The New York Times
January 21, 2011
Baldness: Put a Crown on It
By TATIANA BONCOMPAGNI
OF all the details surrounding Prince William’s April marriage to his longtime girlfriend, Kate Middleton, few seem to have garnered as much attention as his rapidly receding hairline.
“You Can Leave Your Hat On” and “No Hair to the Throne” are among the many headlines that have appeared in the British tabloids. Which poses a question: Is it possible that the 28-year-old prince felt an urge to lock up a commitment from Ms. Middleton because his heart-throb status might be beginning to disappear with the hair? If so, what must the rest of the not-so-princely men in the world feel when youthful looks begin to fade?
In the past, only women were perceived to have a marital sell-by date. But thanks to a convergence of social and economic trends, some men feel the same pressures.
“The clock ticks for both men and women,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.
Michael Kimmel, a sociologist, said one contributing factor is the increasing economic independence of women. Mr. Kimmel, a professor at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, cited a 1930s study by Willard Waller that evaluated how women and men assessed each other’s sexual marketability based on criteria including physical appearance, social skills and financial stability. A woman of that era valued a man’s earning capacity above good looks and other traits.
But now, Mr. Kimmel said, “women are able to provide for a family, so they are more able to focus as well on physical features.”
Also, men have become more concerned with body image, meaning that they are more likely to measure themselves against culturally perceived standards of attractiveness, according to Ashley Mears, a sociologist. She traces the trend to the 1980s with more advertisements and magazines geared toward men.
In other words, those Propecia and Rogaine ads can wear on the psyche.
Men may give themselves some leeway when it comes to putting on a few extra pounds and having wrinkles (two typical areas of concern among aging women hoping to attract a mate). But hair loss — both androgenic alopecia, often referred to as male-pattern baldness, and alopecia areata, which typically involves temporary and localized shedding — can be emotionally traumatic, especially for men in their 20s.
In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology estimates 80 million men and women in the United States suffer from hereditary thinning or baldness.
Dr. Alice Trisdorfer, a psychologist in Philadelphia, said she once had a patient so consumed by his thinning hair that he “would count the number of hairs lost on his pillow and how many he found in the shower drain.”
Spencer Kobren hears such hair-obsessed stories often. He is the host of “The Bald Truth,” a talk show streamed live online at thebaldtruth.com. The site also has a forum with many thousands of posts.
“As their hair line is eroding, so is their self-confidence and attractiveness,” said Mr. Kobren. “We call it a cancer of the spirit.”
For example, one of the site’s users, Zero Confidence Balder, 23, posted this: “I know this is pathetic, but I’ve lost so much self-confidence and I feel like I’m always angling my head so that people can’t see the top.”
Because of the blow to their self-esteem, some balding men simply settle when it comes to spouses, Mr. Kobren said. “Guys believe they don’t have much time left as they continue to lose their hair. They kind of grab the person closest to them who they find relatively attractive at the time. Emotionally it’s too difficult for them to go out there and try to court the girl of their dreams if they are feeling emotionally insecure about themselves.”
Although Ms. Middleton and most other women aren’t likely to admit having an aversion to balding men, Susan Jones, an executive at an accounting firm in Manhattan, said many of her female friends in their late 30s and 40s are alone, in part, because their “impossibly high” criteria for men have little to do with what it takes to be a good husband. “They want to date these good-looking men, but really, that’s not going to get you very far in a marriage,” said Ms. Jones, who pointed out that she has been happily married to Richard Jones, who is bald, for 13 years.
“I think we are very well matched,” said Mr. Jones, an associate professor of accounting at Hofstra.
Dr. Neil Sadick, a dermatologist in New York who is balding, said, “There is more acceptance for balding.” For proof, one need only look to athletes like Michael Jordan and Mark Messier and movie stars like Bruce Willis and Jason Statham who are popularizing the shaved head.
Lauren Dalrymple, 35, believes that hair loss “is more of an issue for men than it is for women.” And so later this year she plans to marry 40-year-old John Christel, whose hair began thinning in his 20s.
The rise of the post-industrial workplace in which men (and women) are more likely to engage in face-to-face interactions has influenced men’s self-image as well as their appearance, said Kathleen Gerson, a professor at New York University and author of “The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work and Family.”
“Now, how we look matters,” she said.
Of course there are plenty of bald and balding men living happily ever after. For starters, men, like women, are marrying later in life, according to Census data. And although women rank physical features higher on their future-husband wish lists, they also care about personality, said Mr. Wilcox of the National Marriage Project. “The good news is that women are even more attentive to a man’s capacity to be a good friend or be emotionally engaged,” he said.
On thebaldtruth.com, one post, Fixed By 35, figured out a more radical way to feel loved: “I’m emigrating to Australia next year. They’re the only English speaking developed world country that still sometimes elects bald men to lead the country, so logically they must be more mature about disfigurement. Plus if you’re bald, you HAVE to wear a hat in summer to avoid skin cancer.”
Lucky for Prince William, Ms. Middleton doesn’t seem bothered by what adorns his head — now or later.