The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Some people really do ask, ‘Why are you bald?’

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I am still in my 20s but already as bald as Larry David, and without as good a sense of humor about it. I really struggle with people feeling free to comment on it. Strangers, co-workers and neighbors hit me with questions such as, “Did your dad go bald early?” and, “Why don’t you wear a hat? You’d look so much younger,” and, “Have you looked into hair transplants?” and even, “Why are you bald?” I’m never really sure how to respond to these questions. I’ve tried your advised, “Wow,” but I usually get something back like: “What? I’m just asking a question. Don’t be so uptight about it.” Can you think of any follow-ups for when the “wow” doesn’t work?

— Bald

Bald: Throat-punching ought to be legal in response to, “Don’t be so uptight.”

I kid, of course. But I am dumbstruck and will need a moment for this one.

Re: Bald: A college friend of mine was nearly bald and somewhat sensitive about it, although he would endure some teasing from our friend group. When he got a new driver’s license, someone asked him what he put down for hair color. He responded, “Clear.” So maybe, “I’m not bald, I just have clear hair,” could be a response.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Your friend is my hero.

Re: Clear: I think that’s a great response, but have to say, what is it with the teasing about baldness? Or any other trait that’s beyond our control? Many of the bald guys I know developed a whole arsenal of self-deprecating remarks, I imagine to preempt this type of teasing — but I have to say, I wish they hadn’t had to do it. It’s even worse when it comes from strangers, but even from friends, I don’t really get it.

— I Don’t Get It

I Don’t Get It: I am 100 percent with you on teasing for baldness, and the questions are just appalling.

I am also, however, 100 percent behind trash-talking among consenting friends, because it is just one of the great institutions in life when done right — that is, with love and without prejudice, where you trash the bald, the hairy, the perfectly coifed, the one with hair like her dog. It gives us an outlet, a community and most of the sitcoms worth watching. Plus, it occasionally cuts a flawless gem like “clear.”

Readers’ suggestions:

· “I pulled all my hair out dealing with people like you.”

· Bald = aerodynamic.

· Q: “Why are you bald?” A: “Why not?”

· Simple, complete silence for a beat, with direct eye contact. Then an introduction of a new topic, or simply walking away.

· The commenters are just projecting their own specific insecurity on you. So that’s the way to respond: sympathetic engagement with the vulnerability they’ve just revealed.

People who suggest ways to look younger are just telling you they themselves are terrified of aging. “No thanks, I’m fine looking this age.” The person who asks if your dad went bald early, they’re looking for reassurance in their own dad’s hair situation. “Yes/no/I’m not sure. Did yours?”

“Wow” isn’t working because these speakers are (unconsciously) trying to soothe themselves. You short-circuit them if you’re baffled by the suggestion that baldness is a source of shame.

Once I saw how many guys were just terrified of baldness, I saw there was quite a bit of power in just buzzing or shaving your head and carrying on.