The first time anybody called me bald was when I was 17.
Me and some schoolfriends were on a rare, raucous, trip to London, super excited to be out of the countryside and in the big city, taking photos the whole time.
The trip felt like the beginning of a bigger, better, adulthood. But when we flicked through our pics back in the cheap hotel room, my friend called me bald.
I felt shaken by my friend’s surprise at the size of my forehead when the wind blew my floppy, mid-noughties fringe back. I can’t be bald, I thought to myself. I am young, I am free, my life has barely begun. Bald people are OLD, aren’t they? Bald people are basically dead, I thought.
I was wrong, and became ashamed.
For years I tried to hide how little hair grew on my head by growing the rest long, using an old man-style comb-over, daily, by my mid-20s. I knew it wasn’t a good look, but I also knew the hair wasn’t going to come back. I was balding.
To be balding is to be rusting. There’s an inevitability to it: like dying ends with death, balding ends with baldness.
But balding isn’t like dying, it’s more like someone you love dying.
No, I didn’t want to accept the hair was going, and, yes, I’d have done anything to make it recover. I wanted as much time with it as possible.
But when something is dying, you cannot live like you used to, together, and you cannot stop hoping until it’s truly gone.
You cannot deal with grief while a loved one is dying. You cannot get over losing your hair until you’re bald. This was why I shaved my head.
It was sudden and it was a shock: the man in the mirror looked much more macho than I felt. To begin with, I didn’t like it, being bald, and the disinterest it inspired in my then-partner didn’t help with my diminished confidence.
I knew I couldn’t mope for forever, though, so I made myself an action plan.
First off, I rebranded into an act called Solid Bald for my occasional live music performances, and after that I started exploring my identity as bald in non-fiction writing and poetry.
Bald is what I am – to deny it is foolish.
I chose to be bald – I could have been balding for another decade, but that wasn’t for me. I believe happiness comes from being in tune with who you are, not from wishing to be different.
I couldn’t choose to have hair, but I could choose to have none rather than not enough.
Sometimes being bald is associated with extreme versions of strong masculinity (i.e. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Vin Diesel, Right Said Fred), but it’s also seen as a sign of weakness, of frailty, of being old before your time.
But some people – like me – get bald before they get old, and manage to be bald but not forgotten. Maybe the hyper-masculinity that shaved heads are sometimes associated with is a direct response from men, feeling weak, deciding to act out strength to compensate for the loss of hair.
Because losing your hair isn’t something many people choose. It can happen as a side effect of disease, as a result of chemotherapy, but also through bad luck in an otherwise healthy body (i.e. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Vin Diesel, Right Said Fred).
Having your hair fall out isn’t pleasant, but it’s important to remember that there are much worse things that can happen to a person. There are more tragic labels to have.
Would I prefer to have hair? Until recently, I would have said yes.
But, over the past few years, I’ve learnt to understand myself very well, and have arrived at a point where I’m in a great relationship, my career is going in a good direction, I like where I live and I have great friends.
I don’t think I could have got all that if I’d still been hiding my hair loss under a baseball cap.
I’m bald to the bone, I’m happy with who I am now, and part of who I am is bald.
Labels is an exclusive series that hears from individuals who have been labelled – whether that be by society, a job title, or a diagnosis. Throughout the project, writers will share how having these words ascribed to them shaped their identity — positively or negatively — and what the label means to them.
If you would like to get involved please email email@example.com