Two months ago I sat in a movie theater a row in front of two attractive women in their early 20s. Before the show, they talked about men they were dating. My ears pricked up when the subject fell to a balding man they both knew.
"I could never go out with him," one said. "Yeah," replied the other, "he'll be completely bald in a year or two, and. . . ."She didn't finish her sentence; the previews were starting. But she didn't need to. The other woman knew what she meant: He would be less attractive, harder to be seen with.
That negative attitude is reinforced by popular culture. Excluding Telly Savalas, Yul Brynner and Louis Gossett Jr., you can't name any bald leading men. Actually, none of the three is a good example because they all sport shaved-bare heads rather than the monklike ring of hair that distinguishes male pattern baldness.
Bald actors end up playing character or supporting roles or wearing what GQ magazine recently called the "Shatner Turbo 2000."
Hollywood traffics in stereotypes, of course, and the stereotype is bald men are older, less attractive, less desirable and less virile than the follicularly full.
However, those stereotypes reflect not only the beliefs of Hollywood writers and producers but the biases of the public as well.
Even secure bald men feel the sting of prejudice and, perversely, buy into it.
Randy, a confident, single computer software trainer, 37, has thin peach fuzz on top. He says he is now untroubled by his hair loss but admits he was anxious when he first starting losing it more than 10 years ago.
"My new motto," he says, "is if I have to put a comb through it, it's time to go to the barber." He now keeps all his hair about the length of Velcro.
Does he do less well with women because of his baldness? No, he says openly, but then he asks, "Who would you rather talk to, an ugly woman or a pretty woman?" I ask if he thinks his baldness makes him less attractive, but he doesn't answer.
Rob, a physically active graduate student shows frontal hair loss. He isn't, however, of the bald and proud school. I lightheartedly suggest that going bald isn't all bad, what with the savings in haircut costs and the ease of styling what's left with a washcloth.
"You can't tell me you wouldn't rather have hair," he replies defensively. Rob insists he was much better looking when his pate was full. Did he do better with women before his hair began to meiotically divide?
Definitely yes, he said.
Isn't a woman's attraction to a man as much a matter of nontangibles like intelligence, attitude and self-confidence as it is of good looks, I ask. He looks at me like I'd smoked and inhaled.
Ultimately, male anxiety about baldness is a question of sex appeal. So I asked single women how they feel about balding men. The surprising answer: It doesn't matter much.
Janet, a 30-year-old secretary and hair stylist, notices a person's hair before she sees anything else. It's the reason she trained as a beautician. Does baldness in a man make much of a difference to her?
"I do notice everybody's hair. That's true. But in my heart of hearts I really don't care if a man is bald or not," she says.
"It does bother me when they wear a toupee or let it grow long in their neck or try to comb it over from the side," she says. She prefers men who are well-groomed, bald or not.
Dana, 23, works in photographic advertising. Her attitude toward balding has softened with maturity. "It probably made a difference when I was younger, but when I was 18 or 20, things changed," she said. "I would probably say baldness doesn't matter. Men are just as good-looking with hair or without. You realize it's just not essential."
Both women have seen my denuding dome, so they could have lied to save my feelings. But genetic evidence suggests they didn't. If women were very particular about it, none of us bald guys would be here to worry about it.Paul Jones is a balding man who faithfully styles his fringe with a washcloth each morning, actually knows what "meiotically" means and - whether due to his pate or his vocabulary - is still irresistible to women.
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