There are two significant moments in every bald man's life.
The first: he admits to himself he is losing his hair.
The second: he admits this truth to others.
A surprising amount of bald men never reach this second point, they never feel comfortable with the wider world knowing they have no hair. It is the fear these men possess that has made wigmakers rich since the invention of the mirror, and it is the reason for the existence of hair transplants and scalp micropigmentation.
Hair loss makes men do stupid things, for as long as they think they can hide it.
I remember - as I'm sure all bald men do - the first time anyone commented on my hairline. It was April 2007 and I was in London without supervision for the first time. I was 18 years old, a few months from the end of school and optimistic about the future. Dragging my friend, Joe, to visit Portobello Road (the setting of the most famous song in Bedknobs & Broomsticks, which I'd loved as a child), I insisted he took a photograph of me beside a street sign. There was a strong wind mussing my hair, and as Joe clicked away he shouted, "Christ! Are you going bald!?"
"No," I said, "I've got a high hairline, I always have." This was a lie I would repeat for years.
After university, I worked in an office and encountered other (i.e. older) men who were balding. A salesman, late forties, spoke the same "high hairline" response when questioned about his scalp, and I saw myself plain. I was a quarter of a decade younger than him, but I had the same troubles with hair loss. It was while eavesdropping on the rest of the salesman's conversation that I first learnt about L'Oreal Regaine. It promised magic.
I cried on the tube home, because I'd realised I couldn't lie to myself any more. When I clambered into the crisp autumn twilight I made a shameful march to a chemist's. The smell of sanitiser drugged me as I stalked the shelves, looking for male hair products. Regaine wasn't there, but I made a pass by the counter and saw stacks out of reach. If I wanted it, I'd have to admit to a stranger that I needed a treatment for hair loss, thus defeating the whole purpose of the product. I left empty-handed.
For two weeks I went into every Boots I passed and stood in front of the counter, leering at the product, too scared to speak. One weeknight I went for drinks in Soho, and buoyed by happy hour cocktails I danced into a store and spent £45 on a deodorant can-sized tube that promised to make my hairline great again. And, for a while, it did.
I used Regaine daily for about three years, and for the first 18 months there was a visible and continual improvement. I was losing less hair, I was getting hair growth where I hadn't for a long time: it was magical, but Cinderella-type magic, where it was back to pumpkin at midnight. The Regaine stopped working.
At the end of every day there were piles of hair on my desk and I had to unblock the shower weekly. I started buying the firmest hair products known to man so I could carve rock-solid, opaque, side partings. Months passed and every morning it took longer to hide my hairline, and everyone I met looked three inches above my eyes while we spoke. I was lying to myself about successfully lying to the world.
It was time to shave my head.
I didn't want to be a man who was uncomfortable with himself. I didn't want to be in denial, or look like I was. I've seen men in wigs or with comedy combovers, and it's not a good look. Men with shaved heads may not be as pretty as floppy-haired fops, but they look in control of themselves, and they look smart.
A man who wears a wig whenever he's in public is a man drowning in self-contempt: he hates who he is, and that's pitiful and not something I want to be.
Being ready to shave my head proved to me that I had accepted I was losing my hair and could do nothing about it. But coming to terms with the new identity I'd have as a hairless man was to be a much harder struggle...