My first English Literature book at college was a poetry collection. One of the poems was Matthew Arnold's "Balder Dead". We never read or studied the poem but the name by itself was cause for considerable hilarity. In fact, anything to do with baldness was a joke and "rude" jokes about bald men were commonplace, including the nickname given to a former principal, Brother Macarthan, whose fringed dome invited obscene comments and a nickname of a phallic nature based primarily on its resemblance to the rostral part of the masculine member of the species Gallus domesticus. I marvel at those who shave their heads every day and figure if I had to do that I would be Thor indeed.
From Balder Dead and my youthful vanity to balder dread in my university days where I kept my thinning locks long and compensated with a huge Mexican moustache, and now bald or dead as I race towards my three-score and ten. Even the glut of Halloween horror movies no longer scare me. The more hair-raising they are the less the effect on me and my scalp. I can look at Captain Jean Luc-Picard as he commands my attention in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and smile knowingly. Patrick Stewart, the actor who plays Picard, inherited alopecia and had completely lost his hair by the age of 19. When Stewart got the role of Picard, his 15-year-old daughter suggested a new tagline for the show: "To baldly go where no man has gone before."
Now there is a way out. The long and short of it is there is new research which suggests that clinging to the little bits of greying hair and combing it over the big bald spot in the centre might not be the best course. You no longer have to make the hollow boast that "don't mind there is a hole in the roof, the fire inside still blazes brilliantly." It is no Grecian formula that can bankrupt you with implants, weaves, rugs and Rogaine. The findings can be condensed into three words — shave your head.
A rash of newspaper reports gave us the heads-up. Men with shaved heads are perceived to be more masculine, dominant and, in some cases, to have greater leadership potential than those with longer locks or with thinning hair, according to a recent study out of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. The Wall Street Journal, one of the many newspapers throughout the world which carried the story, used the teaser, "Up for a promotion? If you're a man, you might want to get out the clippers" and revealed, "Wharton management lecturer Albert Mannes conducted three experiments to test people's perceptions of men with shaved heads. In one of the experiments, he showed 344 subjects photos of the same men in two versions: one showing the man with hair and the other showing him with his hair digitally removed, so his head appears shaved.
In all three tests, the subjects reported finding the men with shaved heads as more dominant than their hirsute counterparts. In one test, men with shorn heads were even perceived as an inch taller and about 13 per cent stronger than those with fuller manes.
The study found that men with thinning hair were viewed as the least attractive and powerful of the bunch, a finding that is consistent with other studies showing that people perceive men with typical male-pattern baldness—which affects roughly 35 million Americans—as older and less attractive. For those men, the solution could be as cheap and simple as a shave. According to Wharton's Dr Mannes — who says he was inspired to conduct the research after noticing that people treated him more deferentially when he shaved off his own thinning hair—head shavers may seem powerful because the look is associated with hyper-masculine images, such as the military, professional athletes and Hollywood action heroes like Bruce Willis.
According to the other media reports, another possibility is that men who shave their heads are going against the norm of a society that places so much value on beauty, of which hair is a large part. Dr Mannes told ABC News, "It takes a lot of confidence to go the route of baldness, so we think they must be really self-confident." He also pointed out this could be a largely American phenomenon, noting that in England, shaved heads are more closely associated with skinheads and violence. "I'm not recommending that men with thick full heads of hair shave their heads, because even if they gain in terms of dominance, they lose in terms of attractiveness," Mannes said. "But if you're balding, you might want to just finish what Mother Nature started and take it all off. You might be surprised by the positive effects."
Carol Keating, a social psychologist, provides some consolation for people like me who suffer from male-pattern-baldness. She says that looking older can be helpful in the workplace in the way that older, silverback gorillas are "typically the powerful actors in their social groups" in the wild. I figure that the way I look now only Diane Fossey would go ape over me so I might as well throw myself from the Empire State Building. I might be luckier than King Kong. I can either have a close shave and or, as I'm not completely bald, end up with a hairline fracture.
• Tony Deyal was last seen asking what's the difference between a
gorilla, an orphan, a prince and Bruce Willis? A gorilla has a hairy parent, an orphan has nary a parent, a prince is an heir apparent, and Willis has no hair apparent.