Hair, Hindus and the Himalayas: A Look At Hair Loss in India
Part Two: How do we define the typical or "average" Indian with hair loss?
India has had its share of famous smooth-pated public figures, such as Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. But what kind of impact, if any, does hair loss and baldness have on the average individual in India?
Defining the “average Indian” is difficult. The world’s second-most-populous country, India has 35 cities with a population of 1 million or more; yet 70 percent of the population live in rural areas. While some 80.5 percent of the people are Hindus, there are also significant numbers of Muslims (13.4 percent), Christians (2.3 percent) and Sikhs (1.9 percent) as well as Buddhists, Jains, Jews and many other religious designations. The official language is Hindi, but English is widely spoken, too, and there are a total of 21 languages recognized by the constitution.
India also has a long-standing caste system, which, while no longer as rigid as it once was, still has an impact on its social configurations.
With so many factors in play among so many people, perceptions concerning baldness may vary widely. That said, there are some generalizations that are fairly well accepted.
Hair loss, attraction and the opposite sex
For instance, “Baldness is viewed neutrally in men. In women, it is unacceptable socially,” says Rafiq Dossani, Ph.D., senior research scholar at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and director of the Center for South Asia at Stanford University.
“Some male groups, particularly Brahmans within the Hindu faith, might tonsure their hair, except for a small plait, as part of their religious observances,” he adds. “This used to more common but is less so now. Those in the media business tend to be touchy about baldness, and so wearing wigs is not uncommon; but it is rare outside this group.
“On the other hand, hair is viewed as an asset, and urban Indians have this mythical belief that they have better hair than other nationalities. Good hair means jet-black hair.”
“Urban men might be more worried about losing their hair than rural men,” he explains, “but overall, for the nation as a whole, baldness is of low concern.”
Dr. Dossani also believes that hair or the lack of it plays no real role in a man’s desirability as a husband. He states that in this area “age, income and social status matter, but not hair.”
Rajul G., a balding man in his late 20s who lives in a medium-sized city in India and was born in a rural area, feels differently. “I think my lack of hair is behind my inability to attract a wife,” he says. “There was one girl who was interested, but her family was afraid of bald grandchildren and the financial assistance that they were willing to give to the marriage was very low. When she married later, to a man with hair, her parents lavished money upon them.”
Stand-up comic Vidur Kapur, who was born in Calcutta and grew up in New Delhi but currently lives in New York City, takes a brighter view of baldness. “I began losing my gorgeous hair in my early 20s, which was tragic for me,” he says. “I couldn't imagine myself without hair. I went through a really difficult time but have evolved into a proud bald man who keeps my head shaven. I love it now; it’s part of my look and style.”
Hair loss as a fashion statement
“Baldness does have significance in India” he says. “I think it’s preferred that you have a full head of hair. It used to be a bigger deal, but now I think it’s become almost a fashion statement to have a shaved head. You still don't see bald leading men in Bollywood, though.
“I don't think women perceive men as any less because of baldness; nor does it really affect marriage prospects or job prospects. I think the amount of money you and your family have, and your status in society, is much more important a factor than your hair.
Asked if he thinks baldness is perceived differently in India than elsewhere, Kapur responds, “I don't think there is that much difference. I think the image of bald men has changed worldwide.”
Kapur doesn’t believe that his hairlessness has any effect on his life as a performer. “I don't think baldness has anything to do with it,” he states. “It’s all about your attitude and how you carry yourself.
“I think it’s important to be comfortable in your own skin. People who are comfortable with themselves are the most beautiful and sexy people. Some of the sexiest men are bald. I have never felt sexier, more beautiful and more confident than I feel now.”
“I have to admit, though,” Kapur adds, “that it was a journey for me; but my lack of confidence about my baldness earlier on was just a reflection of my lack of acceptance of myself. As I grew to love and appreciate myself, it included my baldness.”
Vikram P., who is in his late 30s and lives in a large city in India, says, “I used to think the reason I couldn’t find a wife was because women had something against bald men. Then I met my future wife, and she said to me, ‘Grow up! You’re the one who doesn’t like bald men.’ And she was right. I needed to learn this about myself.”
Or as Vidur Kapur puts it, “Accept yourself. Make yourself sexy and attractive, however you are, bald or with a full head of hair. Be who you are and enjoy yourself.”
Kapur’s words have tremendous power, whether one lives in India or anywhere in the world.
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