Societal Views of Hair Systems Depend Mostly on Gender




Picture coming across a TV commercial featuring a bankable movie star gazing at the camera with an assured and confident smile on his face and saying, “Getting this hair replacement system was the greatest thing I ever did. It gives me so much more freedom. I don’t have to worry about the camera catching my bald spot, which means I can concentrate more intently on blasting those aliens while picking up a beautiful babe with one arm.”

Or try this: Imagine that rather than sneering insinuatingly about how a rock star’s distinctly thinning locks and receding hairline seem to have miraculously disappeared and been replaced by a shock of hair that any teenager would envy, a gossip columnist instead compliments the star for choosing a new hair system that demonstrates his ability to stay as trendsetting in his personal style as in his music.

Neither of these scenarios is very likely. Most actors are loath to admit that they utilize hair systems, and most columnists tend to treat male performers who try to disguise their hair loss with a distinct lack of respect.

For women, rules about hair systems or hair extensions are different

It’s not quite the same for female performers, though. For example, you can go to YouTube and find a video of Emmy- and Tony-winning actress-singer Kristin Chenoweth blithely chatting about how important hair extensions are to her. (“It’s my crack. I’m addicted to hair,” she jokes.)

You can also go to various Web sites and find comments such as “Glitzy socialite and media favorite Paris Hilton is always pushing the limits with hair extensions” and “As one of the world’s leading supermodels, Tyra [Banks] modifies her look to suit the whims and demands of the fashion industry … She utilizes hair extensions on and off the runway”.

It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that perhaps there’s a double standard at work here: Women are given much greater freedom than men to admit that they take advantage of hair systems.

How does society view hair systems?

“Our society accepts that when women experience thinning hair, they see it as a cosmetic issue and address it with thickening products and extensions,” says Dr. Alex Khadavi, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Advanced Skin and Hair, Inc. “When men experience thinning hair, they see it as a medical issue and lean toward treatments. Toupees from the 1980s and early ’90s were quite obvious and became a universal punch line. It’s understandable that something which would make you appear as an impostor would want to be hidden; however, custom hairpieces are becoming increasingly common for men as recent technology has made them virtually undetectable; they’re often a quick fix. Both genders need to recognize that male and female pattern hair loss is common.”

But not everyone sees the double standard in the same way. “Interestingly, I have always thought that men were afforded more dignity with hair enhancements or replacements than women,” says Vi McLeod, a trainer and facilitator who specializes in the optimization of human capital. “Maybe this is a cultural thing, but in the African American community it is commonplace to publicly confront a woman about whether her hair is ‘real.’ Men who get hair embellishments are not so openly confronted and do not suffer such indignities. I must admit, however, that there is no gender differentiation when the hair is poorly done.”

“Another factor may also be that men are so much more sensitive about cosmetic or aesthetic enhancements,” McLeod adds. “Women are socialized from the womb to beautify themselves, so certain things do not even faze us.”

“I think that women have been bombarded for ages with images and advertising about beauty issues,” says Richard Sandomir, author of Bald Like Me. “The pressure is on women to look better. Watch any particular day of television and you’ll see how many more messages there are for women’s beauty products than for men’s beauty products. I don’t think most men are willing to do as much for themselves as women do.”

Hair systems: The “before and after” effect

Sandomir also points out that in most cases there’s a bigger “before and after” difference between a man using a hair system and a woman using one. “Even if I got a great system, it would be jarring for people to see me bald one day and then the next wearing a full head of hair.” Sandomir thinks that the men who are most successful with a hair weave or other system are those who start when they’ve just begun to lose their hair. “I also think that the people who take really careful care of their hair systems, who replace them and take care of them regularly, are the ones [whose systems] you don’t notice.”

For Sandomir personally, the decision to sport a shaved-head look was possibly the best decision he ever made. It came about when he offhandedly asked NBA star Charles Barkley what he used to shave his head. Barkley placed his hand on Sandomir’s arm and asked, “Why, brother? Are you thinking of coming home? Because what you got ain’t working for you.”

It really all comes down to whether “what you got” is working for you. A hair system, a shaved head, or your own natural look — being comfortable with it and feeling it works for you are the only things that really matter, regardless of your gender.