Peladophobia: (noun) From Spanish pelado (“bald”) + Ancient Greek φόβος (phóbos, “fear”)
- The fear of baldness and/or of bald people.
When I turned 21 my brother was a nightclub DJ at two popular clubs in the SF Bay Area. I frequented both with a “no line, no cover” privilege. This status was second in street cache only to my white and gold Trans Am. In the local clubbing scene I was the envy of my friends. But it wasn’t enough because I had white guy dance moves and looked like any other community college kid in my town. I needed an edge. Something stark but fabulous. I decided upon shoulder-length, straight, hair – the exact opposite of my short, wavy hair that would grow bigger and more unmanageable with time.
Without consistent monthly haircuts I looked like a dirty microphone.
I spent a lifetime loathing my shaggy hair. I looked like Euro Nacho Libre. I should’ve loved and flaunted it with confidence considering the moppy hairstyles of young guys today. In my mind, only long straight hair on guys was cool. So I wore a baseball hat for years with my tumbleweed spilling out from all sides, like trying to cap Snuffaluffagus.
My lack of self-esteem in my youth was also why I bleached my teeth till my gums where white and my teeth a blue tint. My dentist told me that I had bleached the white away, and that tooth whiteness was finite. Blue teeth aside, a potential retreat of my hairline troubled me early on. I don’t have the right head for baldness. And I didn’t want to become one of those balding guys who shave their head as if in control of their “hairstyle.”
I also didn’t want to look like a wet lollipop that had been dropped on carpet and picked back up. I was riddled with balding fear-porn.
As part of his research for the launch of a new range of slickly branded hair-wellness products, Jamie Stevens, 39, a hairdresser who lives in Buckinghamshire, England commissioned a survey of 10,000 men across Europe. “So many men said they would rather have a small penis than go bald,” he shared. “They said it made them feel less masculine, less attractive, less successful and less powerful.” It seems like a fair trade. Guys with perfect hair should have shrinky-dinks, and vice-versa.
I later tried growing out and then flat ironing my hair, but it was too wispy and I was far too lazy. So I committed to a radical cultural immersion and ventured to a salon in a nondescript strip mall called the Hair Kingdom. The beautician was empathetic to my plight and ordered an appropriate shade of Brad Pitt “Legends of the Fall” hairweave. A week and $300 later I was a Norse nightclub Viking with realistic, effeminate rental hair.
Outside the club scene, however, my sudden transformation was not well received by friends or anyone at my taekwondo dojo. In no other setting but Hollywood is it acceptable to go from short, wavy hair to a white trash Capt. Jack Sparrow overnight. It’s rightfully unsettling to others. My own brother assailed me with displeasure under his natural long hair that he grew for free.
I also faced the unanticipated maintenance of long hair that formerly belonged to someone else. Then there was all the itching. Maniacal itchiness that only scratching my scalp with a metal fork away from curious onlookers could soothe. And when I didn’t maintain it properly, it quickly became a “tumbleweave.” I woefully returned to the Hair Kingdom to have the weave removed. It would’ve been less embarrassing to have it ripped out by another dude in a bar fight.
I would default back to my God-given coif until a few years later when I would again become hair twitchy…
At 23 I settled down enough to get into a reputable West Coast graduate school. Being both anxious and self-conscious while disliking the shape of my head, I remained consumed with anxiety over a hairless future. And as an adoptee I had no benchmark against which to measure my hairline, or even photos of maternal relatives. I could’ve just as easily descended from wookies as hairless aliens.
I was losing only a small, mostly imperceptible amount of hair in the form of slight recession in the corners – an area where minoxidil was proven ineffective in regrowing hair. But denial is a formidable force. Also, I have a big forehead and an asshole brother who spent years ridiculing me for the slightest physical flaws. I would do most anything for the chance at a prominent widow’s peak or a lower, mock-proof hairline.
I diverted some of my student loan money towards months of treatment. The federal government had no idea I was redirecting large portions of grant and academic loan money to big pharma. Who needs your own textbooks when you can borrow them with a potentially reputable mane?
I wouldn’t need food if I could grow and eat my own hair.
Rogaine required a prescription back then – which is tough to get when you have all your hair. But common sense and poverty is no match for anxiety, so I begged a dermatologist friend to write me scripts against his better judgement. No one was privy to my maniacal hair experiment, with one exception: the attractive fellow student who worked at the pharmacy counter. Each time she saw me approach, I could see my brother’s taunting eyes. I knew she either thought I was a paranoid idiot, or that I was formerly bald and Rogaine was fueling my current hair. My eyes begged for her silence if we were ever to see each other outside of the drugstore. Her visible confusion should’ve confirmed my quest as asinine. It did not.
Clinical trials be damned, I’d be a restorative hair growth outlier and lower my forehead. But the doc was right. I didn’t regrow actual hair in the corners. I grew an exact replica of white, barely visual fuzz you’d see on a molding cantaloupe. And I waited weeks and spent thousands of dollars on this insipid result. That’s time and money I could’ve invested in something less shallow than some fleeting forehead fuzz.
In the absence of actual hair, my forehead looked like it had been sprayed with Pam® then dusted with asbestos.
After wasting thousands, I took the next anxiety-fueled, illogical step: The non-surgical hair replacement option, HairClub® for Men. It was later branded HairClub® Medical Group to assist all follicle challenged genders. If you somehow evaded the decades of cheesy commercials, HairClub® was founded in the late 60’s by Sy Sperling as a hair replacement company. His commercial fame was attributed to his tagline, “I’m not only the Hair Club president, I’m also a client.”
I phoned the “club” nearest to me, then made the four-hour drive from my college dorm north to a downtown San Francisco high-rise. It was the furthest I had ever taken my Honda Accord with a salvaged title. I was officially on haircation.
I had four long highway hours to arrive at common sense. But I did not. Not even during the elevator ride up to the 21st floor where I questioned how much money the hair peddlers must charge each client to afford such swanky digs. I tried to guess the cost of one glue-on human pelt, and what accompanying services would be required. If my mullet weave in a bad hood was a fast $300, whatever fake science went down in this place would be thousands more. If I spent anymore anxiety money, I’d be sleeping in my car for a semester with only a newly purchased hair mesh to warm me.
The elevator doors opened to an opulent maroon carpeted and walnut accented lobby that smelled of confidence and epoxy. The walls were adorned with ornamentally framed “before and after” photos of clients and their paid testimonials. A potential client would need only to suspend belief that a glued-on weave was worth the initial $3,500 outlay and never letting a date run their fingers too deeply through your hair or using an open flame.
There were a couple of balding men in the waiting area, and a young woman at the reception desk. As I approached her, she had a quizzical look on her face. One that I rightfully interpreted as, “Is this bushy-haired kid here to pick-up his bald dad?”
She said, “hello” and I responded that I had an appointment. She glanced at the top of my head and paused for a moment, then by the look on her face assumed I wished to become a werewolf. She kindly asked me to take a seat. As I waited, I caught her baffled glances my way. I knew she was not grasping that my anxiety and hair-OCD had driven me there and away from my more mentally fit classmates hours away.
I quickly grew self-conscious. For the first time, rationality began to displace my anxiety, because I now saw what she saw: a guy who was either mocking men who were actually balding, or someone who had an uncanny fixation on potential normal hair recession as dictated by the will of God.
I feigned a hallway restroom visit and sprint-walked out of the lobby, past the testimonial wall of tarred-and-feathered guys to the elevator. I hit the down button 50 times and muttered to myself, “What the hairy *expletive* is wrong with you?! You nearly sold your academic soul for a man-weave worth more than your car.”
I made the long trip back to school south down the coast. But on this drive I was filled with new ‘hair-peace.’ I realized it was because I nearly let anxiety take me to the finite end, but I had successfully countered it with logic rather than letting it run feral on emotion and commercial mousse. I also knew that I’d be okay no matter what my scalp opted to do later. Even if it meant a life of celibacy as a conehead.
Had I known that all these years later that I’d still have the same amount of hair I did at 18, I would’ve used my money as it was intended: on textbooks and therapy.