Notes on losing my hair, voluntarily and otherwise

January 13, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 13, 2016

Around 18 years ago, I holed up in the bathroom of the house where I grew up and used an electric trimmer and a razor to shave off all my hair.

My parents were working on some project in the house whilst I did this and were completely unaware of my endeavor. When I emerged, newly bald, they were horrified; they seemed to think that I looked like a skinhead — a look, and a term, that I think they associated with racist neo-Nazis.

Later that day or soon afterward, I donned a trusty classic Stanford baseball cap and drove over to a local marketing firm where a couple of my friends worked. Uncharacteristically, I kept the hat on when I went inside. It took a few minutes before anyone noticed anything. (My friend J— said that she thought my hair was awfully short until she looked again and saw that I didn’t seem to have any hair at all.)

I felt a little self-conscious about my lack of hair, but that wore off. As it grew back in, I appeared to have a crew cut. The hair seemed bristly and coarse, but in fact it was extremely soft to the touch, like the fur of a puppy.

I’ve never since cut off all my hair, nor had someone do that to me, but I have considered it many times. Why is that? Because I am a man with a certain genetic heritage which dictates that my hair is neither lush nor eternal.

Once when I was in graduate school, about 15 years ago, I was chatting with a friend at a coffee shop when, abruptly, she told me that she could see my scalp through my hair. I obsessed about whether I had — gasp! — thinning hair for months after this encounter.

After I moved to Henderson, N.C., I rented an apartment on the outskirts of town and opened an account with Progress Energy. Sometimes, I paid my power bill at a very odd retail establishment. I think the place was a check-cashing/money-transfer shop that also accepted payments for various utilities. Like all the best stores, this one had a monitor positioned by the cashier that allowed the customer to see him- or herself on the security camera feed.

Every time I went to pay my bill at this place, I found myself trying not to stare in horror at the back of my head on the monitor. Specifically, I found myself fascinated and repelled by what appeared to be a huge bald spot on the back of my head.

It was years ago that I first saw my scalp in this fashion. But to be honest, I am still sort of in denial about its existence.

Every now and again, I’ll be in a position where I can glimpse a reflection of my bald spot, and I’m always torn between wanting to stare at it and wanting to look away. (Magical thinking: If I don’t look at it, it doesn’t exist!) This often happens on my relatively infrequent visits to the barbershop when Mr. Boyd, or whomever has the honor of trimming my locks, hands me a mirror so I can see the reverse side of my head by gazing at a double reflection.

Maybe one day I’ll go full bald and shave everything off and keep it that way, or perhaps maintain a crew cut. But I’m not at that stage yet.

I just hope I make a decision one way or the other before I make myself look thoroughly, irredeemably ridiculous.

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