Inside the Mind of a Man With a Comb-Over

When I was 20, I worked in a warehouse in Beachwood, Ohio. I was washing my hands in the bathroom and looking in the mirror when I saw scalp through my beautiful wavy brown hair, which was shocking because did I mention I had beautiful wavy brown hair? I did the reasonable thing: I pretended I didn't see it. It's probably an optical illusion caused by this warehouse bathroom lighting, I reasoned. Who lit this warehouse? Stephen King? I'm just seeing things.

Maksimchuk Vitaly/
This guy totally looks like Ron Howard under the wrong light.

But I was losing my hair. Every few showers, I noticed that the bald spot from my forehead to the back of my head had grown. I later learned I had Class VI baldness, which "occurs when the connecting bridge of hair disappears, leaving a single large bald area on the front and top of the scalp. The hair on the sides of the scalp remains relatively high." Unlike the poor bastards with Level VII baldness -- the guys with just a thin wreath of hair -- I still had plenty. I had side hair. I had options!

Dr. Q'tar Norwood/Bernstein Medical
Wooo, Class VI! That qualifies you for at least master sergeant in the Bald Man's Army.

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OK, I had two options. I could shave my head, or I could comb my remaining side hair over the top of my head. I can hear you now. Shave your head! No-brainer! Yeah, but it was the 1990s. Bald wasn't cool yet. I had no fashion sense. (I owned clothing that contained the words "Co-Ed Naked" -- it hurts my fingers to type that.) And I was shy. I didn't want to be noticed. I was the kind of person who looked at the phone with dread every time it rang.

I didn't make a conscious decision. I just started combing my hair over. At first, no one noticed, mainly because I wore a hat most of the time. Then a couple of friends made comments -- either in jest or in support. The supportive comments hurt more, because they were tinged with pity. "It happens to a lot of men," is a sentence no guy ever wants to hear under any circumstance.

"Don't worry, not getting to have sex with me happens to a lot of men."

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One day in college I met up with a girl I liked to watch a track meet. I was sitting in the stands with her and a few of her friends when the wind blew so hard, it lifted my comb-over off my head, not unlike the opening of a toilet lid. I held my hair on my head and kept talking as if it was perfectly normal for an adult man to use his hand to keep his hair from flying off his head. The conversation, as you would imagine, stopped. I excused myself, and I never saw the girl again. I mean, ever. I think she transferred schools immediately after the track meet.

A wise man once said: A man with toilet-lid hair is often crapped upon.

It was from this humbling experience that I learned a valuable lesson about comb-overs. What's that? Shave my head? No way. I decided I needed hair spray.

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I am not exactly certain how Rave Super Hold became my comb-over hairspray of choice. I probably picked it because the bottle was blue, and it had the word "super" in it, which was a masculine adjective a masculine guy like me could identify with, and it had the word "hold," which is what I needed it to do.

Also, Elmer's didn't make big enough bottles.

I took a blue bottle of Rave Super Hold with me everywhere. I tossed one in the bag I took to class. I packed one up when I graduated from Ohio University. I took one to work every day on my first job. I brought one with me when I traveled. I kept an extra bottle in the car, just in case. Prior to baldness, I'd never used hair product. As a bald man, I used it all the time.

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Eventually, I just looked ridiculous. After showering, I had 8-inch-long strands of hair extending from the right side of my head down to my shoulder, no hair in the middle of my head, and a regular cut in the back and on the left-hand side. It took five minutes every morning to comb my hair just right so that no scalp could be seen from the front, although plenty was visible from the back. This look has been described as the Al Gore.

Rob Kim/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
If your look brings to mind Al Gore in any way, your look needs to go.

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One of my best friends is a hair stylist. He begged me to shave my head. "It looks fine," I told him. "I don't care about my hair." And I really didn't. I did not care at all how I looked. I was a short, chubby guy with no hair. If I cared how I looked, I would just be sad all the time. I had other things I could offer a woman -- namely, being a nice guy. But my friend saw the big picture better than I did.

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I met a girl. I liked her. She overlooked my chubbiness and baldness, and we got together a few times. One night she tried to run her fingers through my hair and was probably shocked to find that I had Rave Super Hold-ed it into plasticity. Soon after that, she stopped returning my calls. It was a low point, the kind that makes you thumb your suspenders and go "We're making some changes around here."

Silvia Bukovac/
First change: New hairstyle. Second change: Buy a belt.

I hit the gym, went on a diet, and lost weight. On Memorial Day weekend, five years after I started losing my hair, I walked into my Arlington, Virginia, barber shop, where I was the only white customer I ever saw. I asked the barber to shave my head. He knew he would lose a customer. I knew I would lose the only street cred I'd ever earned. But we both knew it had to be done.

"Trust me, son, you don't need to worry about your street cred."

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The response I received from friends and loved ones was overwhelmingly positive. My brother dropped his margarita on the floor when he saw my new head. Then he hugged me. Even strangers liked it. Black guys -- many of whom also had shaved heads -- randomly stopped me on the streets of Washington to tell me they liked my head. A few months later, I started dating the woman I would eventually marry. For the first time in my life, I drew confidence from my appearance. Shaving my head was one of the best decisions I ever made.

So why did it take so long?

Psychologists say that people use stories to sort their memories, plan for the future, and make decisions. I told myself a story. The story I told myself was that a woman would be attracted to me for my personality, not for how I look. This story shielded me from actual rejection because it limited the number of women who were attracted to me, and it gave me a reason when it didn't work out. I could always blame her shallowness, not the fact that I was overweight and balding and wore mom jeans.

They're called "mom jeans" because they're total MILF magnets, right? Right?

It wasn't until I actually wanted a relationship -- there is a difference between wanting it and WANTING IT -- that it became clear that change was necessary. I needed to shave my head, lose weight, and buy some cool clothes for once. There are women who want to date nice guys, and they're more likely to break their own pattern of dating jerks to date a nice guy if the nice guy knows how to dress himself and his hair never flops off his head in mid-conversation.

Brent Shetler/
Just food for thought ...

Joe Donatelli is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter.

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