The Godfather: Peter Corris on hair
I am not a particularly hairy man. The hair on my chest is minimal, I have none on my back and my facial hair is not especially abundant. But, at nearly 75, I have a thick, low growing, all-over covering of hair on my head. My hairline hasn’t retreated a millimetre since it was first formed.
My hair is not notably attractive. Straight as matches, it was fair when I was young, turned a sort of mousy brown later and is greying now but still retains some colour. Call it pepper and salt. For all its ordinary appearance I am proud of it, but I know this is a foolish way to feel.
The survival or loss of hair for a man is primarily determined by genetics and has little or nothing to do with diet, lifestyle or hygiene. The condition known as male-pattern baldness is passed down in the female line. A man whose maternal grandfather had hair throughout his life will not become bald unless through illness or an accident. My maternal grandfather retained his hair to the end (well into his 70s) and my grandsons, via my daughters, have that assurance. The converse is not true; a male whose maternal grandfather was bald may keep his hair when other genetic factors are in play, but the odds are strongly against it.
Some of my contemporaries showed signs of hair loss as early as their mid-20s. Without exception they were distressed by it. According to his biographer, one of Elvis Presley’s great concerns in the last years of his life was that his hair was thinning.
Attempting to cope with encroaching baldness, men have adopted various strategies, the worst of which, mercifully less common than in the past, was the comb-over. The hair growing to the side of a bald pate was grown long and pasted over the central nakedness. It was never convincing and, if disturbed by wind or some other intervention, could look quite hideous. By far the best plan is to keep the hair short while coverage remains and then shave the lot off when little endures. Unhappily for people of European descent, this is not usually a good look for the typical pale-skinned Caucasian skull, but Bruce Willis and Ed Harris get away with it, although both, I suspect, are happy to wear hats when the role permits it.
Few bald men opt for wigs because they are thought of as ridiculous and are not convincing unless exquisitely made and exquisitely expensive. Elton John just manages.
Curiously, for all the concern men feel about hair loss, it seems to matter not at all to women, either in life or literature. I’ve never heard or read about a woman who thought less of a partner because he was bald.
Men know this and are told so, but it doesn’t help, and so millions of dollars are spent at hair-restoring clinics. We are familiar with the TV ads, but it seems unlikely that the medications and techniques are effective in the long run. If they were, wouldn’t Prince William, photographed in public every day and presumably with his share of vanity, be a clamouring client? (Diana Spencer’s dad was definitely follicly challenged.)