Will Smith and Chris Rock---hair jokes
First of all, I'd like to say how glad I am to see that this forum has not gone the way of the dinosaurs. I look forward to reading and writing about something that means a lot to me and all of you.
I've actually been asked about this topic a number of times over the years, and am glad to have the opportunity to share my thoughts.
I believe that in our society, and culture, there is a double standard in how bald men and bald women are looked upon and treated. The use of such a double standard (as an excuse, or even a simplified explanation) demeans the whole topic in general. To say all men feel this way, or that all women feel that way about their hair loss fails to take into account that feelings are personal, and they can change over time – both how the individual person feels about their loss, and how hair loss is looked upon by our society.
I was 17 when I began losing my hair; and then at 19 when I saw the rather large bald spot on the crown of my head. I knew that I had inherited androgenetic alopecia from my maternal grandfather (though I did not know those two words for it for a few more years). I never met my grand father. He died from a genetic blood disorder (I inherited that from him, too), when Mom was a senior in high school. I knew he was a very good man, and a very handsome man even without a hair on the front, top, and crown of his head. I thought – that doesn't look so bad – provided I also got his facial structure, and expressive, blue-gray eyes. No, it wasn't going bald that made my stomach queasy when I saw my bald spot. I had been struggling with being over weight since I was 10, and so what I thought was, "oh great – something else I'm going to be teased and harassed about."
At that time I would have said that being bald is harder on men because everyone feels free to make jokes and comments about a man being bald, than for women who are balding. I knew that some women lost their hair if they went through chemo-therapy to treat cancer. I knew nothing about alopecia areata and other causes of hair loss that women might experience. I thought, all they had to do was just wear a wig until their hair grew back. and no one said anything about women and baldness, because it was unusual, rare even, for women to lose their hair. Basically, I thought women got a break when it came to losing their hair – it’s just temporary, right? Let's just say I had a lot to learn about both hair loss and women in general.
I think how a person feels about their loss of hair cannot be judged by the group. It is a very personal thing and many factors have to be considered. How a person feels about themselves and what they use to base their self esteem on is a crucial component. What kind of support system do they have? I don’t just mean therapists, and support groups – I’m talking about family and friends. As a man of Faith, my relationship with God is one of my components – the most important one in fact. Since I was in college, God has used my baldness (or rather, how I feel about it), to help others – and not just people with alopecia issues. In my essay, “A Special Wardrobe,” (which many of you have read), deals with what I do to make myself feel better about being bald. The thing is, you could take a pen and blot out “alopecia,” and replace it with just about any self esteem issue you may have. I know this to be true because of all the people who have come to me and needed to talk about what they were self-conscious about.
Let me close with something I read recently. A woman diagnosed with cancer, and who had to be treated with chemotherapy. To her surprise, the biggest lesson she learned from the experience, was how unthinking and insensitive she had been when she talked to men with male pattern baldness. In the past she often teased and made fun of guys who were going bald, mainly because it was so common! Most of these balding men didn’t act like it bothered them, and many made self derogatory comments about losing their hair as well. Over time she learned a sad truth about men in our society – to admit your feelings were hurt, or if you had trouble looking in a mirror – made you look weak, a wimp, and unmanly. We are the sex that is suppose to be unemotional and strong; and a man is a weakling if their feelings get hurt, and you were worse than that if you talked about your hurt feelings with someone.
While I do see change coming in our culture on how we view baldness (for both men and women), I am constantly reminded we have a long way to go. Once while paying for groceries, the lady cashier asked me what happened to my hair, and I replied with an old joke about giving it the day off. She then told me about hair replacement systems, and closed by saying, “look into it – we all want to look as good as possible.” She made the assumption that everyone wants to have a full head of hair, and if they don’t, then they must be very unhappy! A friend of mine with alopecia universalis, has started to not wear wigs in public. As an athletic swimmer, she grew tired of hiding her baldness by putting on a swimming cap when she was alone in the changing room. It was uncomfortable, partly because she was allergic to the material the cap was made from, and partly because she resented the notion that women were supposed to hide being bald and keep it a secret. One day she just stopped wearing the cap while swimming – and when the world didn’t end, she wasn’t banned from attending her Church, and all the people who liked and loved her before they knew she was bald, continued to like and love her after they did know. She has made a lot of new friends, and has received a lot of support – so much so, she decided she didn’t want to wear wigs any where in public if she didn’t feel like it.
It’s not always been easy. Once while having dinner at a restaurant (one of the first times she went in public without wearing a wig), she was coming back from the ladies room, a jerk told her, “get a wig sweetheart . . . you look like a freak.” That – as you can imagine – was not a good night. Fortunately, she didn’t let the jerk win; she is still going wigless in public when she wants to. She also talks to girls and young women as a motivational speaker.
I have discovered that ignorance is the biggest threat to self esteem when you have a “different look,” than most people. I have discovered that when people know why I wear different wigs or no wig, their opinion can turn a 180; so instead of being that strange, bald Larry Barbee who wears different colored wigs, and who can’t seem to get his act together – why doesn’t he get a hair replacement system, and be normal?
Because Larry doesn’t want a hair replacement system, thank you! He loves his bald head and doesn’t need a prostheses because he hasn’t lost his looks – just his hair (which he doesn’t consider a loss anyway.) He wears wigs because they are fun, he likes having a variety of looks, and through his writings and public speaking, teaches people why he does what he does, and he is being used by God to help people with self image problems of all kinds along the way.
I am Larry Barbee