Tuesday 16 July 2019

'John Travolta should have embraced his baldness years ago, like I did' - Mark Hayes

As John Travolta finally embraces the nothing-on-top look, fellow baldie Mark Hayes confirms there's nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to a shiny pate

John Travolta shaved off his hair last week. Photo: Instagram
John Travolta shaved off his hair last week. Photo: Instagram
John Travolta posted a picture of his bald head on Instagram last week

Mark Hayes

That weird percussive noise you may have heard sweeping across the planet in the past few days was the sound of millions of bald men sarcastically clapping the news that John Travolta has finally 'come out' as one of us. The 64-year-old Hollywood actor posted a photo of himself on Instagram last week showing his freshly shaved noggin - and bald men everywhere thought: Jesus, what took you so long?

This is the same John Travolta who has long been accused of using hair plugs and toupees, the same Travolta who once reportedly demanded a photo-shoot be redone at a cost of $15,000 because he didn't like the way his hair looked in it.

Of course, reaction to his epiphany has been hugely positive - 'Everyone is digging Travolta's new bald do', read one headline. But, as a slaphead of some 25 years standing, I can't help but think there's something a little disappointing about a successful, rich, famous man being too insecure to face up to his male pattern baldness until he's almost eligible for his bus pass.

There's nothing new about men in denial over baldness. The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates believed a potion made with pigeon droppings could reverse it, while Julius Caesar apparently used laurel wreaths to hide his patchy pate.

And Travolta's certainly not alone - lots of men with more money than sense go down the fake hair route. Footballer Wayne Rooney paid £30,000 to have hair transplanted to his scalp from a 'donor area' on his body… which doesn't bear thinking about. And then there's Elton John, whose hairline looks like something he bought from Des Kelly The Carpet Man. And, of course, Donald Trump, whose elaborate $60,000 weave looks like it probably came with a chinstrap.

Arugably, Travolta, as an actor, needed to have a certain look in order to win work, and the thick head of hair he sported in Saturday Night Fever was one of his tools of the trade. But being bald never did Bruce Willis, Jack Nicholson, Robert Duvall, Ed Harris, Jason Statham, Vin Diesel, John Malkovich, Ben Kingsley, Patrick Stewart, Woody Harrelson or Sean Connery any harm. If you need to play a guy with hair in a movie, that's where the wigs, etc, should come in.

Studies show that 25-30pc of men have some hair loss before they reach their 30th birthday. By the age of 50, 85pc of men have significantly thinner hair. So why do men like Travolta go to such lengths to hide their baldness? Surely for a mature man in his 40s or 50s, it should be no big deal? And for most, it isn't.

A full, lustrous head of shiny hair is associated with youth and health, and is therefore desirable, whereas baldness is associated with age, like wrinkles or liver spots. So, the younger you go bald, the harder it is. It's seen as a genetic booby prize and bald men are often mocked and pitied. This can cause high stress levels, low self-esteem and even depression. Generally, if you read or hear about baldness in the media, it's in the context of a new 'miracle cure' or a 'hair loss clinic' - as if baldness was some sort of disease.

And that's a bit like how it felt for me. I first noticed I was going bald when I was still in school. I remember saying it out loud for the first time, emboldened by several drinks, to a platonic female friend at my debs - "I think my hair is falling out". Her appalled reaction confirmed my worst fears - very soon, no woman would ever look at me again without thinking of her grandad.

What was worse, I had long hair at the time - mainly for headbanging to dodgy grunge music, but also for obscuring the worst case of acne since Freddy Krueger was a boy.

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I hope everyone had a great New Year!

A post shared by John Travolta (@johntravolta) on

Losing my hair so young was bloody hard to take. My father had hair like Robert De Niro, for goodness sake, and my brothers too. So why me? The answer to that lay in the genetic lottery and the fact that baldness is inherited on the mother's side - my mother had twin brothers with twin bald heads. When they got together, it was like George Costanza from Seinfeld looking at himself in a mirror.

I stuck with the long hair through a year of college until, hairline now receding fast, I chopped it off in the summer - and, coincidence or not, my girlfriend immediately dumped me. I spent six months with tightly cropped hair, painfully self-conscious, drained of confidence and feeling generally hideous. Then one night I stumbled across a solution. Again, there was drink involved, and with some friends egging me on, I shaved my head bald. It had more to do with drunken japes than hair loss solutions, but I liked it.

I admit that in the early days there was probably some cognitive dissonance going on. On one level, I was kind of hiding the fact I was going bald - as if it was a fashion statement, more skinhead than slaphead. But on a deeper level, I'd faced my fear and owned it - there was nothing left to agonise over. Sorry to sound all Brexity, but I'd taken back control.

So, I kept on shaving my head. Yes, I still got the 'baldy bastard' insults and the smart comments and, yes, my share of rejections. But for the most part, I had a great life as a young bald man. There were even some fringe benefits to being bald - it's very low maintenance, you never have to make small talk with barbers, and you are less likely to get mugged because you look like the one who should be doing the mugging.

And I'm only half-joking. In a study published last year, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania asked male and female students to rate photographs of men - with hair, naturally bald/shaved, and with hair digitally removed - according to attractiveness, confidence and dominance, and the baldies actually won in all three categories.

So, my advice to any young men feeling bad about going thin on top - forget the miracle cures or plugs or transplants. Whether you want to shave it off, cut it tight, grow it long or even comb it over, just accept it, own it - and take control.

And for old codgers like John Travolta? Lads, get over it.

Ultimately, I welcome Travolta to the fold like the prodigal bald son that he is. But I am 100pc certain what he's been thinking these past few days is: 'Why didn't I do this decades ago?'

Irish Independent

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