1998/2018: Whatever 20/20, Day Sixteen: Hair
Posted on September 16, 2018 Posted by John Scalzi 46 Comments
I’ve not been a fan of my hair these last twenty years.
Honestly, my hair and I have never been on the best of terms. I come from a family that doesn’t have great hair; it tends to be thin and wispy in the best of circumstances, and I, who started balding at around age 24, rarely had the best of circumstances. I have exactly one picture of my hair being decently full looking, from when I’m seventeen. At the time I was rocking the perfect 80s hair; I looked more like John Stamos than John Stamos did at the time. It’s been downhill, hair-wise, ever since.
This is not to say that I desire to return to the halcyon days of feathered mullet hair. One, uhhhh, that style is dated. Two, at this point I’ve gotten used to not having to do anything with what hair I do have; the thought of having to do a whole hair regimen tires me out. If I had hair, it would still be bad hair, there would just be more of it.
What I dislike about my hair, and have for the last double decade, is not the hair per se but its balding pattern. I’ve gone bad from the center of my scalp, and the circle is ever widening. In 1998, it was a patch of bald the size of a small donut. Here in 2018, it’s pancake-sized and honestly I look like I have a tonsure, or, as I noted the other day, like I have a chinstrap at the top of my head. It’s easy for me not to notice most of the time, since I have a baffle of hair persisting at the front of my head. I don’t directly see my bald spot most of the time. But then it shows up in pictures or on video and I’m all, oh, that’s not a great look.
I should note I’m not insecure about my hair. My hair is what it is, and it doesn’t create any social or existential crisis for me. I don’t suffer any loss of social standing for my terrible hair, and I’m happily married to a woman who met me as I started losing my hair, knew what she was getting into and apparently is just fine with it. There’s no penalty for a middle-aged dude having a tonsure, basically, as long as you’re a decent human and a reasonable conversationalist. I do fine regardless of the status of my hair. I just don’t like my hair very much.
Well then, take it all off, you say. Thing is, in the mid 2000s, I did that, just to see what it would be like. As it turns out, I thought it looked fine. Krissy, on the other hand, didn’t like it at all. Considering that she was the one who would have to look at me on a daily basis, and in a general sense it’s a good thing to keep one’s spouse happy, I grew it back out. I honestly have to say I don’t understand why she prefers the Friar Tuck look to a chrome dome. But she does, and also, she keeps her hair longer than she would otherwise because she knows I prefer it that way. So. “Not entirely bald” it is.
What I learned in the last 20 years about my hair is that the secret to having it look good is basically to keep it as short as possible. Not completely shaved off but close to the scalp. Otherwise it gets tufty, quick. My rule of thumb is that when I can fashion the hair in the front of my head into a point, it’s time to get a haircut (also, I need a haircut right now).
Mind you, I don’t always get a haircut when I need a haircut, which means that occasionally I get to take pictures of myself with really terrible hair. This is, oddly enough, pretty much the only time I like my hair. I kind of dig taking terrifying pictures of myself. Call it the Opposite Instagram Effect, if you like. Or as I prefer to call these sorts of pictures: “My Next Tinder Photo.”
Oh, yeah. I would totally date me.
My next hair crisis, as it were, is that the bit of hair on the front of my head is thinning rather a bit recently and probably in the next year I’m going to simply just shave it all the way down, and then the question will be what to do with everything else. People say that I should do a Jean Luc Picard on it, but the thing is, a) I don’t have Patrick Stewart’s head shape and b) the hair I have in the back is both fuller and rises further up my head than Stewart’s. Also, bluntly, I don’t have a full-time stylist like Stewart did on ST:TNG — that’s right! Never compare your hair to television hair, even when the dude is bald. I guess I’ll figure it out when it happens, soon.
There’s another sort of hair to consider in this piece, which is facial hair. In 1998, I didn’t wear it very often; here in 2018, I wear it almost constantly. What caused the switch? Well, when I was younger, it was that I didn’t like beards much; I thought they made you look like someone’s dad, and not the cool dad but the dad that spends too much time in the basement, oiling the guns. But as I got older I realized that was a little silly, and also I became a dad anyway, and also, in point of fact, a beard looked fine on me. These days, I also wear a beard because I like so many men my age have experienced Lower Face Collapse, and the beard both gives my chin definition it otherwise doesn’t have any more, and also hides my positively tragic jowls, which at this point and short of cosmetic surgery, I don’t ever see getting any better.
So in sum, here in 2018 I am a balding white guy with a beard. This means that I am on a day to day basis indistinguishable from at least twenty million other American men between the ages of thirty five and fifty five. Wherever I go in public there are at least a few other guys who look like I do. Even at science fiction conventions, where you think I might stand out, there’s a sizable percentage of people who have no idea who I am unless they look at my name tag. I’m not Neil Gaiman or George Martin, both of whom have a easily definable look, both to the point of being cosplayed at comic cons. If you cosplayed me, you’d be cosplaying a middle-aged white guy in an aloha shirt, i.e., 30% of dudes at a con. I have been told more than once by people at a convention that they recognized me only because I was standing next to Krissy, which, to be fair, makes perfect sense to me. No one looks like Krissy except Krissy. A lot of dudes look at least kind of like me.
This is not a complaint, and even if it was, there’s not a lot I can do about it at this point (and even more precisely, not a lot I will do about it). This is my look, and this is my hair — head and face — for a while. And I like me, even with my less than great hair. Honestly, if a tonsure is the worst problem I have with my body — and at the moment, it sort of is — I’m doing great, thanks.
I go with what my barber calls crap all over: buzz cut with a number 2(yes) clipper, hair and beard. No work for me. Always neat. And buzz cuts are cheaper.
I have to throw my hat in with your wife on the full baldness look. It just… There is no easy way to say this, but it reminds me of what my father looked like after he got diagnosed with cancer and had gone through multiple rounds of both chemo and radiotherapy, before he passed. That is not to say that if you preferred that hair style that it would not be your absolute and unabridged right to choose it, just… I don’t know what I’m saying actually, just I can understand Krissy’s position and am thankful you didn’t stick with it. If it makes you feel any better, the balding but no beard makes you look like some sort of late 1990s BBC science tv show presenter too.
I’m right with you Ken, though I go with a 2 on top and a 2.5 on the face. So much easier.
I’m about your age, and I usually keep my hair long, though it hasn’t been ponytail length in a few years. My wife likes it long and I don’t like being lectured about what shampoo and conditioner to use when I get it cut. I have plenty of hair, but it’s so fine that it’s not really controllable. I usually manage to keep it from looking too much like Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber. Usually.
Back in the late 70s my hair was like Robert Plant’s, but darker. My sisters, who both have straight hair, were very jealous of my curls. Now, at 57, it’s a #2 on the head and #3 on the goatee, which I have for much the same reasons as any other aging white dude which you mentioned.
So I have an old paperback copy of Old Man’s War and it has the author photo of you shaved bald… and it’s weird, I gotta say. Lol. After seeing the photos of you on this site for the past 5-10 years, that photo just looks like an entirely different person! Which it probably feels like it is. :)
At least you have experimented with your look, I’ve known people who have had the same hair since high school. I mean, I know your genetics kinda forced your hand a bit, but I think you did well and, in the end, you were smart and listened to Krissy so everyone is a winner!
Women get Lower Face Collapse with aging too, and we don’t have the option of covering it up with a beard. :-(
Right now I’m dealing with chemo hair — it didn’t all fall out, but all the long hair shed and was replaced by short curly hair, so now I look like I have a poodle cut. It doesn’t look bad, but it doesn’t look like me and that bothers me.
Compared to my hair, yours is robust, thick, and well mannered! In Highschool (the mid 70’s for me) the moment my hair got below my ears, it started to do a ‘Mary Tyler Moore’ flip, which I hated.
I had a “widows’ peak” in my childhood, and knew I was going to be bald pretty early. Joining the Marines after college, I got a look at what my future hair status was going to look like. By the time I got out, I was so completely used to having short hair, I completely rejected the idea of going back to spending tens of minutes every morning having to worrying about it.
Nowadays, I just go to the least expensive hair cutting place (barber shop, salon, ‘stylist’, etc.) and tell them “A number one blade on the top, number two everywhere else, clean above my ears, and round the back. Years ago, in Dallas, the different stylists at one place I went to bragged about who could cut my hair the fastest!
As far as beards, I tend to do one from October to April. I grow it to keep my face warm when I am walking the dog. I call it my ‘winter fur’…. :-)
I see older guys in public every single day with hairstyles that are so bizarre, and so clueless, they look like comic characters, like something out Dick Tracy. No exaggeration.
Now that I have to count myself as a middle-aged dude, I would say that if looking like an anonymous shlub is the price I have to pay, I’ll consider it a blessing.
The last time I went to a barber for a haircut, I smiled and asked if I qualified for a discount because my receding hairline left him very little area to clip. His response? “Discount? I want a Finder’s Fee!”
I see some parallels in our hair journey (with the exception that I never had hair that touched my collar, thanks to a conservative father.).
My son is 42 and thanks to a double whammy in the gene pool (although I was given to understand that it comes through the Mom’s family) his forehead hairline has met the back of his head. He keeps what he has close-cropped.
I myself am pretty thin along the center line of my misshapen noggin but continue to comb the whisps, no combover, just a normal part. I too, for many years actually, cut it short, close-cut, like the cut I had as a youngster.
In recent years, after chemo blasted it all away, I let it all grow out, facial and head coverage. The facial hair (including my mustache which had become a regular facial feature in the early 70’s) has since returned somewhat thinner. Today, the mustache remains, the rest bears occasional stubble. I miss the full version of my mustache, constantly needful of a trim, more than the hair on top of my head that returned much thinner than before. A new normal.
Since most of my top-hair went (in my early fifties), it has been a #3.5 allover buzz-cut for me. The first time I told my old-school barber to buzz it, he wanted to keep the top-sides longer and do a “comb-over” to hide it (remember that hilarious “swoop it over” haircut conversation in the 1984 Steve Martin/Charles Grodin film “The Lonely Guy?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RjeEYTLkbE ). For the next three haircuts I had to have the same argument with my barber insisting on a buzzcut not a comb-over, until he finally gave in.
I can tell when it’s getting to be haircut time again, because I start to get that twin-points phenomenon like Dilbert’s boss in the “Dilbert” comic strip. ( https://www.businessinsider.com/best-pointy-haired-boss-moments-from-dilbert-2013-10 )
I have a very masculine hair pattern. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
Actually, you look pretty damn good with the shaved head. But I understand Krissy’s take on it, it is a wee bit extreme. When I was a cop, we had a VERY strict hair/facial hair policy, so it was military style always, and NO facial hair at all. For almost 20 yrs! Nowadays, I really enjoy a short length goatee, and when I hit the barber…stylist…whatever…I just tell them to do what they want. “It’ll grow back”, right? Right??!
1. You look just fine (well, except when you’re deliberately posing for a “Fools! I’ll destroy them all!” shot).
2. Your appearance is not what we love you for.
3. I shave the dome but have grown a beard to hide my sagging jawline. Dunno if you’ve tried that look out for Krissy approval; I have no one with that level of veto (that is, someone whose wishes in the matter are important enough to me that anything they don’t like is right out). I sure wish I did, for what it’s worth!
4. Your face is wonderfully expressive, which transcends any issues of hairline, jawline, or facial sagging. The person who inhabits your face – the animation of it by the person seeing, thinking, and talking through it – is what matters.
Not on hair, but on your overall comments on the appearance of middle aged white dudes…
I’m there, but older than you (I’m 65). A couple of years ago when I re-upped my subscription to some magazines I get the publishers threw in a free subscription to “Star”–one of the celebrity magazines for those who find “People” too cerebral. I usually threw it in the trash upon receipt, but for some reason one day a couple of autumns ago I glanced at the cover when I got the mail. Their lead story was on some poptart who was photographed shopping for her groceries wearing sweats, with the tag line “look who’s given up!”.
I looked at me–wearing a pair of sweats so old and baggy that I looked like I was rocking a full diaper, and though “Self, you haven’t given up, but as retired late middle aged guy you’re sure looking like you have”. So I went out and bought some clothes that were blandly stylish (I’d probably still wear “Members Only” jackets if they are still around, given my lack of a sense of style), and have made a point of getting dressed in real clothes every day since then. T-shirts and gym shorts only when I go to the gym, no more throwing on a pair of sweats in the morning and taking them off at bedtime (easy to do when you’re a retired guy). It’s actually made a difference in my mental attitude and self-perception, so it was a good thing.
You’ve heard of Rogaine?
I once heard that going bald was a sign of excess testosterone. So I’ve decided to go with that explanation.
When I was younger, hair was something we didn’t have money to spend on, so I guess “hippy chic” could describe my style. When I had to take better care of it because of obligations I did so. Once that was done and gone I let it grow out as long as it would. I wore that pony tail until I could no longer say that my bald spot was small. I let my wife cut it off. She still has it somewhere. It’s a shame, because I finally found a good barber a little over a year before. But now I just do it at home.
Once those obligations regarding hair were over I grew my facial hair. A little time after it grew out some high school friends recognized me at the mall. I asked them how they knew who I was with the beard and they looked surprised. “Didn’t you have a beard in high school?” they asked. Never heard a better reason to keep it since then.
“I’ve gone bad from the center of my scalp, and the circle is ever widening.”
Typo Reveals Truth of John Scalzi’s Upsurge of Evil.
Grew a beard once. Bride hated it. Shaved it into a goatee and she said, “No—- wait a minute…that’s actually not too bad.” She took a picture. I shaved that into a mustache, and she said, “Get that poor ferret off your face.” Clean shaven it is.
As for hair, I actually won the lottery. Both of my brothers were bald by 25, and I’ve still got a mop. “Vonne’s the one with hair,” folks say. It is thinning at the rear top, and my hair stylist has the responsibility to let me know when he can’t work with it anymore. Combovers are simply not an option. I have more pride in accepting reality than worrying about hair looks.
Once saw a man who had a full beard and was bald on top. Had a weird perspective crisis in which I momentarily thought his head was on upside down.
You’re doing fine, Mr. Scalzi, just fine.
At my last medical checkup I was told I have “female-pattern hair loss”, which I hadn’t known was a thing — I just thought my hair was falling out from stress, and would grow back in time. I should be so lucky. Too bad, because my hair has always been the one thing I’m actually a tad vain about — long, straight, glossy, soft. And now going away. So I guess it’s time to start crocheting little hats.
Off topic (though “hair style my spouse prefers” is a perennial favorite) – I’m not seeing your latest tweets in the sidebar any more. Is this from my side (I use Microsoft Edge), did the link break, or did you turn it off? I rarely go on Twitter, and when I do it’s a pain scrolling through hours of Tweets to find the gems. Glancing through your sidebar link saved me effort.
Actual conversation from HawaiiCon.
“So this author you’re waiting for — what does he look like?”
“See that guy walking past with a pen in his hand?”
“He looks just like that…”
And then you very kindly signed my copy of Redshirts even though other people had already signed it lol
In regard to hair I’ve always liked what I call face fuzz on men and my partner really looks good with facial hair. He would also look really good with really long hair, again, but refuses to let it grow. In point of fact often shaves his head — which makes him look like a bouncer. I dislike it intensely but it’s his head.
I’m right there with you, John. I’ll be going to a con in a couple of weeks, and expect to see a lot of other white, middle-aged, balding, bearded mofos who look like me. On aesthetic grounds alone, we need more gender, ethnic, age, and sartorial diversity in sf and fantasy.
I thought you were rocking the shaved head! It’s the same style I’ve had for almost two decades. I don’t miss the hair or think about it very often. I do, however, have stocking caps all over the house during Wintertime! Glad you avoided the combover!
I saw that 17 yo picture and thought “he looks like John Stamos”, two sentences before you said it yourself. So good self-perception there.
I’m another one here who goes full buzz cut, except I don’t use a guard at all (a ‘zero’) and I do it myself, saving hassle (and money). I cut it about every fortnight.
I have to say your “Next Tinder Photo” reminds me of the Bug wearing the “Edgar Suit” in the original “Men in Black.”
Various points here made me laugh/chuckle. I myself shave my head, but had I a partner of K’s stature I would certainly wear it however she liked. –Except, never a comb-over.
What non-baldies don’t get is, we follically challenged are literally in the worst place to perceive how terrible our hair is: with one’s line of sight tangent to the skull, it ALWAYS looks thicker than it actually is. That’s why men are mislead into thinking “this comb-over is really rockin’ it.”
I have joked before about cosplaying as Scalzi at Worldcon, which would pretty much just be me showing up–though I did seriously consider attending in a regency gown back when that would have been a joke people might get. (The only reason I didn’t was it was too hard to obtain one.) Now your description of hair experiences are eerily similar to mine–or maybe not too eerie, as they must be very common. But I too did the head-shave, and I too let it grow back out at my wife’s request.
I did discover, in my attempts at “chromedome” and “Picard,” that stubble is unpleasant when it comes to hats or towels. It’s very velcro-like. Gotta watch out for lint. And the chromedome’s smoothness lasts about five seconds, before it becomes stubble. Also, chromedome is a problem when it comes to sweat. The sweat builds up so much speed with no hair to slow it that it skips right past the eyebrows and goes into eyes much more easily.
I winced a little when I saw that you were writing about your hair, John, because I still feel a little guilty: I was there when you were 24 and started getting a little thin up there, and perhaps you got teased (just a little) about it — not by me! — but by a couple of our friends, and I laughed, too. Of course, how I’ve got my own bald spot, so genetics got the last laugh.
You look like yourself. I’ll know who I’m talking to when I finally get to meet you in person.
Side note—Tell Krissy to never, ever dye her hair: her gray is gorgeous!
I decided long ago that I didn’t really want to care about hair/beard maintenance. So every two months or so or when it gets in the way, I break out the clippers (at 1/4″ or 3/8″) and prune it back. I can do it myself as long as I don’t wait too long.
I’m a bit older (pushing 65) and I have the same ‘hair going away, need the beard’ thing. I like the low maintenance on the hair but trimming a beard is a chore. I have to say, John does the whole ‘Nicholson in The Shining’ thing way better than I.
I can feel your pain. I started balding in my 20s (got a pick of me with a full head of hair on my wedding day) and in ’05, at the ripe old age of 40, shaved it all off. I still got the ‘stache though, but it’s been a Fu Manchu for almost 30 years. gives me that weird walrus/David Crosby kind of look. The only time I let it grow out is when I decide to take a long break from shaving my head. Then it’s off to the barber to have a five minute scalping.
I could identify with Pianoman and his “Dilbert’s boss” thing, because I get that look too if I’m not careful. Genetically, I always knew from both parents that I was not going to be a winner at the “hair sweepstakes” like my wife, who at 70 (today!) still has more hair on her head than I’ve had in my life.
Facial hair? I grew a beard and mustache close to 50 years ago and still have it, though the gray is getting grayer.
I like bald on Michael Jordan. On you, I’m with Krissy.
I’ve never forgotten the heartbreaking comment from a colleague, who was trying out the shaven look. I commented that it suited him. His response; ‘I used to suit hair!’ It’s a difficult one to manage.
” If you cosplayed me, you’d be cosplaying a middle-aged white guy in an aloha shirt, i.e., 30% of dudes at a con.”
As a middle-aged white guy with a collection of aloha shirts I know what I’ll be cosplaying as if I ever do another convention. Well, I’d have to really cut the hair. I inherited my grandfather’s hairline. Hoping I also didn’t inherit his hemochromatosis.
In the 90’s I apparently had wonderful hair. random pretty girls like to feel it and stroke it and generally harass it and would ask what I did to get it so nice. “Ummm. Wash it every couple days and let it air dry?” (I lived in Utah at the time.) Since I enjoyed having my hair harassed by pretty girls I let it keep growing in the back until I had a waist length ponytail/mullet (if it wasn’t tied into a ponytail.) I wish I had a picture of that, but all the pictures from that era are from the front. Towards 99 or so I went on a job in Duncan Oklahoma, in August, during a heat wave, during which I helped install a vent fan on top of a factory. That afternoon I went to a barber shop and told him to take 2 feet off the back.
These days, living in Virginia, I have a high and tight in the summer and let it grow out in the fall.
Your HAIR might be wispy, but those eyebrows!!!!
I’m about your age but have for the most part had pretty good hair.
A few years back I became totally fascinated with remote control FPV quadcopters- First Person View, where the quadcopter has a mini TV camera on the front which broadcasts its view to a pair of goggles you wear. Really an out-of-body experience. As the tech got better, I went from 1-2 pound quadcopters that required a large field to operate safely, to micro quads, in the 1-2 ounce range, that are safe enough to fly indoors, and around pets and people. And thus it was, flying over the back of my head and looking down at myself, I came to discover just how big and bald my bald spot actually was….
Um, I was hoping for more pictures of Patrick Stewart.
Seriously, you looked like Jeff Bezos when you shaved your head. I’m with Krissy.
My wife initially had the same reaction as yours when I shaved my head. I did it for many of the reasons you did, but mostly because it had so much grey in it and I looked ten yours younger with it shaved. She came around after a few years. After I retired from the military I grew a beard, which, as it happens, is 95% grey. But I am 54 now, so I am the ten years older that I was trying to avoid, so I am embracing it now. You look good shaved. Embrace it!
I’m a firm believer that facial hair helps balance things out when the hair on top gets thin.
“.. a balding white guy with a beard. This means that I am on a day to day basis indistinguishable from at least twenty million other American men between the ages of thirty five and fifty five. ”
lately at a canoe race (link from my name), large numbers of grey/balding white guys with beards. An Asian guy commented, “man all these white guys look the same to me”..
I don’t ever grow a beard as such, just get lazy about shaving.. it only grows into a goatee, since goatees became fashionable I’ve not been able to countenance it. If I could I’d grow one of those luxuriant coiffed hipster spade beards, but my beard long is just a Col. Sanders wisp, I think my wife would leave me..
About a decade ago I started the “No Net Hair Loss” plan. As I lose it up top I let the beard grow more. The beard is getting quite a bit fuller…
One of my friends was starting to go bald when he started college. In 1982 there weren’t a lot of mature people with BA’s in computers. He thought going bald early got his foot in the door as an administrator.