Horrified to find he’s thinning on top, Jackson Biko wonders if there are benefits to being bereft of hair.
When you Google ‘premature balding’, the search throws up a paltry 645,000 results. Now search for ‘hair loss in Kenyan men’ – you’ll see a staggering two million pages pop up in 0.35 seconds. This result was the best news I received last month: knowing that many men with receding hairlines were hunched over their laptops searching for answers – for a pat on the head.
I recently entered this extraordinary league of gentlemen: that of the premature balders. I say premature because I’m in my mid-30s. Which means I’m too young and too busy to be having this conversation – to be splitting hairs.
The tragedy started when my barber meekly announced it to me one day. “You’re mad,” I retorted. So he held up a mirror and I saw for myself the shiny patch on my crown, like a deserted landing strip in the middle of Maralal – desolate, suspicious, abandoned. I’m balding, all right.
Thankfully, premature balding for a Kenyan male isn’t something to get a hernia over. God knows there is so much else to fret about: the state of the roads, the price of beer, the taxman, whether the meat at the choma joint is from a cow or a donkey… Premature balding doesn’t quite register on this list.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a concern. It is. All the premature baldies I know hide it under hats or by shaving to just a hair’s breadth from their brains. I scoured the Internet for local groups where African men can discuss their hair loss and get support (not that I needed it – just as research, of course…) but there were none.
Which goes to show that we treat hair loss as a private issue – like, say, a prostate cancer examination or premature ejaculation.
According to Internet sources, 30% of men (and a few women) suffer from pattern baldness. Although it is largely hereditary, other causes include obesity and alcoholism – something that should scare the typical Kenyan man, who drinks too much and exercises less. Other triggers are stress, poor eating, an ‘unhappy scalp environment’ (don’t ask), an underactive thyroid gland and trauma caused by childbirth. (Well, at least we men don’t have to worry about that last one.)
But there is hope.
The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania recently published results of an exhaustive study on all matters follicular, and gallantly concluded that men with close-shaven heads are perceived to be not only more dominant than others but also taller and stronger. Yes, eat your hearts out, ye with lustrous heads of hair.
And in Hollywood, the baldies not only kick ass, they also get the girl. There is Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Billy Zane, Mike Tyson, Samuel L Jackson – all tough chaps. There are also the baldies who exude strength of character: Seal, Paulo Coelho, Andre Agassi and, um, Homer Simpson, to mention but a few. Locally we have the actor/director Cajetan Boy and that guy in the South African TV series Jacob’s Cross.
See? It’s not all gloom. We are keeping decent company – if not our hair.