Friday, August 24, 2007
In the distant past, the gloss of a bare scalp became the badge of leadership and dominance, whether it was the greased plucked head of the Yanamano or the oily, scraped scalp of an Ainu, Jew, Chinese, or Saxon. It is mimicked unconsciously by shiny metal helmets in many cultures.
Why then do we have so many hangups about baldness? Probably more people have been duped by "hair-growing" elixirs than by any other ineffectual cosmetic. Any man's magazine on the newsstand contains advertisements for secret formulas and special treatments to bring back lost scalp hair. Hairpieces and wigs are commonly used by men to cover the bald patches and receding hairlines. One of the newer alternatives, made possible by plastic surgery, is the grafting of small pieces of hair from other parts o the scalp onto thinning areas, to recreate permanently one's earlier hairline. Recreating the hairline of a 20-year-old is a retreat to the courtship age. We live in a society which bases most status evaluation on one's potential courting currency; that is the secret behind our reverence for youth.
The evolution of human scalp hair has followed this pattern: first it was an erectile threat crest, then strangely, it began to shift. Balding became the threat ideal, and a full head of soft hair was what we clung to as babies - a symbol of maternal-sexual security and attraction, like a round, warm breast. But recently the evolutionary bent has looped into an even odder twist. The symbols of age and status are in disfavor, even repugnant. Now it is the mature male who mimics the post-puberty vigor of youth that has become our and man's ideal. More than any of the other organic epaulets of the past, the threat value of the very high forehead and its exaggeration the bald scalp, has been debased. And like the Confederate dollar, there is something uncomfortably humorous about its continued existence.