morning. I started carrying spare tape and a small mirror around with me in case the tape broke loose due to excessive sweating during exercise, or, heaven forbid, at work.

The glued down hair caused a build-up of shampoo which caused distressing itchiness of the scalp. Another problem was ringworm. Itchy, round little splotches of fungi that thrive in a hot, moist environment. Fungal creams do work, but I found ringworm on my scalp to be a constant problem for most of those thirty-five years.

And don’t even get me started on head lice, (the kids used to bring them home from school) suffice to say that harsh chemicals are needed to treat them, so check with your hairdresser first before applying any head lice products.

Let’s leap ahead many more years. Cyber hair, Synthetic, natural looking, non-fading, strong, but at a cost, for me, of $2,500 a unit. Unfortunately, my cyber hair started to go extremely dry and frizzy after about six months. To be fair, I was warned about this by my hairdresser. You have to be careful not to rub or over-brush cyber hair. You need to sleep on a special pillow which reduces friction whilst you sleep. You can’t dry your hair with a normal towel. You need to use a special water absorbing towel. 

Some days my hair looked like doll’s hair, something else to add to my obsession.

At age 58 I finally gave up. I had semi-retired by then, and no longer had a workplace where if I walked in bald, I’d have to explain to everyone why.

Which raises an important question – why should I have to explain anything to anyone? 

Most people are great, seriously. 99.9 percent of people in this crazy old world are kind, beautiful and supportive human beings.

But, unfortunately, .01 percent, aren’t. As I see it, guys wearing wigs will always be susceptible to the taunts of the .01 percent of nasty people out there, including struggling comedians who have run out of material.

As far as girls went, probably the hardest part of getting intimate with a woman was having to stop her amid the throws of passion to let her know that my hair wasn’t real and that I was wearing a wig, because I was so scared that she might run her hands through my hair.

The hair replacement industry, even now, would have us believe that women don’t care. But they do. Not always, but sometimes. I know from experience.

It seems so wrong that on a first date, that initial passion needs to be interrupted with having to tell that special lady that you’re wearing a wig.

My approach was always something like this…

“Um…look, I’ve got something I need to tell you about myself.”

I’m sure that most girls were thinking I was going to tell them I had herpes!

“Um…look, when you look at me, can you see that something isn’t quite right?”

I don’t know what they were thinking at that point, but the passionate embrace was certainly loosening.

“Okay look, I’ll just say it, okay. My hair isn’t real.”

In my case, nothing can dismiss the fact that, on some occasions, after making such a revelation, follow-up emails and text messages went unanswered. Take my advice, guys, get that revelation out in the open early, way before that first goodnight kiss.

Another serious issue - Confrontation.

I’ll keep this really simple. I spent thirty-five years avoiding physical confrontation for fear that my opponent might grab my hair and then swing me around like a ragdoll. Most likely my hairpiece would have been ripped off and I’d have been partially scalped, and heaven forbid if someone was recording the incident on a mobile phone before posting it onto social media.

Avoiding physical confrontations, then, is the only available option. But, I’m old school, and part of being a man, as I see it, is being able to protect yourself, to push some drunk away if he’s hassling you or your girlfriend. But at risk of someone grabbing my hair? It’s a huge risk to take.

I’ll sum this up with just a few words. In my opinion, wearing a wig robs you of your manhood. It prevents you from being the man that you are.

And finally, the title of this little story – obsession.

I obsessed over my hair as a kid. And after a few years of respite in my teens, I obsessed over my hair when it started to fall out. And for the next thirty-five years, I obsessed about whether my hairpiece looked undetectable or not. I must have broken some kind of world record for looking at my own reflection, in mirrors and in shop windows. But most importantly, I obsessed about whether other people could tell that my hair wasn’t real. Part of me thought, who the hell cares what other people think. But that worry was always there, constantly. It never went away, for thirty-five years!

Anyway, that’s my story. And I’d like to extend my sincere gratitude to Harry at Baldcafe, and to all of the contributors to Harry’s website, who gave me the courage to finally do the big shave.

I wish you all well in your individual journeys, but I can tell you now, that being bald, being able to swim, not worrying about strong winds, being the person you truly are, is so goddamn liberating! Oh, and my wife loves it, too.

Adios amigos.


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