Bald! From Hairless Heroes to Comic Combovers
by Kevin Baldwin
[Evening Standard, Book Reviews, page 33, 14.11.2005]
As someone who started losing his hair in his early twenties, I have to confess to be a little shocked by this book. I had no idea being bold was regarded as such a handicap. According to Kevin Baldwin - his real name, apparently - men have gone to extraordinary lengths to try to cure themselves of this affliction.
For instance, a Swiss farmer called Gerhard Flit became convicted that bat milk had a miraculously restorative effect and begun rubbing female bats on his scalp. He even pioneered a milking technique and went on to make a fortune for reselling the resulting "cream" for £2,000 an ounce.
Other "cures" include earwax, spider webs, pigeon poo, castration and boiled mole flesh.
The question of why men attach so much importance as trivial to hair loss is an interesting one, but ala, you won't find the answer here, For a book about a condition that's normally associated with high levels of intelligence, Bald! is a disappointingly lowbrow. Indeed, to call it a "book" is misleading since it's so fragmented.
The author is described on the dust jacket as a "television researcher", and it reads more like a dossier of loosely assembled facts than a continuous narrative.
The first chapter, for instance, is an A-Z of theories as to what causes baldness, while chapter 11 is a list of bald historical figures structured chronologically.
In fairness to Baldwin, he's done a pretty thorough job of researching the topic. There can't be a single joke about baldness that hasn't been shoehorned into this book. But I found the unrelentingly jaunty tone wearing after 200 pages. He seems determined to be cheerful in the face of condition that he, too, regards as a bit of a disaster, almost as if going bald was on a par with testicular cancer.
Baldness, for the author, is an unwelcome reminder of our mortality.
Clearly, this book is aimed at bald men - or rather: women, who don't know what to buy their bald partners for Christmas - but I'm not sure whether it will appeal to them. As a member of this demographic, I would have preferred a less defensive book on the subject. The author doesn't disclose whether he is bald, but I suspect since he's so lacking in testosterone.
True, he includes a chapter on the 40 Advantages of Alopecia, but where is the chapter on the appalling disadvantages of having a full head of hair?
Let's look at the facts: it stains your shirt collars; it makes you sweat; it gets caught in machinery; it creates dandruff; it gets in your eyes; it's expensive to maintain; it clogs up in the plughole in the bath; it attracts unpleasant odours; it gets in spaces between the keys on your computer keyboard; it's a breeding ground for lice; it gets in your food; it gets stuck in your throat; it makes you look like a girl; it gets pulled - the list is endless.
What the author hasn't grasped is the level of animosity that bald men feel towards those not so afflicted. When we see someone with a ponytail our first impulse is to reach for the scissors. We regard men with hair as the blondes of the male population: they may get invited to a lot of parties, but no one expects them to have read A Critique of Pure Reason. (Think Tim Jefferies.=
We like to remind people of the terrible fate of the Mexican werewolf family who suffered from a rare genetic disorder that caused thick, dark hair to grow all over their faces. They were shunned by polite society and forced to join a circus.
Contrary to Kevin Balswin's view, there is a cure for baldness, and that is to regard it as a blessing rather than a cure.