Wednesday, March 19, 2008

But do men need to be taller? continue...

Baldness occurs in white men more than in any other racial or sexual group. Genes for baldness are carried on the chromosomes of both men and women but require the male sex hormones for activation and for baldness to occur. Whilst white women may show a gradual thinning of their hair, by the time men have reached their early twenties some will show a receding hair line or bald spot, and by the age of 50 up to 60 per cent of men will have lost some hair.

It has been argued that balding is a sign for possible female mates that the balding male is beyond his prime and no longer fit to reproduce. However, this argument seems to be contrary to the rest of male reproductive behaviour and physiology which permits men to reproduce for almost as often and as long as desired. The absence of any obvious biological association between male sexuality and balding has not prevented hair from being central to many men's body image and hair loss being a serious fear.

So where does this fear come from? Why isn't balding simply accepted as a natural response to age or to the influence of hormones?

How many actors can you think of who are balding? How many television personalities accept their thinning hair without resorting to toupees or the 'sweeping syndrome'? The media present masculinity and hair thickness as being inseparable. The only exceptions to this rule are actors (two spring to mind) who are completely bald, suggesting that they have chosen to shave their heads and that if they wanted to they could easily grow it back.

Diet Start

How do men respond to this pressure?

Unlike for height, society offers men several ways to challenge the problem of hair loss. It offers them a way out. Men can wear toupees, sweep their hair across, living in constant fear of high winds, or they can have hair transplants. And some of them do. Some men are severely traumatised when their hair starts to fall out, some see it as the end of their youth and others as the end of their attractiveness.

I interviewed several men, and asked them how important their hair was and whether they were frightened of going bald. I received many responses, all of which indicated that balding was certainly not something to look forward to. Words such as 'horrible' and 'upsetting' were used and 'I'd look stupid' was a common remark.

However, one man did say that he was quite looking forward to going bald. He felt that it was 'cool' and distinguished, although he did add that the chances of his going bald were very slim.

Yet, as with male concerns with weight and height, these problems with balding do not seem to have such a profound effect on body image as weight does with women. This is not to trivialise men's body dissatisfaction or to dismiss their self-criticism, but to put it into perspective compared with the multitude of women who spend their lives preoccupied with weight.

I asked several men if they thought there was a difference between men and women as far as their looks were concerned. Surprisingly many men seemed to be aware of a difference and felt that they were lucky.

One man said: 'Women aren't attracted to men by their looks, they find their personalities attractive, but I am initially attracted to women by their looks, but then everything else becomes more important.'

Another said: 'If you are a man, being fat can give you status and suggests that you are rich and successful enough to eat nice food and drink good wine. If you are a woman, fatness means that you cannot command as much respect, and that you have a problem with food.'

He also said: 'Men's attractiveness is to do with character and personality. Women's attractiveness is far more to do with their physical appearance.'

Another man said: 'Men may not think of themselves as being attractive, or even worry about how attractive they are, but they put their energy into examining how attractive women are. Men's attractiveness can be determined by how attractive their female partner is.'

But are things changing?

Women assume that men get off lightly. However, over the last few years there has been an increase in the number of men used in advertising and an increase in magazines designed specifically for the male reader. Stereotypically good-looking men now advertise milk, cars, food and a multitude of consumables. Men's magazines are full of tall, dark, handsome men modelling clothes and even the male perfume market has taken off. Are we heading for a future of image-obsessed men?

I was interested to find in a recent copy of Cosmopolitan an article called 'Cosmo man' which was introduced by the question 'Is he worried stiff about his penis, his stomach, his mother?' Men also seemed to be getting the treatment. The article outlined men's 'touchiest topics' from penis size to balding and described each fear and neurosis in detail. It was sympathetic but subtly ridiculed each male preoccupation. The fears were treated as genuine but not as all that important. The article was interspersed with adverts for clothes modelled by tall men with lots of hair. The jokey article and the adverts presented the perfect combination of messages to develop and perpetuate any male neuroses.

Maybe the advertising world has saturated its use of women. Maybe it has discovered the new world of men's desire to conform to an ideal image. Whatever the reason, men are appearing more and more in the marketing world. And maybe in a few years' time we will start to see the damaging results.

... andjoyohoxing