Health & Fitness The Men Embracing the “Baldy Positivity” Movement

14:50  07 september  2021
14:50  07 september  2021 Source:   menshealth.co.uk

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Existential crises are not uncommon in the lives of men. Nor are they always limited to a single moment, instead unfurling silently over months or years. But what often follows is a transformation – one in which a man overcomes the petrifying anxieties that have been torturing him and sees his life replenished with new possibilities.

a screenshot of a video game: A growing online movement is encouraging men to go bald, boldly. Thinking of making the cut? It can be good for the head in more ways than one © Provided by Men's Health UK A growing online movement is encouraging men to go bald, boldly. Thinking of making the cut? It can be good for the head in more ways than one

For many men, the crisis originates in the discovery of hairs on a pillow, the gradual recognition of a receding hairline, or wispiness on the crown of the head – all bringing intimations of mortality and decline. In other words, it’s the realisation that they’re going bald, just as their dad or uncle did.

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Minoxidil 10%

But for just as many men, salvation arrives in the form of a set of clippers, a mirror and the will to walk the hot coals of change by shaving it all off. Some 2,000-odd years after St Paul underwent the prototypical road-to-Damascus experience, Ben Bakht, a 26-year-old filmmaker from Hampshire, had his own moment, immediately after shaving his head. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Bakht says today. “Subconsciously, it unlocked a lot of things.”

Since the age of 18, he explains, he’d been living with the anxiety of losing his hair. “I remember going to McDonald’s and a friend said, ‘Your hairline is receding a bit.’ At university, it was a running joke – ‘Ben’s going bald.’”

Male-pattern baldness, or androgenic alopecia, will affect half of men by the age of 50, though many are forced to contend with it much earlier.

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male baldness © KLAUS KREMMERZ male baldness

“I used to quiff my hair,” says Bakht. “I’ve always had a biggish forehead. I tried using Toppik [electrostatic] fibres and wearing headbands on nights out. You do anything you can to make up for the damage: hair gel, spray. But when your hair is thin, it’s thin. You go outside, a gust of wind hits you and it’s done for the rest of the day. But our biggest fears are in our minds.”

In a vlog entitled “Balding in My Twenties – Shaving My Head Bald”, Bakht pours out his anxieties before enlisting first his brother, then his mum, to clip his hair. The big moment comes when Bakht finally confronts himself in the mirror, realising that he has a good-shaped head, that being brazenly bald isn’t so bad after all and, most importantly, that he likes himself again. With his eyes shining and his beard bushy, Ben Bakht looks fantastic.

Shaving his head has transformed his outlook. “I thought, ‘Shaving it off wasn’t so bad, so what other things am I overthinking in my life?’” he says. “There was a ripple effect. I became much more fearless. I also remember thinking, ‘Am I going to get more female attention?’ And you know what? I have. I think it’s because I am more confident and accepting of myself. I don’t need to prove anything. And shaving my hair was the catalyst.”

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A Shaved New World

For Bakht, his days of spending £17 per week on haircuts and torturously styling his tufts with spray, gel and castor oil (an old-wives’-tale preventative that, like standing on your head, is not supported by evidence) are done. He feels like a new man – and his transformation is credit to the counsel of another man, 30-year-old Harry James.

James’s YouTube channel Bald Café has 86,000-plus subscribers and functions as a community and resource for a generation of men braving the buzzcut, with live head-shavings, discussions and outpourings of relief.

“Harry really has changed my life,” says Bakht. “He talked about a taboo that a lot of guys are afraid of.”

If this story of salvation sounds rather dramatic – after all, hair is only hair, and plenty of men lose it – it’s worth adding some context. Time and again on the Bald Café channel, men describe their experiences of hair loss as one of trauma. An exaggeration? Not really: one marker of trauma is the feeling of helplessness that a person experiences during or after a disturbing event. It’s also true that science has yet to devise an adequate solution for hair regrowth.

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Faced with these feelings of helplessness, the human ego mounts a defence, ranging (if the confessions on Bald Café are anything to go by) from the mundane to the expensive, the impractical to the nonsensical – comb-overs, comb-forwards, hat-wearing, transplants, implants, toupées, plus anti-balding medicines such as Propecia and Regaine.

Then there’s sitting at the back of the room so that no one clocks your pate, or not going on holiday, because holidays often mean swimming and, sadly, hats float. The byzantine lengths to which men go to hide their baldness are matched only by the depths of anxiety to which balding can take them.

It was a shameful experience for Harry James, a Southampton-based agricultural worker with an animated, Joe Wicks-like energy and looks that are half Tyson Fury and half Freddie Ljungberg: hardly the recalcitrant character one might associate with a man going to elaborate lengths to disguise his androgenic alopecia.

It’s taken him some work to embrace his baldness. All the men in James’s family are bald, but when, at the age of 25, he discovered a thinning patch, “It hit me like a train,” he says. “I’d never struggled for confidence, but there was something about hair loss that took the wind out of my sails. Life up to that point had been on an upward trajectory – you get taller, stronger, more outgoing. And then, bang: this big hit of mortality.”

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He noted that a few men had posted about experiencing similar feelings online and advocated for shaving it all off. One trip to the barber’s later and his outlook changed. “I felt completely different walking out. I’d done this thing I’d been so afraid of. You’ve got absolutely nothing to hide when you shave your head. That’s the beauty and the power of it.”

Since launching his YouTube channel, James has been overwhelmed with interest. It turns out that men do want to talk about the things they can’t talk about. “Bald Café has become about encouraging conversation. I shared my experience and got a couple of comments saying, ‘Thanks for talking about this, because I’m really struggling with it.’ I did more and the channel grew.”

Where James led, others followed. “Hair loss is such a secretive thing,” he says. “Guys don’t want to admit to it. It’s not so much about how it looks, but about how the whole thing makes you feel. You get more and more uncomfortable until it becomes unbearable.” Such is the need for frankness, James says, that these days it’s almost as if he answers DMs for a living. It turns out that there are a lot of balding and anxious men out there. (continues below)

Make the Grade

Give yourself an expert shave at home with these tips from Denis Robinson, barber at Ruffians, Liberty Soho.

Taking the Plunge

  1. Invest in a good pair of clippers (around £50). Position a second mirror, so you can see all of your head. Wash your hair and allow it to dry naturally, falling the way it normally does.
  2. Cut against the grain – so, if your hair falls forward, cut backward. If this is your first time, start on a longer length.
  3. If your hair is very thin on top, cut this one clipper level shorter than the back and sides to drill down wispy hairs that are harder for the clippers to grab. Short hair looks better when it’s sharper around the edges, so if you’re using a No 3, use a No 2 around the hairline.
  4. Once you know this is the look for you, do it regularly. This will keep it sharp – and will also help you emotionally by confirming that this is a style choice, not merely a necessity.

Perfecting the Wet Shave

  1. Novice shavers should start by clipping the hair down into stubble. Aim for around 3-5mm in length. Wash your hair/head and use a clean blade. Rinse well.
  2. Lather up shaving cream, foam or soap and massage into the skin. Shave with the grain; most hair grows forward on top towards the forehead, so shave from the crown, sweeping forward, then down to the ears and nape.
  3. Shave across the grain from side to side to catch bits that you’ve missed. Never

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    go against the grain, as this can cause painful ingrowing hairs. Use your non-razor hand to stretch the skin, creating a smoother plane.

  4. Finally, with a thorough rinse, remove all residue, preferably with cold water to shock the skin into retracting and closing the pores, and then moisturise.

The Cure or the Cause?

What’s emerging could perhaps be called a “Baldy Positivity” movement. In many ways, it’s never been easier to find cool, bald role models. A glance at the billboards tells us that it’s feasible to be tough, successful and bald: consider alphas such as Jason Statham, the Rock, Samuel L Jackson, Bruce Willis and Terry Crews. Nor should baldness be any barrier to being seen as cool (see: Common and Kelly Slater) or smart (Yanis Varoufakis and Jony Ive).

Make what you will of the fact that two of the world’s spiritual leaders, Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama, both rock a clean cranium. Monks of many faiths shave their heads, suggesting that God approves of the look. And to get even more historical, recall that it was a bald man – the Greek thinker Socrates – who almost single-handedly founded Western philosophy.

All of which begs a question: when the pantheon of bald heroes encompasses the tough, the cool, the clever and the holy, why are so many men still so reluctant to accept hair loss as a natural, normal occurrence?

Part of the blame might lie with the sudden proliferation of companies purporting to fix the issue. Google “hair loss” and your social feeds will soon fill up with adverts from UK-based male well-being brands including Manual, Sons and Numan, which follow the multimillion-dollar lead of US-based brand Hims, which, along with counterparts Keeps and Roman, offers treatment packages centring on the two greatest masculine insecurities: hair loss and erectile dysfunction.

The presentational rubric of these brands is broadly identical: minimalist websites with cool, contemporary fonts and an approachable, hey-guys-let’s-talk-about-self-care tone – with services combining subscription offers, digital support and nice-to-haves such as blood testing and supplementation. However, the hair-loss treatments on offer tend to boil down to two drugs: finasteride and minoxidil, which have long been marketed as Propecia, a tablet, and Regaine, a lotion.

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These treatments have been proven to arrest hair loss and increase regrowth, but are not without flaws. Finasteride was originally developed to treat prostate enlargement, and hair growth was noticed as a side effect. It functions by reducing the action of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a sub-product of testosterone, which causes hair follicles to shrink. Minoxidil was developed as a treatment for high blood pressure but was also discovered to make hair follicles wider and deeper. Both have been available as generic medicines for some time.

Male baldness Male baldness

According to Dr David Fenton, a consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Association of Dermatologists, “The hair follicles on the top, front and crown of the scalp are sensitive to circulating androgens. Their presence, in normal levels, can, in some people, be enough for those follicles to shrink and for the hairs to become finer and shorter, with more space in between. You don’t need any excess of the hormone, and you either inherit the tendency or you don’t.”

While brands’ websites are naturally keen to showcase their success stories, these treatments don’t work for everyone. “In 30-40% of people, minoxidil lotion doesn’t work; in 20% who take finasteride, it doesn’t work,” says Dr Fenton. “Finasteride is more efficient. It can put the brakes on, so you still thin, just more slowly, or halt the progression completely, or even reverse it to some degree. But you’ve got to maintain the treatments. If you stop the therapy, you start to lose the efficacy.”

Unwelcome Effects

There are also possible side effects to finasteride. “Some people get reduced libido, erectile dysfunction, breast sensitivity and – rarely – breast cancer,” says Dr Fenton. With this in mind, he cautions against online purchases: “I would always encourage people to go to their own GP to get the right advice and the official product.”

There is an irony in the fact that these seemingly new treatments have been available for some years, without the slick packaging and clever marketing, and a further irony in that many brands combine finasteride with treatments for one of its potential side effects: erectile dysfunction. But problems caused by those side effects are very real. The last few years have seen a number of men come forward to report concerning testimonies on issues occurring both during and after finasteride treatments, and there is a growing momentum

to have post-finasteride syndrome classified as an illness.

The Post-Finasteride Research Association in Berlin was founded by Simon Breidert, a 36-year-old physician who had been using it for two years when he noticed dry skin and insomnia. He stopped, only for more symptoms to appear. (continues below)

“I tried to withdraw and that’s when things got crazy,” he says. “The insomnia got worse. I was sleeping one hour a night for six weeks, then not sleeping at all. I felt brain-fogged and had to stop driving as it was dangerous. I had gastrointestinal problems, and my sex life got really bad. I couldn’t hold an erection on Viagra. I didn’t enjoy sex. I always liked proximity, closeness and cuddling, and that was gone. I didn’t feel anything or miss anyone.”

Over time, his brain fog lifted and his sleep improved. “I can work, think and be productive,” says Breidert. “But my quality of life is lower.” According to him, he isn’t alone in his experiences. “PFS affects maybe one in 1,000 men,” he estimates. “But when millions of men are taking finasteride, it amounts to a lot of people.”

Breidert campaigns to raise awareness of PFS, with the ultimate aim of having it classified as an illness.

His concerns are shared by Dr Fenton. “If someone has a background of depression and anxiety, maybe they shouldn’t be taking this drug,” he says.

Bald Decisions

James has his own views on the way that anti-hair loss drugs are marketed. Brands often play on insecurities to shift units, and in a Bald Café vlog entitled “Are Balding Men Being Shamed to Sell Hair Products?” he deconstructs the language and content of their communications.

“Guys feel like, ‘If I’m not using that stuff then I’m choosing to lose my hair,’” he says. “You’re self-conscious and desperate, and you’ve got companies bombarding you with things like: ‘I can sort this out for you!’ But if you start using this stuff, you have to use it for ever. They present it as a holy grail, but that’s not the reality.”

There is a strong case to argue that balding isn’t so much a physiological problem as a psychological one, bound up within the nexus of masculine insecurities relating to appearance, strength, youth and vitality. The male ego can be a fragile thing, and balding impinges savagely on confidence, perhaps the most prized masculine quality of all. But confidence can be rebuilt through exposure to experiences that provoke fear: in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) “flooding” is the term used for confronting that which terrifies us, from spiders to heights and – yep – baldness, in a bid to overcome our fear. This is exactly what James, Bakht and others on the channel have done.

Pushing through fear to build unshakable confidence is difficult at any stage in life, but particularly so when you’re a teenager, already burdened by the insecurities that come with that territory.

Ben Spowart, now 22, used to coiffure his hair into a Justin Bieber-style sweep, and turn up to work half an hour early to make sure it stayed in place. He was 15 when he noticed his hairline was receding; by 18, the anxiety of his encroaching baldness was exacting a heavy toll on his mental health.

“My biggest fear was the wind,” he says, “because I couldn’t control the fact that my fringe would move while I’m out and this would draw people’s attention to my receding hairline.” Playing football, his mind was on his hair, not the game. The pressure he put on himself to hide his hair loss was, he says “exhausting”.

But he kept quiet. “It would be the end of the world if I opened up about it, because I’d be showing that I was weak.”

On what he now calls Judgement Day, Spowart went for a run without a hat for the first time. After that, things changed. “I shaved my head in January,” he says. “It’s down to a buzzcut. It’s a style I’m feeling confident about. I wish I had focused on my mental health and happiness sooner rather than wasting my energy on the opinion of others.”

The way James sees it, braving the shave is a way of owning what you don’t have control over. “It’s happening to you. You didn’t ask for it,” he reflects. “I had an image of how ugly I was going to look. You don’t think, ‘Will anyone find me attractive?’ You think, ‘No one is going to find me attractive.’ But if you feel you look good, then you look good.”

To prove the point even more audaciously, James recently grew out his balding hair, facing yet another fear, and arriving at a tufty look that might remind you of Larry David.

“I thought, ‘I have to be fully at ease,’ and to do that I need to be in that position I was afraid of – looking like a guy who is losing his hair,” James recalls. “It took a couple of attempts. I got to two weeks and it felt untidy. I grew it out again and gave myself an actual haircut, a bit of a fade, and there it was. No one was bothered, and that gave me that final piece of closure. I just felt comfortable.”

Heartwarming clip shows Parkinson's sufferer dancing .
Mike Roll, from West Virginia, had been taking more than eight pills a day to battle symptoms including vigorous shaking. But the father-of-three was then offered surgery which enabled him to walk again.Mike Roll, from West Virginia, had been taking more than eight pills a day to battle vigorous shaking and being barely able to move his body.

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