When hair causes despair

Jonas DoerrOpinions Columnist

I was washing dishes when my roommate looked at me and said, “Jonas, I think you’re going bald!” I was so taken aback I had nothing to say back; I just said, “Okay.” But while I might have appeared calm, I was completely shaken.

As soon as I found a spare moment, I rushed to a mirror to peer at my scalp. Was it true? Were my follicles really deserting me at the ripe old age of 20?

Maybe my locks did in fact seem a bit thin. Perhaps my hairline really was leaving faster than a first date after a dad joke. “Woe is me,” I wept.

The next few weeks were even worse. I started noticing loose hairs falling from my head. Instagram caught on and started shoving hair loss treatment ads in my face. I began to accept that soon my head would be smoother than an icy sidewalk.

But I’m not alone in having this experience. According to YouGov.com, over half of men and women are “terrified” of going bald. Although it might seem like a surface-level problem, showing the surface of one’s skull seems to be on par with roller coasters and public speaking.

What could cause such fear? After all, having hair is a lot of work. It has to be shampooed, conditioned, styled, combed, and cut. 

It’s unpredictable, too. Unless one has a buzzcut, flyaways could appear any day. One day your hair might be flat, and the next it might be fluffier than the McDonald’s arches. 

And for what benefit? Hair provides some warmth, but nothing that a well-placed beanie can’t provide. It gives an opportunity to express oneself, but that too can be remedied with hats or suction-cup decorations.

Perhaps the only real reason to be scared of going bald is the social stigma. Many people believe that people wouldn’t like their new look, but why let other people’s opinions direct your life? A bald head signals the wisdom of the Dalai Lama, the athleticism of Michael Jordan, and the humor of Dave Chapelle. 

Eventually I realized that my situation wasn’t bad at all. My hair wasn’t falling nearly as fast as the snow outside like I originally thought. No one, other than my roommate, thought I was particularly hairless. And if I did lose my hair, I could probably expect to become a billionaire like Jeff Bezos.

So before you succumb to those Instagram ads that plead with you to save your hair before it’s too late, I have a few tips for you. First, realize that no one else is thinking about your hair as much as you are. Since we often think about our own appearance, it is natural to assume that others notice everything we do. But that’s just not true.

The spotlight effect is a phenomenon social psychologists have found in which one thinks that others pay more attention to one’s appearance and actions than they actually do. For example, Tom Gilovich ran a study in which college students wore an embarrassing T-shirt and then estimated how many other people noticed it. The estimations were drastically larger than how many people actually noticed the T-shirt.

When worrying about our hair loss, we can fall subject to the spotlight effect. We imagine most people will notice our thin hair, receding hairline, or bad haircut. But in reality, most other people won’t even see the offending tresses. 

In fact, if you told someone you were worried about your hair, you’d probably just draw their attention to something they’d have otherwise missed. By lamenting your impending baldness, you would make it more obvious.

Then what should we do if we are worried about our hair? After you’ve realized that others aren’t perceiving your hair as much as you are, use that to your advantage.  If they aren’t noticing, then you have the freedom to be bold. You can experiment and find the flow that works for your hair.

Next, turn this boldness into confidence. Confidence covers up a multitude of woes; once you can inject some swagger into your personality, people won’t dream of thinking about your hair. They’ll just be dreaming of you.

And if you manage to achieve smooth scalp nirvana, don’t keep it to yourself: share the love with other people. Now that you’re confident in your hair, compliment others on theirs. You could be the reason someone else is reassured that they look great. While it might feel fake, there’s something to appreciate about everyone. Once they’re aware you care for their hair, you’ll be sure to spare them from despair.