March 17, 2011
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow : The Evolution and Cultural Significance of Hair
James H. Belote
Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
An example of the cultural significance of hair is presented. Using this as a basis, the
author explores hair as an evolved variable insulation, discussing the methods of
biochemical reactions, surface area to volume ratio, and subcutaneous fat storage as the
source and preservation of mammalian heat energy. The role of evolution in the loss of
body hair is discussed.
Physical properties, both collectively and of the individual follicle unit are presented
and how they vary with age. Historical remedies for baldness, both non-surgical and
surgical are discussed. Cultural history is briefly presented and the use of hair as a
cultural identification is described. Women are presented as using hair more as an
accessory and indication of age. Finally the role of culture in one’s self-respect and hair
is mentioned. The talk closes with the conclusion of a person’s adjustment to his role
prescribed by society in view of his hair status.
Background of the Author
James H. Belote earned his BA and MD degrees at Emory University. He served an
Internship and pediatric residency at Charity Hospital, New Orleans, La. on the Tulane
Service. Following a tour of duty in the Army stationed in Bamberg Germany, where
he served as dispensary commander and pediatrician, he returned to Tulane and served a
two year fellowship in pediatric oncology and hematology. He then entered private
practice at the Redlands Beaver Medical Clinic where he established a pediatric
department. After 34 years in practice he retired although he has remained Medical
Director for Quest Diagnostics, Inc. of the Beaver Medical laboratory. Jim and his wife,
Patti, have 3 children and 5 grandchildren. He currently serves on the boards of Family
Service of Redlands and Kimberly Crest Association. He is a member of numerous
organizations and committees including a book club, a wine club, and Rotary.
When I arrived at college as a freshman, all I knew of Emory University was that it was known locally as “Coca-Cola University” because of the philanthropy of that Atlanta-based company.At the insistence of a friend, I naively joined one of the fraternities on campus. It was only later as I settled in that I realized that the pursuit of scholastic achievement was not one of its primary goals.
My junior year I was elected rush chairman for the fall rush. It was not because I was a “bon vivant” or a “big spender” or even because I campaigned. The rush chairman had to carry a list of names to the administration building. I was one of the few brothers in the fraternity who was comfortable going into the administration building because I had an above-C average. The other two were president and vice-president so my election was assured. One Thursday afternoon I found myself surveying a group of freshmen meandering into our fraternity house for what was called a “smoker”. It was a two-hour ordeal where we would impress them as to how important we were on campus, sing “off-color” songs, and make desultory remarks about the other fraternities. We would, of course, drink Coca-Cola.
As the freshmen wandered in, I was struck by a bald headed elderly gentleman in their mist. Not only was he bald, he wore horn-rimmed glasses, an expression that would have completed a funeral, a white button-down shirt with a rep tie, and an expensive tweed coat. Alarm bells rang in my head. The Dean of Students had threatened many times to inspect the fraternity houses. This was obviously a member of the administration shepherding a herd of freshmen to protect them from the wicked world of my fraternity. I pulled a brother aside and told him to go upstairs and warn everyone. A few seconds later, I heard closet doors, cabinets, and windows opening and closing as well as some toilets flushing.
I approached the gentleman, who was already sipping on a can of Coke. “Good afternoon, sir,” I said warily. “So happy you could drop by, sir.’
The gentleman waved the can vaguely in the air and tilted his shiny head. “Call me Thomas. You have anything better than this?” he said. “This is very bland.”
I couldn’t believe that a member of the administration was calling Coca-Cola “bland.” I decided he was making a feeble attempt at a joke. “Why… Yes sir,” I said. We have some water or lemonade, sir.”
I was interrupted by Fats, a fraternity brother, tapping me on the shoulder. His corpulent face was bright red and he was holding his hand over his mouth and making shuttering movements with his shoulders. He motioned at me frantically to follow him. I murmured, “ Excuse me, sir” and followed him through the bowels of the house to the kitchen. There he collapsed against a wall and laughed until tears streamed down his face.
“What’s this about”, I said angrily. “I have an assistant dean out there!”
Fats drew in a wheezy breath. “Do you know how old he is?”
“Of course not,” I said. “Probably in his forties. I don’t know. Once they’re over thirty, they all look the same.”
Fats shook his head and wiped his eyes. “He’s 18!”
“18?” I echoed.
He continued, “ A classmate told me today. Last night he was over at the Sigma Nu house. They thought he was an alumnus. Took him upstairs and fed him scotch and sodas. He finally spilled the beans. He’s from a small town in South Georgia. His father’s very wealthy.”
Wealth was an operative word in our fraternity. I went back with the intention of pledging him.
No freshman ever seemed to enjoy his year more than Thomas. When he attended class the teaching assistants thought they were being monitored by the administration and were ecstatic when he nodded his approval. Dates were no problem. The freshman girls thought they were dating the faculty and would get an easy A. The more experienced junior and senior women liked the way maitre ds and desk clerks would spring to attention when he appeared. His real value to the fraternity was trips to Manuel’s, a local tavern frequented by those thirsty for more than Coke.Manuel checked everyone’s draft card, except Thomas’s. He would order a pitcher of beer and pour it in everyone’s coke glass. One night I asked Thomas about his baldness.
“I started losing hair when I was 5 or 6 years old,” Thomas said. “My father, who has a full head of hair, was frantic. He took me all over the country. The diagnosis was finally alopecia areata, a fancy way of saying you’re bald. Never bothered me with other kids or their parents. They thought I was being treated for something. Then I hit high school and everybody realized I could buy beer.” He looked at his glass. “I haven’t had to pay for a glass of beer in 5 years.
Through the years I have thought about Thomas. Why would a lack of hair, an absence that in no way affects one's ability to think or act, affect a person's life so drastically? Why do we have hair? It is obvious that it is not a necessity for life. The questions have led me far afield. The protein that forms hair, alpha keratin, also can be found in lizards and chickens as well as mammals. In the former two, it is found in their claws. Mammals have hair. It is one of the few things you have to have to belong to the family of mammals. If that is true, where is our furry coat?
From the moment we are conceived, our organisms begin an ongoing circle of chemical reactions that will continue throughout our life. One purpose of these reactions is to supply energy to function. A side product of these reactions is heat. Heat is produced any time energy is produced and represents a loss of useful energy. Mammals have learned to take this heat and use it in a variety of ways. Compared to lower organisms, mammals have a high rate of metabolism. They not only produce more heat, but also must maintain a certain range of temperature to survive. If I took the temperature of everyone in this room, it would fall between 97 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If I took the group of you out and ran you up and down the street for 5 minutes or dipped you in the fountain in front of the Lincoln Memorial and then checked your temperature, it still would be in same range. This heat range is regulated by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus as well as endocrine glands and a number of other mechanisms. For example, if you vary from the range of 97 to 100 degrees, you become very uncomfortable. Below 97 degrees, you will begin to shiver. You muscle will involuntarily begin to repeatedly contract and relax to generate heat. You will develop 'goose bumps", erections of the vellus hairs that cover your body, in an effort to preserve heat by trapping air in your non-existent fur. You will become cold and clammy as your body shifts heat away from the skin to your core.Above 100 degrees, other mechanisms come into play. You become flushed as the blood vessels shunt blood towards the skin in an effort to radiate heat away from the body. Most important, you sweat. To put this in perspective, let's compare a mammal and a reptile. Reptiles can adjust their metabolism to the climate over a fairly wide range. They can acquire heat from the environment. I'm certain most of you at one time have found a snake or lizard on a rock on a cool morning that didn't seem to care if you touched it or not, and when you returned later, it was gone. Their metabolism responds to the environment whereas mammals must maintain their heat despite the environment. Do mammals pay a price for this? Yes, they do! At a given temperature, mammals will require 10 to 15 times as much food to function as a reptile the same size.
Speaking of size, it definitely plays a part in heat conservation. As an organism increases in size, given a steady diet, it produces excess energy it can store in chemical form. The reason for this is the organism has less surface area to radiate heat from per unit volume. Size follows the "square-cube" rule. If you square the surface area of an object you cube the volume it contains. An easy way to think of this is a balloon. An unexpanded balloon has much less volume per surface area than one that has been blown up. This lack of surface area to radiate heat enables the animal to contain heat longer and therefore decreases the total amount of heat needed to keep the animal warm. Lets look at it another way. A large animal, say a human, produces a baseline of heat of about 1000 Calories per 24 hours. A mouse will produce a much smaller total than that. The human however has a great deal of inert material, bone, dead skin, hair, that neither produces nor needs that heat. So while the human's total heat production is much greater than that of the mouse, the production of heat per gram of active tissue is not that different. An increase in size makes heat conservation much easier. This frees the animal’s metabolism to store energy, which he can do in part by depositing subcutaneous fat under the skin. This fat turns out to be an excellent insulator. Maintaining an appropriate body temperature in an animal therefore is a compromise of various factors. The presence or absence of hair, or fur which further retards heat loss, will depend on these factors and therefore is optional. Let us look at some mammals to see if these general rules hold. Mammals such as arctic foxes or Husky dogs exposed to arctic weather would be expected to maintain thick or insulating coats, which they do. They also have the ability to shed these coats in warmer periods making an easy change to warm weather. Amphibious mammals, exposed to the most extreme rapid changes in ambient temperature have the densest coat, both an insulating and a protective layer. These would include such animals as the polar bear, the otter, and the seal. Mammals exposed to a fairly constant temperature over a long period of time, either warm or cold as long as it is consistent, tend to lose their hair and depend more on the factors previously described. This would include a host of mammals that have evolved to become hairless in appearance; whales, dolphins, hippopotamus, elephants, and of course, man. Adults without hair make sense but how about human infants? Shouldn’t they be born covered with hair to help them retain their body heat since they have a large surface area to volume? Imagine a nursery filled with furry infants. It would look like a puppy farm. Infants do not need a full body covering of hair for other reasons. Their metabolic rate is almost twice that of an adult so they are producing a great deal of heat. Further, they have a very thick layer of fat if they are term infants. Mammals normally have 1 to 3% of body fat at birth. Humans have an astounding 15%. Infants who are premature lack in this covering of fat and must have their body heat supported in an incubator.
Having established the perimeters of having hair, how did man lose his? The primate families in general are some of the less hairy mammals. Even there though, man is the exception. Indeed, out of 193 species of apes, man is the only hairless one. It is better said that he is the only one who appears hairless. Actually, man has as many hairs as his distant cousin, the gorilla. Most of human hairs are what are termed vellus hairs, hairs that are undeveloped and mostly non-responsive to androgens. . Evolutionary theory places the early development of man in Africa. As we have noted, an environment with a stable temperature favors a diminished fur coat. Mammals in Africa that did keep their hair used it for a different purpose than insulation, that of protection, camouflage or adornment. Tigers or zebras look striking when seen in a cage. Seen in their native habitat, they disappear into the background. It is difficult to imagine the mane of a lion serving any other purpose than that of adornment. How man gradually lost his coat is a matter of implication since hair does not fossilize. The drawings that we see of Homo Whatever slouching along with sloping brow, a three day growth of beard and a light coat of fur is the artist’s conception. For the most part, all remains we have of early man consist of bones and everything else is speculation based on muscle attachments sites, a good knowledge of anatomy and tools to measure time. We can speculate that man would have retained hair in his axillary and genital areas because this would be useful in preventing friction. Man has retained hair around all of his orifices one must assume for protection. The explanation for the survival of hair covering the scalp is that the brain was the most rapidly evolving organ of early man and in the tropical location it needed additional protection form the sun as man assumed his upright position. This would mean that hair served the purpose of protection from heat rather than cold. Using this logic, however, one might ask why didn’t we evolve hairy shoulders as well? My shoulders are the first part to burn on my holiday at the beach. Other things were happening at the same time man was beginning to stand upright. The theory is that man stood upright because he became a plains predator more efficient as a runner than a climber. Hair would slow him down. There is some evidence of this train of logic in the cooling system man has evolved. Man is almost unique among animals in his ability to sweat. Perspiration is a wonderful invention of mammals and a supplement to the absence of hair for losing heat. While horses have kept their hair and still sweat, humans through perspiring onto bare skin can cool themselves by the process of evaporation and continue to do so over a long period of time. They are limited only by their access to water. Because of their ability to disperse heat so superbly, humans are the long distance running champions of the mammal world. Another theory is that crude tools have been found of approximately one to two million years BCE. The speculation is that man was learning to use animal skins for warmth and protection, causing the lack of hair to become irreversible. I suppose a cape is much easier to make than a cap. Finally, genetic studies suggest that man developed protective pigment as he lost his fur. It is estimated that by 1 and ½ million years ago that all humans in Africa were pigmented giving some protection from sun damage. Because of lack of fossils however, we now arrive in our modern era with only conjectures to explain the hair on our head.
To understand our hair and what happens to it, we need to talk about the basic hair unit, the hair follicle. We are born with all the follicles we will ever have. These units are located everywhere on the body except flexion areas, knees, elbows, knuckles, and palms and soles. The nose and forehead also lack follicles. Hair follicles are located in the epidermis, the top layer of skin. This layer invaginates down into the dermis, the underlying layer of skin. Each follicle produces only one hair. That is no reason to worry however. We have on the average 100,000 hairs on our head. We lose from 100 to 150 hairs a day, so the hairs that you find in the trap in the shower every morning are nothing to worry about unless you’re finding more than that. The individual hair is produced by cells in the hair root at the base of the hair and is made of alpha keratin or simply known as keratin. The individual hair itself is quite complex with a medulla or central core, a cortex, and an outer layer. The shapes of the hairs determine the characteristics of the hair. Hair that has a round shaft tends to be straight.An oval shaft causes wavy hair and a flat ribbon like shaft tends to be curly. The cells at the base of the hair responsible for the growth of hair are backed up by hair cells called stem cells that reproduce the hair cells when the hair falls out. Interestingly, the hair cells are the second most active cells in the body after bone marrow cells. Our hair as a whole is characterized by a whirl called a “cowlick” after the circular pattern seen on a calf after being licked by its mother.It is most typically seen on the occiput, the back of the head, although it can be elsewhere, even in the beard area. It is possible to have two or more. Women have them also, by the way. They are hidden by longer hair. Where and how you part your hair, on the other hand is a matter of personal choice.
There are three stages of hair growth. The first, or Anagen phase is the active growing phase where the hair is adding length. This lasts 2 to 7 years. At any given time, 80 to 85% of our hair is in this phase. The Catagen phase refers to a period when the hair growth begins to shut down, lasting 10 to 20 days. Finally there is the Telogen phase where growth has stopped. This means 10 to 15% of our hair is not growing and is shedding over 3 to 4 months. Let me emphasize that each individual hair has its own cycle. Otherwise we would go from full head of hair to baldness back to full head of hair every couple of years. Some animals do synchronize their hair growth, some like the polar bears or rabbits with the seasons, some twice a year, regardless of season. Cells called melanocytes that produce two types of pigments determine hair color, both derived from a substance called melanin. Dark melanin, called eumelanin, and light melanin, called phaeomelanin, are injected into the cells that make the keratin and thus incorporated into the hair. The mixture of the two type of melanin determines the color of our hair. White hair is the color of hair with no melanin. By 55, 1/2 of all males have some white hair. This appears as early as the late twenties or early thirties. By 60, 2/3s of all men naturally have some white hair.
There have been several mechanisms to explain this loss of coloration. The simplest is that each hair follicle has a genetic clock placed in its melanocytes that shuts off production of melanin at varying times resulting in a salt and pepper look that progresses to gray or white. A second proposal suggests that the melanocyte stem cells atrophy and we are gradually left without any melanin at all. A more esoteric and recent explanation is that hydrogen peroxide, a by-product of cellular metabolism, accumulates in the hair shaft suppressing enzymes that mediate repair. The by-products of this reaction limit the function of repair and leads to color loss. While almost all of us will have white hair if we live long enough, must we lose hair? We now enter into the land of the bald, a different problem from loss of hair color.After all, depending on genetic make-up, one can develop white hair at anytime in life. While it is generally associated with aging, it is not necessarily true. There are cases of children who have developed white hair.
Baldness associated with aging appears to be entirely genetic in origin. The gorilla, with which we physically share a common ancestor, both develops white hair and becomes bald as he ages. This suggests the trait lies deep in our inheritance. Despite this conclusion, the manner of inheritance still remains obscure. The latest statement I can find states that baldness is inherited as an autosomal dominant with reduced penetrance in women. Autosomal means that it is not connected with the sex genes. Dominant means you only need to inherit it from one parent. Reduced penetrance means it’s less likely to occur in women than men. To summarize this, if you have a family line that has bald men your chances are good that you will be bald eventually also. If you are a woman, you have less of a chance, although all women tend to hair loss as they age. This sounds suspiciously like things my grandmother told me. Let’s approach this from another angle. What prevents baldness? If I told you that there is a surgical procedure that, if performed in adolescence, is guaranteed to prevent baldness as long as you live, would you be interested? What if I told you this procedure, if performed early enough, would not only guarantee that baldness would not be passed to your heirs, but would also decrease your chance of hypertension, arteriosclerosis, and marital problems, would you regret missing this opportunity? Unfortunately, the opportune time for most of us has passed, since the procedure has to be done in adolescence. The procedure of course is castration. Men who are castrated during adolescence will have a full head of hair for life. Our hair production is tied to our hormones, in fact, to the production of testosterone, the male hormone. Certain of our vellus hairs, the insignificant hairs we have over the body, respond to testosterone at time of puberty and become darkened and thickened. Think of your beard. These are called terminal hairs. The hair on our head also thickens at that time, indicating that it is partially under control of this hormone but not entirely. The interesting fact is that the male hormone seems to play a part in baldness as well. As males age, they develop what is referred to in dermatology as androgenic alopecia or more commonly known as male pattern baldness or just MPB. This pattern of baldness consists of hair loss at the temple and over the occiput and seems to be related to dihydrotestersterone, or DHT. DHT is an analog of testosterone converted to this form by an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase or in the chummy language of the biochemists, 5-AR. We can therefore say that 5-AR acting on testosterone yields DHT producing MPB. This biochemical pathway is important because in the seventies, an antihypertensive, a drug that lowers blood pressure, with the generic name of minoxidil was used. It was later noted by the patients that they had increased darkening or growth of scalp and body hair. It was subsequently realized that this side effect was due to the inhibition of 5-AR. Remember, if you inhibit 5-AR, you decrease DHT and therefore you inhibit MPB. The drug is now marketed under the name of Rogaine, is non-prescription, is now off patent, and so a number of brands now exist. How the drug inhibits 5-AR has not been clearly elucidated. That it does inhibit DHT is indicated by its side effects. Its use can cause a decrease in libido. It is most effective in men between 18 to 41 years of age and works best on the occipital or posterior head. It has to be applied once or twice a day for up to 3 months before any results are seen. Men use the 5% solution or foam while women use the 2%. The 2% is less likely to grow facial hair, a problem that women can find objectionable. When you stop the medication, the hair stops growing and you go back to your normal state. There is also now an oral medication available only by prescription called Finasteride that has the same blocking action. It has more side effects.
After minoxidil, the things you can do in the privacy of your own bathroom become starkly few. There was a hair spray consisting of electrostatic fibers that would thicken your hair but I can’t find it on the market now. Somewhere on midnight television, there was a spray that painted your scalp a non-glossy black in the occipital area. If you are taller than average you might get away with it. Other self-remedies consist of creative use of the comb. There is the Roman do, combing the hair forward to cover loss of the temples and forehead, the famous comb-over of Donald Trump, allowing one side of the hair to grow long enough to comb over the bald area, the pony-tail, pulling the hair back to cover the bald spot and tying it. I think something could be said for the basketball player or Bruce Willis look of simply shaving the entire head. Beyond this you must turn to outside help. This means surgery. The fringe of hair around our head is more resistant to loss. Surgeons can use these areas for “harvesting” as they refer to it and transplanting small areas or even strips to the areas of bare scalp. These transplants usually take over a period of 2 months and grow normal hair by 6 months. The usual problems of rejection and infection can occur. Elton John is a public figure with this procedure. You also have scars at the site of the transplant but this is usually covered by hair. The other surgery that can be done is surgical removal of the bare scalp. This can be done in a number of ways but it is obviously not as popular as the transplant. Another way of covering up is with a wig. Wigs are far more popular than most people believe. There are two types, synthetic and real, made of human hair. The latter can run into the thousands of dollars. A good one is hard to spot but I can assure you that you see several men with wigs daily. Politicians, actors, and news commentators use them extensively. It stands to reason if you think about it. All of these people spend years working their way to the top of their profession only to find that people expect them to look like they did when they were young. A good wig maker is their friend. Then there are those who use their heads for other than growing hair. Professors, philosophers, physicians, and pastors have for centuries cultivated the idea that wisdom comes with age, an idea accepted better without much thought.
All of this brings us to the basic question. What motivates human’s fascination with their hair and lack of it? It is, of course, the only part of the body that a person can easily change by himself.In history, even in Biblical times, hair is entwined with strength. Samson in the Old Testament lost his strength with the shearing of his hair and regained it when it grew back.As Jeffrey Waldron pointed out in his excellent talk last week, taking someone’s scalp was a way to derive power and status. The British custom of wearing wigs over their hair was both a sign of their profession and power. This custom was carried into this country. Two of our coins have men wearing wigs, the nickel and the quarter. If you compare the quarter and the dollar, you will see Washington with and without his wig. Hair styles have changed with each generation and seem to become more accelerated in recent decades. In humans, the symbolic animal, it has become a symbol of cultural identity. Thus, we see different hair styles for different sub-cultural groups. This was first noticeable in the military where conformity is considered indicative of good discipline. Shearing the head was initially done in army recruits for matters of hygiene. Military hair styles, even in our own forces subtlely differ. There is army short and air force short and woe to the barber that doesn’t know the difference. As a matter of identification during time of war, short hair (buzz cut, crew cut) was carried over into the general population as well. Hair has long been a way to express cultural identity for youth. Whether performers set the style or are smart enough to quickly adopt them is impossible to say. There was the mop top of the Beatles and the ducktail of the Elvis Presley area in the fifties. The long and messy hair of the hippie movement reached its peak in the sixties, provoking Governor Reagan to make the pronouncement, “They dress like Tarzan, have hair like Jane, and smell like Cheetah.” The Afro made its appearance at this time as well, a political identification symbolizing support for Afro-American opportunity. The use of hair style for political identification is an old one. Adaptation of hair style was pioneered by the Roundheads, rebels and followers of Cromwell in the 1600’s who were so called because they wore their hair short in protest of the Royalists long locks. During the 60’s to the present day, we also began to see the “skinheads”, individuals who shaved their heads to show their support of extreme right causes. The long coiffered hair and sideburns of the seventies ran its course, leaving us with Nehru jackets in our closets and record albums of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” again by the Beatles who craftily had changed their hair styles. Religions also have used hair styles to set themselves apart. Orthodox Jews do not cut their hair or shave. Sikhs do not cut their hair either but wear it under a turban. Certain Monks of Catholicism shaved their crowns because the results resembled a halo and demonstrated their purity. Buddhist monks shave their entire head because Buddha did so to show his disregard for material beauty. There are also styles reflecting occupational identity. Musicians and artists wear their hair long to show their independence. Manual laborers wear a different style of beards and moustaches than others. Those of us who think smugly that we wear no identifying allegiance at all instead show that we are occupied in service relationships, wearing our hair a moderate length, combed the same way daily in an attempt to demonstrate our stability and reliability. With the advent of television and then the Internet, hair styles have continued to proliferate. Currently, we see spiked hair, somewhat like Bart Simpson, the helmet head look of Justin Bieber, the modified Mohawk, and who knows what is next.
We should not leave without a look at the locks of the ladies however. A look at a recent phone book revealed that in Redlands city limits there are 8 barber shops and 68 beauty salons. In terms of time and money, the male is well outdone. This is not the end of the story. If you Google for hair styles, you will find more than 28 million entries. It is extremely dangerous to generalize about women. Women use their hair for more than identification. To women, hair is an accessory as well. For example, a man might wear a ponytail to a football game or an opera. He is making a statement about what he is. A woman might wear a ponytail to a football game but never to an opera. It wouldn’t go with her clothes. A ponytail is casual, frequently worn with jeans, meaning you are athletic or sporty but would not go with an evening gown. It is also related to age.Young women wear long hair and lots of it. This is attributed to the fact that it is “sexier”. “Sexy”, when it comes to hair, is a culturally learned tendency, not a genetically inherited trait. During the 20,s, short hair was stylish and sexy and most likely, will eventually be so again. Hair gradually shortens or the style becomes more compact until middle age when women wear short hair to show they’re in charge. Older women who wear longer hair usually have a specific reason for doing so.They may be identifying with younger women or they may be completing their ensemble. I will leave it to you to figure out which. Don’t discuss it with your wife.
Finally, there is some philosophy in hair as well. It is very difficult to find anything written about hair that doesn’t contain humor. Humor is human’s way of alleviating stress, among other things, and the lack of hair is stressful in our culture. As I have indicated, it is an important method of judging and being judged. In ancient times up to less than 100 years ago, the life span was far shorter than at present. Men with white or balding hair were judged to be feeble or less reliable. Advanced age usually meant advanced disease. This obviously now is not the case. With better public health and medication, men in their 50’s and beyond are as competitive and as creative as ever. Yet the old attitudes persist. The cruelest thing a society does is not when it openly debates new ideas and concepts in the streets and newspapers but when it judges appearances and concepts without critical analysis. This is where those with male pattern baldness find themselves now, subject to humor and sometimes subtle discrimination without reason. There is one ray of hope however. The average age of our population is increasing and with the “baby boomer” surge (8000 reach 65 every minute), perhaps society will realize and change its attitude. To equate MPB with feebleness is no longer correct. It is time for society itself to evolve. And before I quit, let me tell you what happened to Thomas.
Macon Georgia is located on the beginning of the central plain in Georgia, 85 miles south of Atlanta. It has 45 inches of rain a year. The average summer temperature is in the mid 90’s. The climate is described as sub-tropical. I was in the Greyhound bus depot at 9 PM on a Friday night. I had finished my junior year in college, as well as my tour as rush chairman, and was on my way to see my grandmother who lived in Gordon, 30 miles below Macon. Granny was widowed. I spent 5 days with her every year before starting my summer job. It was the highlight of my summer. She would feed me buttermilk with real butter floating in it and ginger cookies while we sat on her great porch and argued. She would try to convince me the world was made in 6 days and explain why Eisenhower was the greatest president since, well, Jefferson Davis. I loved my grandmother. To get to her I had to change buses in Macon where the temperature was 85 and my shirt was stuck to my back. The cavernous waiting room was lit with yellowish lights that made the people sprawled over the aluminum frame chairs look like they were jaundiced. The overhead fans were turning so slowly that a fly could ride on one of the blades and never get dizzy. Periodically, a sonorous voice would echo through the hall announcing the departing bus. I decided I would wait for my bus to be called on the sidewalk outside and walk through the propped open doors. The outside was no more inviting. People slowly walked by. An old man wearing a sports coat and smoking a long Parliament cigarette was slouched against a light post. An old man?
“Why Thomas!” I said, “What are you doing here?”
He glanced at me from the corner of his eye and then recognized me. “ Same as you,” he said. “Waiting for a bus. I’m going home to Cusbert Corners. I’m through with school.”
“I saw you made your grades,” I answered. “So I’ll see you next fall?”
“No,” he said, “I’m through for good. One year is plenty.”
I was shocked. “Why?” I asked. “You made your grades. You can get a scholarship. Don’t you want a diploma?”
Thomas laughed. “Why?” he said.“Listen, in Cusbert Corners, people hang their high school diplomas over their mantle. All I have to do is hang up the Emory crest or a picture of my fraternity house and people will be impressed enough. If I had a college diploma, they wouldn’t know how to speak to me.”
“But,” I answered, “What are you going to do?”
“No problem. My father’s the town mortician, or undertaker, as everyone calls him. I started doing part-time work for dad when I was 14. Even then people thought I was the senior partner. Dad decided to retire when people started coming in asking for the kindly old gentleman. He’s selling the business to me and going hunting and fishing.
I heard my bus being called. I started backing toward the door. “You’re going to miss the fraternity,” I yelled.
Thomas smiled and yelled back. “Not as long as there’s Rotary, the country club and the First Baptist Church.”
For many years I thought of Thomas and chuckled. Then one day while I was doing something, I thought of him in another way. I thought of a teen-ager standing in front of a mirror in Cusbert Corners looking at himself, knowing he was going bald and there was nothing anyone could do about it. I thought of walking into a fraternity house or a classroom knowing you would be instantly the focus of attention and only the force of your personality would prevent everyone from seeing you as a freak. I realize that for Thomas, life at the University must have been a lonely charade.
I never saw or heard from Thomas again, but he taught me to respect a bald headed man.
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The following topics were researched on Wikipedia (http://en.Wikipedia.org) Basal Metabolic rate (Page 1-9), Dihydrotestosterone (Page 1-3), Hair Coloring (Page 1-8), Minoxidil (Page 1-4), Warm-Blooded (Page 1-5)
The following topics were researched on Answers. (http://www.answers.com). Baldness (Page 1-5), hair (Page 1-35), human hair color (Page 1-10)