Thursday 18 July 2019

The eight stages of going bald

As Prince William embraces the razor and Donald Trump clings on to those wispy hairs, Joel Snape traces the journey from denial to acceptance

Hair we go: Prince William has accepted his follicle fate Photo: Getty Images
Hair we go: Prince William has accepted his follicle fate Photo: Getty Images

Welcome, Prince William, to your new brotherhood. In case you weren't aware, last week the future king of England debuted his new buzz-cut, completing the final step in a process that about two-thirds of men experience - to some extent - by the age of 35. He looks... well, pretty good, as it turns out, despite having to fend off reports he paid £180 for the chop.

I'm not entirely happy to welcome him to the ranks of the freshly-shorn - more on that in a second - but, as a man who's trodden the path before him, I understand. No, it's okay: I understand.

I was in my early 20s when my beautiful brown locks started to desert me: almost unnoticeably at first, then like they were on fire. It was an age when no one else seemed to be losing their hair and ­- the fact that the entire male side of my immediate family was bald aside - felt like injustice on a cosmic scale. At first I railed against it, denied it, tried to pretend it wasn't happening, but then I embraced it and came out the other side a more confident and, dare I say it, more handsome man.

So, for men who still fear time's remorseless clippers - or just those who want to better understand what their balding loved ones are experiencing - I'd like to explain just what goes through a bloke's head as he thinks about giving it the old ultra-short back and sides… and what happens afterwards.


Fine: this one's the same as the first stage of grief, though it's possible that it'll last a lot longer. It starts like a splinter in your brain sometime around the moment you grasp the concept of genetic inheritability: sure, you think, my dad and his dad and my grandad on my mam's side are all bald, but surely I, young princeling who has never even known the loss of a hamster, am immune? I will defy this curse and laugh in the face of entropy and decay. Maybe you even make a wisecrack or two about your own father's hair and he takes it manfully on the scalp, without ever reminding you of your own destiny. Children are idiots.

Dawning horror

This can take a while, until the evidence in the shower plughole and glances you catch of yourself in supermarket CCTV footage present you with an unassailable case, like a trial lawyer locking in the verdict: You Are Going Bald. From then, it's a soft-shoe shuffle through the self-pity spectrum. Why me? What about all the haircuts I didn't try? What if I've got a weird-shaped head? No, Christ, really, why me and not that arsehole from the ads team who spikes his hair up like a Dragon Ball Z character, he doesn't even deserve h… needless to say, this is a dark time.


This happens when it's getting increasingly obvious and it comes from everyone else, not you. "It'll be fine," they say. "Isn't being bald a sign of having high testosterone? It's definitely an evolutionary sign of intelligence or fertility or something, I read that somewhere recently. Anyway, The Rock's bald! And Vin Diesel, and… well, probably several other successful actors who aren't impossibly muscular and handsome, anyway. Listen, don't worry, you definitely don't have a weird-shaped head." You, alone with your impending hairlessness for every other minute of the day, are unconvinced by any of it.

Unwilling acceptance

The darkness before the dawn. Rock bottom. Someone yells 'baldy' at you in a bar, you're tagged in a Facebook photo from an awful angle, you catch yourself glancing at one of those regrowth-shampoo adverts on the train for an uncomfortably long time, and perhaps even consider changing your Tinder profile pic to one where you're wearing a hat. This is it. You aren't even balding. You are bald. Bald.

Then, one day, something changes. You leave for your lunch hour with fresh steel in your eyes. You go to your normal barber, the nice old gent who's been dutifully ignoring the obvious for months, years now, assume the position and say the five magic words. "Number one, please. All over."


As the words leave your lips, a change sweeps over you. Suddenly, you're being proactive instead of reactive, not clinging to what little you've got left but giving your traitorous follicles the finger. You're Alexander the Great burning all his boats, Quint smashing the radio in Jaws ­- there's no way back, at least for a couple of weeks, and it's breathtaking. In years to come, when you have a partner and children and they have a partner and children, you will not be allowed to say that the day you got your first buzzcut was one of the best of your life, but secretly you'll tell a balding friend that it was definitely top 10.


Glory. For the first time in forever, you're the boss of your hair, and the new-found confidence flows. You could be Jason Statham or Agent 47, the lead in a film about some no-nonsense hardman instead of the mob accountant he slams against a wall. A nice young lady says you look a bit like Billy Zane, and though it's definitely because of the hair, you can pretend she means the handsome Dead Calm version. Enjoy this time, because next comes...


This is a fresh wrinkle in the fabric of social baldness and it comes from the fact that... well, everyone's in on the secret now, and everyone's doing it. The trouble is, without men with comb-overs and power doughnuts to define yourself against, without the Larry Davids of the world, there'd be no cachet in the buzzcut. This, really, is why Wills should think about taking one for the team and just going bald like his dad. He's already got all of the things a normal bald man thinks life is fixing to rob him of: money, respect, a lovely wife, a helicopter licence - so why does he need the buzzcut? Briefly, you consider taking the next step by Bic-ing your entire scalp. Don't do this, it's just too much maintenance.

...And acceptance

Yes, back to the grief ones, because it all ends here. With your hair a distant memory and your new 'do - whatever it is - established, you learn that time heals all wounds, including the ones you got from Bic-ing your entire scalp. You never quite get over the fact you didn't get to try a coup au vent or a Bedford crop, but there are other things to worry about, and even if science comes up with a miraculous, cheap, foolproof restorative solution, you're not sure you'll bother. Finally, you are at peace.

Once you've lived without hair for longer than you did with it, you can worry about other things. Like, where the hell are all these grey beard hairs coming from?

Irish Independent

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