People Prefer Hair Transplants to Balding Heads, Study Shows

Personal Health

Male pattern baldness: even the name makes it sound like some kind of dreaded ailment. You can look it up on WebMD, which has listed "cures" and "preventions." But it’s totally natural, totally common (it develops in the majority of men at some point), and nothing to be ashamed of.

At least that’s what we like to tell those poor, unfortunate men in our lives whose follicles have started to flee. Sadly, our real-life interactions with baldness tell another tale. A recent survey confirmed a shamefully superficial reality. It turns out, in general, people will think a man is more attractive with hair transplants—à la the pause-giving locks of Donald Trump, Emperor of Shams—than his natural, bald head. (Note: Trump may not have hair implants; apparently there’s an ongoing debate about what his hair really is.)

The survey was published In the online edition of JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery on August 25. Survey-takers rated bald men as looking older and less "good-looking" than the very same men with implants.

Okay, no real shocker here. However, they also rated the bald men as seeming more “successful and approachable.”

Lisa Ishii, who works in the division of facial plastic and reconstructive surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, led a team for the study that asked 122 adults between ages 18 and 52 to look at 13 side-by-side pictures of men and assess them. Seven of the men pictured had been experiencing age-related hair loss, then had transplants. The other six never had transplants.

Overall, it turns out people prefer men when they hide their baldness. Bald men, on behalf of women everywhere, I welcome you to the wonderful world of body hair regulation, where your choices about your body are always wrong, and everyone feels entitled to a say in what grows out of you.

According to a CBS report on the study, experts were not surprised by the results. David Cangelloa, a plastic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told CBS he thinks studies like this one verify social attitudes about hair loss and, “may very well lead to an increase in the numbers of this already popular procedure over time.” 

Without undermining the real and wrongful shaming of bald men, it's impossible to discuss our societal beauty standards—and overtones of ageism—without a due note that women are berated with this kind of thing from day one. From the second women have hair, the world is obsessed with when, where and how we’re allowed to wear it. From the time we’re born, we’re practically hurled into the vast and crashing sea of appearance dos and don’ts and expected not only to swim but (to borrow from Bob Thaves commenting on Ginger Rodgers) to do it backward, wearing heels.

Of course, women are not the only people on the receiving end of unrealistic standards. But those standards are, perhaps, hyper-perceptible now, with the insta-judgments and anonymous appearance-bashing-made-easy of social media and virtual dating.

It’s pretty telling that, according to this study, not only do people think it’s sexier to have a full head of hair, but they distrust bald men.

If you’ve seen Curb Your Enthusiasm, you may have Seinfeld creator Larry David’s voice now echoing through your head. In more than one segment of his show, David spotlights “baldism” via comical tirade and skits. His crotchety, cynical character explains to whoever will listen that the “bald community” is underserved and he relies on the support of his “bald brothers.”

In one such segment below, David deems himself a victim of a “bald hate crime”:

David is a voice for voiceless bald men everywhere, and as with most great comedy, there’s some real truth to his tirades. The struggle of the balding man is, perhaps, underrecognized in our society. Regardless, it is certainly an indicator of a greater sickness that affects us all. 

Unfortunately for every woman and bald man alive, we exist in an image-obsessed land where any imperfection or straying from our constructed expectations is cause for panic and shame.

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