"God made a few beautiful heads, the rest he covered with hair."
-- Telly Savalas, bald and dapper TV detective "Kojak"
Toilers, warriors and kings are all equally subject to their hair follicles. Why then do history, legend and the covers of romance novels perpetuate the myth that the fellow with the leonine mane is the admirable model of maleness? That idea is being challenged by today's men who choose to go assertively bald. Shaved. Clean. Done.
Bald is becoming beautiful.
Rockers, actors, athletes, teen-agers and executives are playing the hair game on a clear field. It may be a pre-emptive move by some men who are defeating a receding hair line by shaving it off. Other younger men, who could grow a full head of hair, are going bald by design.
"Some men can pull it off, some men can't," says David Hochman, contributing editor of Men's Journal, the new lifestyle mag that is the brainchild of Rolling Stone mastermind Jann Wenner.
"It's a matter of inner sex appeal. When men like Bruce Willis, Michael Stipe or Michael Jordan shave their heads, others are more likely to follow," says Mr. Hochman. Some shouldn't, he says, unless the skull structure and attitude are just right.
Choosing bald isn't just a matter of showmanship. It can also be a question of aesthetics. "You see the bald look on many athletes, men who are very fit, and a shaved head makes a man look more defined all over."
That physical definition could be called a power style. "A bare scalp shows you're willing to take a risk; that you don't need hair to look good and you have no time for frivolous details," says Mr. Hochman. Take that, Fabio! There's more to studliness than generous applications of hair conditioner and blond highlights.
In a recent column, Liz Smith gushed about bald and portly Daniel Benzali, star of ABC's new hit series "Murder One," calling him the most charismatic man on television and "one of the most compulsively watchable bald guys since Telly Savalas."
There you have some of the appeal. The man looks his age; acts his age. No executive pony tail to compensate for thinning. No flaps of hair combed and swirled around a bald spot. No pocks of hair plugs. No bad rug. Even Burt Reynolds is coming out from under his fake thatch. Anyone who has ever tuned into Sy Sperling's bald agony infomercials can begin to understand why the prospect of coming clean is catching on.
The hair-care industry
The hair-product industry is paying attention, too. Anne York, who has coordinated research for Combe Incorporated, makers of Just for Men hair coloring, Grecian Formula and Grecian Plus, says changing hairstyles follow changing attitudes and demographics.
"Men are getting more adventurous in the way they look. Certainly a shaved or buzz cut calls attention to oneself, but men are becoming more comfortable in their own skins and trying out different personas," she says.
Baby boomers are experimenting. "They're hitting middle age and the percentage of them going bald is going up, it's just the law of averages," says Ms. York. Now that baldness is a fact of life for these men, some of them are getting smart enough to turn a fact into a trend.
"There is also the belief, rightly or wrongly, that the more testosterone you have, the less hair you have on your head," she says. Men are prepared to believe that. Women never doubted. Sean Connery makes them swoon, hair or not.
Beyond the hairlessness/sexiness equation is the suggestion that bald is smarter. Handsome Captain Picard keeps the floating Star Trek world safe for all time travel.
"Science fiction has persistently suggested that baldness is a symbol of a highly evolved mind," says Ms. York. "Future humans are often represented as evolving to a point where they no longer need their bodies, only energy and intellect. Artists and designers who want to portray alien creatures of a higher mind and intelligence often show them bald." Just so, and ET was endearing to boot.
Historically, the Samson factor, that a man's physical prowess is tied to the abundance of hair on his head, has been contradicted by cultures that went to war close-cropped to maintain better hygiene and not to give the enemy a hold of the hair, rendering a man weak.
Hair and class
Length of hair has also been caught up in class struggles. Egyptian noblemen shaved their heads and wore luxurious ornamental wigs. Peasants had to grow their own head coverings. French courtiers trained their ringlets. The masses got the bowl cut.
"Today hair has lost class distinctions, and you are just as likely to see long hair on a gravel worker as you are to see a shaved head on an executive in an Armani suit," says Ms. York.
Bald style, typically, was first embraced by the young and hip. African-American teen-agers have been clipped for some years now. Whether the style was in emulation of sports superstars or the kids' own thing is hard to track, but basketball greats Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal are the most visibly bald men on the American scene today.
"The first bald player I can recall was Slick Watts in the '70s, who played for Seattle, New Orleans and Houston. He shaved his head and wore a headband," says Chris Brienza, director of media relations for the National Basketball Association. "Even in the mid-'80s, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley were shiny-domed. We keep stats on a lot of things, but counting shaved heads is not one of them. I will say that many players out there are bald by choice."
Appeals to athletes
Fitness expert Andre Miller, who wakes up Baltimore with an early morning workout spot on WBAL-TV, says athletes like the low-maintenance because they shower and change two or three times a day. And, he adds, "A clean head on a fit body enhances the symmetrical skeletal structure of the human form."
He decided to go bald six years ago in his college wrestling days, then thought about growing hair again for University of Maryland law school. "I decided to keep it shaved. Now that I'm a fitness expert, I'm maintaining it. It reflects clean living and no faking. In ancient times, monks and athletes shaved as a commitment to a particular goal, and I guess my goals are similar."
He also finds a bald head soothing. "When I'm stressed I rub my head in what approximates a cranial massage."
Soothing is not what drives bald style, however. For some people, it is in-your-face, tough baldness that appeals. "A group of men with bald heads has an aggressive stance," says Kevin Stewart, fashion director for Details magazine. "On the other hand, a bald man who's well-turned-out and groomed is quite elegant. Certainly Armani and all the top designers use bald models. Star black male model Tyson Beckford is prominent in Ralph Lauren's Polo sport and classic tailored clothing ads."
There are those men who are willing to give a new style a try. "My wife likes it, my friends like it, and I like the attention," says Tim Showalter, Towson State University student, waiter at Paolo's restaurant and a man who's bald by choice. He's one of the few who can pull it off. He's confident, articulate, courteous and the owner of a skull with no strange bumps.