Saturday, June 7, 2008
The bald shall not inherit the earth
Some research says baldness can be equated with extra virility in men but that cuts no ice in today’s desire for a beautiful, undifferentiated ‘norm’. Scientists have found a way to extract hair-producing cells from my scalp and propagate them in the laboratory before injecting them in my bald area and waiting for them, like seeds in the spring soil, to sprout their many-branched shoots. This skull-based husbandry will be universal in five or so years – they say. All those ads in papers and magazines stretching back to the last but one century, showing before and after treatments, including dung-based preparations, herbal extracts, monkey glands and electrolysis to the latter day business of transplanting follicle-clumps, like sods, from one overgrown area to a hitherto lawn-free pate, will be a thing of the past.
Is the ‘problem’ of baldness in men our own version of the main body image issue in women? Has the desirable man become someone with luxuriant, ungreyed topiary and a hairless chest, just as the media-inspired desirable, catwalk-prancing woman has become a slim boyish figure with obvious breasts (but not over large)? Men are now, apparently, suddenly consuming an enormous range of cosmetics to retain their quasi-youthful looks.
How can we men retain our self-confidence if we do not conform to this multi-million pound inspired ideal type? Here I am with an ever-expanding spam (the remaining hair shaved very short to give my baldness a semblance of ‘style’) and an unaccountable, almost tropical growth of chest hair. Why is nature playing this paradoxical game with me? What evolutionary purpose is it fulfilling? Whatever its hidden benefits are, they are remaining just that, beyond my ken.
At its heart, the preoccupation we have with our bodies and how they look, is tied closely to mortality. The loss of hair is symbolically equated with the loss of the power of the body. Samson, after all, lost his strength when his hair was cut. The army conscript loses his unpredictable independence. The hairless man is a dead man walking. Meanwhile the growth of body hair is a atavistic shift to a more primitive state of evolution. The hairy chested man is the ape shambling. Combining one with the other for a monstrous parody of beauty and the beast, creates a perfect opportunity for marketing. So much visual dissonance to straighten out with the products of the age and a single desirable image for today’s man.
It becomes a social imperative. We must wax our chests and cover our head-skin with wigs, replants or expensive remedial head treatments, straight from the snake-oil factories of our pharmaceutical giants.