#956: “How do I reassure someone I love about their body issues without being bitter about my own?”

Hi Captain,

My husband, at the ripe age of 35, is losing his hair. He has had luxuriant long locks since he was a young teenager, long before I knew him. He fought multiple administrative battles with his conservative Catholic high school’s dress code in order to keep it. He considers it an inextricable part of the identity he constructed that turned him from a sad, isolated kid into an adult with a social community. In his own words, he can no longer picture himself without long hair. Nevertheless, it’s visibly thinning on top–and he knows it.

His anxiety over this is really ramping up: he bought a second mirror so he can examine the top/back of his head, he’s exploring combover-like hair arrangements to hide the thin area, and the angst performance over every stray hair in the shower drain trap is… heartbreaking. Also more than a little annoying.

I’m a fat woman, Captain. I have never in my life looked the way I wanted to, much less the way society told me I ought to. After thirty years, I’m largely over it in most circumstances… but when my husband starts up this new routine about his hair, part of me wants nothing more than to roll my eyes and notify the whaaaambulance. As a bonus, my husband is quite thin, and has done the dance of fat-shaming in the guise of “concern for your health” at me in the past, so that resentment lingers a bit. (Even though I did break him of that habit and it hasn’t come up in years, I can’t avoid the basic truth that he’s thin and I’m fat and I have feelings about that.)

I want to be supportive, but at the same time I dread the day he actually asks my opinion of the effectiveness of his combover techniques (spoilers: they are super not effective). Right now all my buried bitterness about my own body wells up in my throat when he gets started about how many hairs fell out during his latest post-shower brushing, so I just kind of shrug and nod sympathetically to avoid choking on it. Do you have any scripts for soothing sounds I can make in response to his escalating sads-spirals?

Some of Us Have Never Been Beautiful, Howl

Dear Some Of Us:

When you’ve expressed uncomfortable feelings about your body in the past, is there any soothing thing a thin person could have said to you to make you feel better?

True story, a thin friend recently offered to sort through plus size dresses online to help me find something to wear to an event, and while she found the least hideous-shoulder-cutout-boob-sequined-couch-upholstery looking things that fell within my many parameters, the best part about it was afterward when she said:

“I gotta say.
Shopping for plus-sized lady stuff
The prints, Jen. The prints.
It was awful.”

I love her so much for it, because, while she’s always quick to say “You’re beautiful!” it was amazing to have her, for one brief second, know and affirm how much things can suck out there. #YOUSEEME #YOUREALLYSEEME #letmypeoplehavesleeves

Applying this to your husband’s hair loss, I think the best soothing noise you could make is some version of affirming his feelings of anxiety and loss. Nodding sympathetically works. “Aw man, that sucks!” works. If he asks for more of a response, try “Your hair is so pretty, I know it sucks to lose it so much earlier than you planned.” “No advice, just sympathy.” Resist the urge to flood him with supportive “Bald Is Beautiful”* memes and let him come to his own peace with it in his own time.

Edited to Add: I had this as a P.S. but I want to emphasize this: There is a reason that this is bringing up old feels about body image. You (understandably) had and have a lot of feelings about having a body that is seen as non-standard, not sexy, not lovable, not celebrated, and downright discriminated against by our culture. You’ve made an uneasy peace with those feelings and didn’t ask your husband to manage them for you. In fact, you had to do a lot of emotional labor to shut down his harmful attempts to manage them. But now, it feels like he is asking you to be the audience and cheerleader while he manages his feelings about getting older. You don’t have to manage his feelings about aging and baldness. Nodding sympathetically and saying, “Aw, that sucks” is enough “work” around this issue. Giving him a lot of space to work through it himself is actually a kind thing to do. If he’s looking for something else, he needs to come out and ask you or tell you what that is.[/Edit]

At some point, when he asks your opinion, or if his unhappiness escalates or shows no sign of stopping, here’s your script: “Husband, I can tell this is stressing you out a lot, and I hate seeing you so unhappy about it. I don’t know the first thing about styling men’s hair, and I think it’s time to call in a great barber or hair stylist who can help you work with it and make you feel maximally handsome.

Once you’ve invoked this stylist/barber, you can defer everything to them. “I look at you every day, I’m not a good judge. Let a professional at it!

He’s 100% gonna say; “But they’ll just cut it off or tell me to cut it off!” to which you can truthfully say “Maybe so, but they won’t actually cut it off unless that’s your decision, too. Why not work with someone who knows what they are doing?

To use the example from your letter, you are at peace with your body (mostly). But if you talked about being unhappy with it every day, it would be okay if someone close to you said “Hey, this is clearly making you unhappy, and I don’t feel right commenting on it, but I also want you to have every bit of support and help you deserve, so, who can we call?” Finding a fat-friendly doctor is much more of a crapshoot than finding a barber who can gently steer your husband into his post-ponytail life.

*About those “Bald Is Beautiful” images: One thing that got me to be more comfortable with my fat body was looking at beautiful images of fat people – from the Fatshionista LJ Community in Ye Olden Tymes to various fashion blogs. Our media culture is so saturated with fatphobia that this process was an important part of normalizing eye so I could see myself. If your husband were writing to me, I’d tell him to build a Jason Statham/Luke Cage Pinterest board post-haste. Since he isn’t the one writing, it would probably be overstepping if you did it for him. I’m putting this here in case it helps another baldy or future baldy. Retrain your eye!


278 thoughts on “#956: “How do I reassure someone I love about their body issues without being bitter about my own?”

  1. I think that the deferring to a professional hair stylist approach is absolutely perfect. Bullseye, Captain!

    1. Seconded!

      Right now, this guy is losing his hair, and that phrasing implies a certain helplessness. He’s losing his hair… there it goes, wave good bye, nothing you can do about it.

      Getting a new haircut, a new look, is an active choice, like “I’m choosing to change how I look”. It’s a way to kind-of, sort-of make peace with the changes to his body that he’s got to deal with. “Yup, I have less hair than before, so I need a different hairstyle, but I still look good and feel good, even if it’s now how I looked at 15.” It’s switching from ‘fixating on a problem’ to ‘looking for a solution’.

        1. I once dated a guy who did what I call the Preemptive Strike Against Male Pattern Baldness. He was in his early thirties at the time and his hairline was receding, so he said, “Fuck it,” and shaved his head entirely, going from waist-length hair to no hair at all. He wore a Van Dyke beard, and the cumulative effect was really quite handsome.

          My youngest brother has taken the same tactic. He is in his early fifties, and his hairline is horseshoe shaped, and he’d rather have no hair at all than the horseshoe-shaped hairline; my sister-in-law seems to find him quite attractive, and I imagine her opinion on that topic is probably the opinion he values most. 🙂

  2. I get why this sucks for you. One of the reason I’m able to believe my partner when he says he thinks I’m gorgeous is that he is totally and completely comfortable in his body, which happens to not much more conforming to typical beauty standards than mine. And it’s great because the two of us can be short plump hobbits who everyone else ignores but who find each other to be sex on legs. In the past, I’ve been in relationships where the person’s position was more, “Nah you look great the way you are but OH MY GOD I THINK I GAINED TEN POUNDS AND MY NOSE IS CROOKED” and….yeah. Even though we tend to be harsher on ourselves than others, if I see someone who clearly subscribes to certain tenets of physical beauty, it’s hard to 100% believe them when they say they don’t mean me.

    Plus there’s the whole dynamic of him having blithely coasted along for so long without ever experiencing something you deal with every day. And now that he’s gotten there, it doesn’t seem like it’s granted him any insight. Nothing like “oh hey this must be what my partner felt like all all, now I understand better and am sorry I wasn’t better at supporting you” but instead a lot of “nobody has ever felt the pain I feel! Woe!” and…yeah.

    I agree with the Captain that it’s best not to bring your feeling up directly, especially not in some kind of competitive framework. Process them however you can on your own, be supportive of him…but also don’t get roped in to reinforcing his delusion that his pain is unique and unrivaled. Who knows? This might turn out to be a good thing for him in remaking his self image in a more dynamic and enduring way. Age comes to us all so it’s going to happen sooner or later.

    1. “short plump hobbits who everyone else ignores but who find each other to be sex on legs”

      Man, if I wasn’t already married I’d put this in my wedding vows.

      1. I don’t recognise your username but I have a couple in mind that I’m assuming you could be (and if you’re not them, they’re also blissfully happy hobbits)

        1. That’s funny, I was about to say the exact same thing, because I also know a couple like that.

  3. I am all here for the Jason Statham/Luke Cage pin-up board (add some Bruce Willis and Hugh Dillon in there as well).

    1. Or if you want someone who was losing hair prematurely, as in his teens, there’s Patrick Stewart.

      1. Didn’t stop him from having a great career. Plus he is being named “Sexiest Actor Alive” by Glamour magazine in their May 2017 issue.

        1. Didn’t say it hurt his career. Was adding to the earlier suggestions of super-sexy bald dudes (or so most of my nerdy male-lusting friends tell me; I’m more of a Doctor Crusher guy).

      2. I seem to recall that one of Princess Diana’s sons is balding (like his dad) and one is “a ginger” (redhead) and they are both good looking young men.

        1. This is true! But Harry is also slowly starting to go bald, too – I’m sure they’ll grow into fine young Picards.

        1. that was a -record scratch- moment, haha.

          I personally love bald men. It’s confident and feels good on my thighs.

          1. I almost barfed looking at my own mistake. I firmly believe in not doing Trumpers. lol

    2. What, no love for The Rock and Vin Diesel? 😉

      Dwayne Johnson is my platonic soul mate probably. I dream of meeting him and just talking about puppies while eating pancakes.

        1. If I could play D&D with The Rock and Vin Diesel, I could die blissful.

      1. Yes! To both of them.

        I want to meet them both, but Dwayne Johnson is also my platonic soul mate (in my head canon). He just seems like the sweetest, most down-to-earth famous person ever.

    3. I’m finding myself thinking of Greg from Steven Universe. Went for the rock star rebel look with long hair in his youth and hasn’t cut it even though he’s now completely bald on top. Unlike the other bald icons in this thread, he’s not a buff hunky actor, he’s just an aging dork – but he’s still an appealing character, a brave man and a great dad! You don’t have to let go of your youthful dreams as you get older, cut your hair because it’s thinning, or be conventionally handsome in other ways to carry off a balding look.

  4. I have some sympathy for your husband because I am dealing with a few medical conditions (hypothyroidism + hormonal issues) that is causing my hair to noticeably thin in the front (bang/forehead area). The doctor says that it will not get better. My choices are a hairpiece, hair replacement (hideously expensive!!) or just dealing. Right now Joan Rivers “Great Hair Day” Powder really helps but I know the day that even that will not help is coming. Men can be bald and accepted and that’s not true for women.

    I don’t think you have to listen to him worry over it and suggesting a professional seems the best way to go. They probably can help him pick something that he can be ok with. Best of luck!

    P.S. I’m with so down with a Jason Statham/Luke Cage pin-up board. Maybe some Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, too.

    1. I am also dealing with hypothyroidism and noticing that I am losing a LOT of hair, and fretting that it is starting to look thin in the front. Right now mine still looks passably good, but the anxiety looms. I recently read a post on Design Mom about wigs, and she linked to a woman’s YouTube videos where she tries on and models various wigs. The woman herself lost her hair due to a medical condition (not sure what.) Watching her video made me feel rather soothed, because she looks fabulous and there seem to be some great options out there, and so now I feel like I have a less-expensive plan in place for if I was dealing with serious hair loss in the future.

      If you’re interested, the channel name is BlondieLocks and the video in particular is called “12 WIGS in 1 VIDEO*Raquel Welch*Henry Margu*Human*Synthetic*EPIC! “

    2. Sudden realization about why I had 40 year old man hair as a 17 year old girl (with Hashimoto’s).

      It hasn’t gotten worse…I’m fine in the center, balding above the temples. Limited my hair styles a bit.

      1. Hashimoto’s is such a pain in the rear, isn’t it? My mom keeps bugging me about why my hair is so short. Mom. Because I have Hashimoto’s and if it’s not short it’s WAY more obvious that I’m kinda bald, that’s why, leave me ALONE.

        1. Mine is better if I can get the hair from the front to cover the sides. So, low pony tail or braid. On the other hand, sometimes I don’t care and style it how I want. I don’t think I could ever bring myself to get a haircut that will show it, however.

          I’ve been noticing a lot of breakage lately, which makes me think maybe my meds are off.

    3. I’m also female and getting “male-pattern baldness” at my temples, giving me a growing widow’s peak. My hair has always been thin, but it’s especially so in those areas now. I don’t anticipate this getting any better. My solution has been to buzz cut it to about a #2 all over. It’s much less easy to notice, and I can do it at home in my bathroom.
      I’ve had my head shaved bald a few times as well and will transition to that permanently if the buzz cut no longer does it. I was pleasantly surprised at the response I received to being bald.

  5. Dear LW,

    First, wow! The Captain hit it out of the park today. The hairdresser recommendation is perfect. So are the calm, non committal scripts.

    Next, a small story. My brother’s hair was below his shoulders, very thick, almost unmanageable. He started losing it in his mid twenties. He was in Better Off Shaving It territory before thirty. It bugged him, as it bugs your husband, but he didn’t make it anyone else’s problem. If I complained of going gray, he’d mutter “at least you have hair” – but that was the extent of it.

    I tell you this story because I think you’re right to be miffed. Your husband is making unwarranted demands on you. He is not behaving sensibly, or with any sensitivity either.

    So, tl;dr Give him the occasional “Aw that’s rough” and point him to a hair dresser.

    1. I ❤ your brother for that. One of my kids started thinning quite a lot about one split nanosecond after entering puberty as a teenager. His very-long-haired dad, who is barely thinning slightly in late middle-age, is frankly being an idiot and a pita about this child cutting their hair short (which looks So. Much. Better. And kid knows it, having dithered for several years and then finally taken the plunge from long hair to short, and I think he looks pretty damn great).

      It's not easy for a self-conscious teenager to deal with having noticeably thin hair, and I wish his dad would shut the fuck up about it. He means well (as in, he seems to sincerely believe it looks better long) but all the verdicts from classmates and sibling (and me) suggest that he is Rong with a capital R; short hair looks better when you're thin on top (I should know! It comes from my side of the family!) and the less you look like you're scrambling in vain to hide it, the better.

      It's hard when someone's so very young, though 😦

      Sorry for the derail; it's currently a bone of contention (as in, right now, today, this godsdamn minute). Back on topic, I want to thank the Captain for those ideas – they're relevant in this household and may come in very useful!

  6. I don’t know if this is sensible, but if you aim to mention that you find it hard to talk about next time it comes up, it might be easier than it feels. I don’t know — maybe you’ve already asked and he wasn’t able to rein it in, but that wasn’t clear from your letter. Knowing you find it hard to hear might actually help him be less stressed about it.

    It’s totally ok if just occasionally he needs to get his emotional support from someone else, that doesn’t need to be because you absolutely can’t give it, he might be quite willing to arrange that if he just knew it would be more pleasant for you.

    If you do talk it through in more detail, it’s not your responsibility to work all this through with him, but what someone else might say, or if you end up talking about him anyway. Lots of sympathy, lots of reassurance that you still find him sexy. Practical advice: a professional might have more specific ideas, but the obvious options seem to be “combover” which pretty much always sucks, “bald on top, long hair behind”, which I personally don’t like, but lots of people find still in the sexy long hair category, “something else alternative” eg shave it all off or “give in, wear basically normal hairstyle”. I would send him to talk it through with a friend before a professional, because the stylist might not have a magic bullet, and having got his rant out first might help, but the captain’s judgement call is probably good too.

  7. It’s okay to set limits on how much he shares these feels with you, whether that’s no more than once a day or week, or 5 minutes max or not at all after X date, find someone else to vent to, or whatever. It’s okay to do that with or without the affirmations of you find him attractive with long hair, short hair or no hair (assuming that’s all true). And along with a hairdresser/barber, since this situation is bringing on an existential identity crisis, it might be worth suggesting he unpack some of that with a therapist.

    ps, This really reminds me of Nicholas Cage and his jacket in Wild at Heart: “Did I ever tell ya that this here jacket represents a symbol of my individuality, and my belief in personal freedom?”

  8. I’m wondering if there are other choices he can make through fashion or styling his body in other ways that give him the same feeling his hair gives him; maybe, for example, if he felt edgy and Devil-may-care with his hair, it’s time I couple that new haircut with a leather jacket or a piercing or whatever other New Signature Thing might help him feel like he has a little of that groove back.

      1. A dude I work with had very long hair until he started going bald (early 40’s), and he shaved his head and dedicated himself to growing out a long beard. It still has a similar ‘feel’ to the long hair, and it suits him very well.

        1. My boyfriend knew from the time he was a child that he was going to lose his hair early. Almost all the men in his family were bald in their 20s, so he had long hair as a teen, did wild stuff with it in his 20s (mohawks, dye, etc, including growing a giant beard), and when we started dating told me “I refuse to get a second mirror so just tell me when it starts getting too thin up top to keep on”. A while ago I said “it’s time” and now he shaves his head. Looks amazing.

          Like…super hot. Wow. 🙂

          1. Oh man, I’ve always thought that if I shaved my head I would want to paint it with body paint every so often. I dye my hair fun colors near constantly, and I know I don’t have a good head shape for bald, but the idea of being able to paint my head with a smiley face or paisley or stripes is still tempting…

        2. I work with a guy who accessorize with snazzy glasses.

          I’m another woman who has/had hair thinning issues (turns out that among other things, I was anemic, and taking iron has been very restorative in my case) and I totally get how awful it feels. Yeah…it’s only hair, it’s not like losing an eye or a leg, and it truly does happen to nearly everyone to some degree, but emotionally it really sucks.

          It might not be a bad idea for LW’s husband to take action now, and make a conscious decision to change his look dramatically. Reinvent himself, as it were. Get ahead of the process. A hairstyle that only changes a little bit as one’s hair thins is a lot easier to evolve than a style that requires length and density to maintain. A good stylist will be able to give him a flattering look, and I propose that he would feel a lot better about the whole thing if he knew he would still look good, even if it’s a different look than he has had up to this point.

      2. I would think that would depend on how they view having it. I see it as helping me present as less masculine (with the culture I’m in), and for that a beard wouldn’t exactly help.

  9. Wow, LW, I really sympathize with you. I’ve also never been thin or conventionally attractive, and I find it really hard to listen to people who are or have been complain about their bodies. (Dear Dad: I know you are sad that you are aging, but c’mon now. You don’t look like an eighteen-year-old anymore *because you are sixty.*)

    I realize this may not fly, but given how central his hair is to your husband’s identity, I’m tempted to have a second script on the back burner for if/when he keeps bringing up this issue beyond the “talk to a hair stylist” convo: “Hon, I don’t know, but this stress about how you look seems to be taking up a disproportionate part of your brainspace. You’re still a cool person with a full life, so the fact that this one thing is messing so much with your quality of life worries me. Would it help to talk to a counselor?”

    You get all the kudos in the world for making peace with your body image through your own work, but the truth is that some of us (cough, me) are not able to make nice with how we look or what our bodies do without our permission by ourselves, and maybe your husband is in that category? Like: I wish to high heaven that he had been compassionate and empathetic when you were struggling with your body. You DESERVED, and DESERVE, that. But even if he had been, the truth is that he might still have the same desperate, sad reaction to losing his hair. He’s not wrong that it changes how people see him; I kind of automatically assess various people’s bald spots without meaning to whenever I see them. I guess as someone who has done a ton of reading, thinking, and writing in body acceptance, and who STILL can’t believe that other people aren’t universally grossed out by my body after ~7 years of that work, it doesn’t really surprise me that your husband isn’t doing awesome with this change right out of the gate.

    To be clear, I support 100% punting the emotional management of said distress to someone who is paid to do so. I don’t regard it as kind or reasonable to expect my friends to take the brunt of my emotional pain around my body image. I just . . . I guess I just want to give credence to the idea that this might be a bigger problem than even a hairdresser can correct.

    (Aside, when I think about the bald or balding dudes I have found attractive, they mostly have in common that I just really, really liked them to begin with. Maybe there is a place in your script for, “I want you to believe me when I say that I really, really like you as a human being, and I want you to respect how I feel enough to not try to make your emotions about your body my emotions, okay?”)

    1. (Aside, when I think about the bald or balding dudes I have found attractive, they mostly have in common that I just really, really liked them to begin with. Maybe there is a place in your script for, “I want you to believe me when I say that I really, really like you as a human being, and I want you to respect how I feel enough to not try to make your emotions about your body my emotions, okay?”)

      I agreed with the rest of your comment, but this I STRONGLY disagree with this. There are plenty of bald/balding people I’ve found attractive (and other readers, too, as you can see by the lists of men to include in pinterest board), so assuming that because you don’t find them attractive, people in general don’t find them attractive, is a big leap.

      Also, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to start a conversation about appearance with “I like you as a person”. That sounds like you’re about to say “but I’m not attracted to you” or something, so no matter what comes next, that’s going to be hanging out there.

      1. I don’t think that’s quite what Jane was saying here, though I don’t want to speak for her. I read it as a lovely and important way to reiterate that a) his emotions are not her emotions and b) she likes him for 1001 things that have nothing to do with his hair and thus her attraction to him is not in jeopardy due to this change.

        It didn’t read to me as a masked “I like you as a person (but)….” (Nowhere did I see her saying she thinks balding people are unattractive.) Perhaps part of this is just that attraction is really different for everyone. My personal situation means I rarely find *anyone* attractive until I know them quite well and trust them. My pantsfeelings are on permanent safety-awareness delay which means that what Jane said above is true for me about basically everyone I’ve ever been attracted to. So if I say to someone (or they say to me) I am attracted to “who you are” not just how you look, it’s a compliment, not a veiled insult. Obviously, YMMV.

        1. I’m fine with “respect how I feel enough to not try to make your emotions about your body my emotions”. That part of it is great! However, his issues currently seem to be with his appearance, not his likability, so it would make more sense to me to say, like, “I will find you attractive no matter what happens to/you do with your hair” (or something else appearance-related, creating scripts is not my forte).

          Also, I didn’t say that I thought Jane meant “I like you as a person (but)”, just that that is what it will always sound like to me, especially in an appearance-related conversation. I’m not saying that liking a person doesn’t influence their relative attractiveness, of course it can and often does, but that’s really beside the point. When you’re insecure about your appearance the last thing you want to be reassured about is something not about your appearance.

          1. I guess my experience is actually that there is literally nothing someone else can say about my body that will make me feel better about it, because my issues with my body are not actually reflective of some objective reality that the other person can dispute.

            For me, someone else engaging with my body hatred is never going to do anything but reinforce it. It is way better for someone to say, “I delight in your presence in my life, and I am not going to have the conversation with you where you say you’re ugly and I disagree, because I don’t think that’s even a legitimate conversation to have.”

          2. “It is way better for someone to say, “I delight in your presence in my life, and I am not going to have the conversation with you where you say you’re ugly and I disagree, because I don’t think that’s even a legitimate conversation to have.””

            Jane, I’m going to remember this, for myself as well as for friends, when I or they are having an “I don’t like my appearance” moment. Very nice.

        2. Emdashing, you have correctly captured my biases. I wouldn’t seek out baldness (or really any other physical feature, for that matter,) but if baldness comes in the package with someone I care about and enjoy being around, then baldness is a-okay.

      2. Er. . . no, I was not trying to say that I assumed that no one found balding men attractive. I do assume that people are attracted to each other for a variety of complex reasons, and even people who are not specifically attracted to a particular thing (like baldness, in my case) may either find that for specific people they either don’t care or like it. For one guy I was thinking of, bald really suited him — he was sharply barbered and always looked super good. For another, the balding-ness looked okay but not great (to me.) They had in common that I took great pleasure in their company, so perhaps what I should have said is, even if the LW *isn’t* specifically attracted to her husband’s newly bald head (which I don’t believe she says one way or another,) it . . . may not actually matter. I don’t think you have to find another person 2000% blazingly hot every second of every day to decide that you want to be in a relationship with them.

        I also assumed that the LW still pretty much thinks her hubby is great (otherwise why care so much about being supportive?) I’ve witnessed too many situations (sometimes as a participant, ugh) where one friend or partner constantly voices their insecurities as a way to elicit validation and comfort from the other, and one way that can come off is that they don’t actually believe what the other person is saying to them again and again. I think “hey, can you tell me you still think I look good,” is cool, but “now I’m ugly and no one could love me,” is kind of disrespectful to the other person standing right there, loving you.

        I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about the use of “liking” in the script. If it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you. It can be adapted to “love” or whatever verb feels most true, but I chose “like” as a synonym for “enjoy the presence of.”

        1. My fiancee and I actually talked about the thing in your second paragraph, and agreed that it’s perfectly fine and good to ask each other, “Tell me you love me/find me attractive/how much you feel those things”, but the “omg i’m so ugly” is not acceptable, because yeah, it’s disrespectful and not true and also passive-aggressive.

          (As an aside, she and I also agreed to just be as straightforward as possible with communication, which has helped a lot in reducing misunderstandings. I’m not great about it, because I was raised that that’s just Not Done, but since neither one of us really grasps subtleties, it’s much easier this way!)

          1. Yep, I agree. It’s kind of amazing the difference framing can make — I think “I *feel* ugly” or “I *feel* really unattractive today” can also work, but if you don’t put in some kind of phrase in there to make it clear that you understand that you’re talking about your own perception/preferences/etc., it just puts a lot of pressure on the other person to “prove” that their version of reality is as legitimate as yours. Acknowledging that what you see may not be what they see is huge.

    2. FWIW … I think bald men are very attractive. Not in the “I got to know them first” way, but in the “I think bald men are sexy, CALL ME COREY STOLL”. It’s not a universal truth that bald men aren’t attractive.

      1. No, of course it’s not. But LW’s husband isn’t wrong in perceiving that going bald will change how other people see him, and that change may not be positive all the time. My point with the last sentence was more “even if some people don’t find baldness attractive, that doesn’t make husband, a balding guy, automatically unattractive, even to some of those self-same people who don’t prefer it, because there’s more to attraction than just the hair.”

      2. My husband is balding and when we first got together he lamented, ONCE, that he wished he weren’t headed cue-ball-ward, and I quickly assured him that I find him extremely attractive including — in part because of — his balding. He still grumbles occasionally about not having much to style, but yes sign me up as someone who finds bald men very attractive.

        1. I think it’s great that so many of us find bald men to be attractive!

          Let’s be careful not to veer into “Notes From A Boner” territory, though. The reassurance that “some people LIKE x type of body” doesn’t really help when you are having ooky feelings about having x type of body.

          1. Absolutely noted. *salutes* Was just responding to the above apparently-dismissive comment about how bald dudes are only hot if they have the personality to match.

          2. Thank you! As a balding, AMAB person, I was starting to get pretty annoyed at the “but we find it sexy so that makes it all OK” chorus.

            (Though seeing the boot on the other foot has given me… pause for reflection).

  10. I’m a woman with long (elbow length) hair that is long 99% because I still haven’t recovered from a traumatic pixie cut when I was 5 or 6 years old. I bundle a lot of my identity into the length of my hair because it’s been part of my look for decades, and if/when I do have to cut it shorter than collarbone-length, due to it getting too thin or fragile as I age to maintain its length, I will, like LW’s balding boo, be really upset about it.

    I can relate to how he feels, and one thing I hope you add to the excellent advice above is some reassurance about how handsome / attractive you still find your sweetie. Maybe even lob a few tiger-growls and yeah-babys your husband’s way long BEFORE he frets about his bald spots (in other words, NOT right after he has spent an hour staring at his head in the bathroom mirror after a shower, because he will MAYBE thing you’re “just saying that” to placate him or keep him from complaining in your direction!) That will go a long way toward shoring up his self-esteem, which is currently getting a little bruised. You know what made and makes you feel better when someone rudely points out that you aren’t meeting the ridiculous, ever-fluctuating, youth-obsessed, unhealthy and impossible beauty standards we are all somehow supposed to be meeting and how, even though you KNOW it isn’t true, how it can make you doubt your AWESOMENESS for a second or two. Maybe what works to remind you of how dynamite and sexxay you are as a human being can also work for your hair-fixated husband when he has a case of the sads AND you have the spoons on hand to give that sort of solution a try.

    The only other thing I can think of is that not everything we loved, and which suited us perfectly when we were younger, stays flattering and attractive on us as we get older. I still get compliments on my hair, for now, and I still like playing with it and wearing it up and down so I’m not rushing to cut it off yet just because I have passed a big number birthday (like, the kind that your meaner and less sensitive friends will bring black balloons to…LOL). But there are, for example, some clothes I loved passionately when I was younger that would not flatter me AT ALL now–though clothes are obviously not as intimately enmeshed in one’s personal identity as hair–and whereas it hurts a lot to realize that they don’t suit me anymore and that makes me feel old and less attractive, the bottom line is that people who love me think I’m OK as I am, and no one clothing item I can no longer wear or unflattering / short hair cut would make them think I was less awesome. 🙂

    He’s going to feel some feels, but you do not have to nursemaid those feels if they push your buttons.

    1. Britpoptarts: If you were assigned female at birth, you may never have to worry about thinning hair/hair loss. My mom had to take prednisone a long time ago due to a blood disorder. Her hair was so thick that only her hairdresser noticed the hair loss; not even her husband knew. Once the prednisone was withdrawn, her hair was thick as ever. She is now seventy-three and still has thick hair, which I inherited. If your mom has thick, healthy hair,you will probably never have hair loss, barring disease or medication side effects. If anyone starts making noise that you are too old to wear your hair long, fart in their general direction.

      1. Good point. My mom has thick dark hair, though, whereas I take after my maternal grandmother and father in that I have very fine light blonde hair. It is POSSIBLE it will thin out as I get older because that’s what fine, light hair seems to like to do. I sure do hope you’re right, though!

    2. If his stylist does advocate a shorter look, maybe there’s enough of the longer stuff to make donating to Locks of Love (who make wigs for children who’ve lost their hair to chemo) possible?

      1. Locks of Love isn’t necessarily the best specific organization to deal with; I’ve heard some bad things about the business practices of that particular organization (wasting hair, charging for wigs, etc., though I don’t recall the details of the accusations). So I’d advocate looking into the specific organization chosen before donating. But donating to make wigs for kids with cancer sounds to me like it might be a great option to take ownership of that change in hairstyle, as well as supporting a good cause (it certainly worked to get high school me to trim my hair to a bob).

        1. I have heard those same things, and there is a kernel of truth amid a cornfield of misunderstandings of Love of Love and its business model.

          Many people donate hair that simply isn’t usable- either too much of it is grey, or it’s too short, or it’s colored, or whatever. That hair gets sold if possible, but generally has to be thrown away.

          Even when the hair meets all the donation criteria, 100% of that hair is not usable. It takes 2 or 3 donations to make a wig.

          Sometimes the human hair donations that are not used for prosthetic hair pieces (not wigs), including grey hair and shorter hair strands from donated ponytails, are sold to cover operating costs.

          They provide custom, human-hair prosthetics to financially disadvantaged people under 21 who have permanent hair loss due to a medical condition. They provide up to 3 hair pieces as the child grows. They provide synthetic hair pieces to people whose conditions result in temporary hair loss.

          Locks of Love has a sliding scale. Some prostheses are completely free. In other cases, depending on ability, the family may be asked to contribute to the cost. No family is asked to pay the complete cost of the prosthesis.

          Hope that helped

          1. So…exactly what I’ve heard, but you promise there’s a reason. K then.
            But arguing with each other about the validity and worthiness of Locks of Love as a specific organization is a 100% a derail from the general suggestion that cutting the long hair for donation might be a good way to take ownership of the hairstyle change that’s going to happen one way or another (as in, keep balding until there’s nothing left, or make an intentional change of some kind), and that any such donation should be thoughtfully researched rather than simply picking the best-known organization, so I’m not going to argue that point.

      2. My hair is dyed and I may be wrong, but I THINK they generally prefer “virgin” or only gently-abused hair. But I would certainly be asking around if I knew in advance I was going to go super-short.

        I don’t think I will ever go super-short.

    3. I can identify: having a Pat Nixon hair helmet inflicted on me in my early teens led to rebellion of “never cutting it again.” And I did not; it reached my knees, stopped, and was a good look for me for many years.

      But time does march on. By myself, I realized that it was difficult to put up without a headache, I was re-entering the work world after working at home for a decade, and I really needed something different. Enlisted a genius haircutter, and now it’s rather short and I love it… and still reap compliments.

      My point being that the man who is losing his hair is not recognizing the march of time. He solved a problem back then, successfully; he can solve this one, too.

      Nobody likes change we don’t choose. But it happens anyway 🙂

    4. long gray or white hair can look absolutely amazing, britpoptarts, especially if you come to it with a lifetime of experience in styling it, so don’t let anyone tell you you’re too old for Rapunzel tresses if you still enjoy it.

  11. As a guy who is losing his hair, I long ago came to the conclusion that there’s little alternative but to embrace it. In particular, came to the conclusion that combovers suck and that the less hair you have, the less hair you ought to have — so now I cut it super close. I see so many guys doing combovers (including the orange clown currently occupying the White House) and I just do not understand what they think they are doing or who they think they are fooling.

    When I talk to barbers, they agree — embrace it, don’t fight it. Then again, to some extent, barbers are paid to agree with you, so you need to take that with a grain of salt.

    That said, I’d never offer unsolicited advice on this topic, because the number of guys spending hours artfully re-arranging their few remaining strands indicates that some never get over it. However, I do think that a spouse gets to have some input here, which ought to be stated in positive, not negative form. So, NOT “that looks really dumb, honey,” but rather “have you thought of alternatives X, Y and Z? I think they look really sexy…”. But that should be stated only once or twice at most.

    1. FWIW, my women friends agree that bald men look better embracing it than with a ridiculous combover (or worse, the Comb Forward).

  12. Your sign-off name is brilliant. I’m sorry you’re in this annoying situation, and I sincerely hope that he finds an outlet or way to handle it that isn’t unloading on you very soon!

  13. Ouch. Everyone else has already addressed handling his issues, but the way you signed your letter made me feel for you. “Some of us have never been beautiful” isn’t a thing I can easily accept. Sure, there are folks that tread closer to societal beauty ideals, with even features and straight teeth and clear skin, but *beauty* isn’t the same thing as “pretty”. What I described there is “pretty”. *Any* set of features can be beautiful, and they are beautiful because of the person who inhabits them. And from this letter alone, I can see that you a person that others see as beautiful. Someone gave you scripts that told you that you weren’t, but I’ve gotta tell you, those scripts lied.

    1. Can I just say what a really lovely response this is? Not LW, but younger me could have really benefitted from hearing something like this. Thank you for putting this out there for others.

    2. Naw. My face isn’t beautiful because the brain behind it is smart or kind or compassionate. My face is beautiful or ugly because of how closely it hews (either naturally or via concerted effort) to one of a small set of standards (which, granted, vary on a societal, cultural and personal level).

      Unless the goal is to make “beautiful” synonymous with “good” (which sounds like a really bad path to turn down), I don’t think it benefits us to pretend that people who blatantly aren’t beautiful *are* beautiful.

      I’m fine with being ugly and a good person.

      1. I’m with Andy. Never been beautiful. Never been pretty. Yes, it sucks that so many people – including employers! – give so much credence to appearance, but telling me that I am beautiful because I am a good person is just an extra heaping of bullshit.

        If you want to improve the lives of the unbeautiful people, stop unconsciously buying into and spreading variations of beliefs that indicate unattractive people aren’t as smart, friendly, capable, efficient, pleasant, kind, and effective as attractive people. Examples: portrayals of ugly people as evil, fat people as stupid, lazy, and/or slobs, etc

        1. And quit pointing out plus-sized models as an example of social acceptance of chubby/fat.

          1. They are not fat
          2. They usually have lovely hourglass shapes
          3. They always have gorgeous faces

      2. I tend to agree that this type of language often sounds dismissive and a bit condescending, particularly to those of us who know we’re not beautiful (not aimed at you, Maureen! It’s a pretty common trope). On the other hand, I also believe it is possible to find people beautiful even when they don’t match conventional beauty standards. So I find “beauty is subjective” a bit more meaningful than “everyone is beautiful!” personally.

        1. Yes, this! Beauty is incredibly subjective and I really hate it when people say things to imply it’s not – I’ve had people that I’ve considered pretty/cute/lovely declare themselves ugly and I’m just left there thinking, are they trying to tell me I have terrible taste or what?
          Saying you’re not beautiful in the conventional sense is fine and saying that you’re ugly by current societal standards also doesn’t bother me, but making a proclamation as to what is beautiful or ugly bothers me. Art is subjective, always, even faces.

        2. Amen! And this support of the idea of subjective beauty has *nothing* to do with the fact that I’ve been spending some time (i.e., HOURS and DAYS) sighing over pictures of the young Pete Townshend.

          For, you know, *SCIENCE.*

          1. I always thought he was a striking lad. Roger got/gets all the praise for being the “hottie,” but I actually always found him the least attractive of the lot. As noted above, beauty is incredibly subjective! What I like, you may not, and v. versa (but yeah, I’m with you on the YoungPete appreciation).

      3. Yes! It’s okay to not be beautiful, just like it’s okay to not be smart, rich, charismatic, abled, or any number of other things.

      4. Andy, if you don’t mind me asking: have you never met anyone who didn’t strike you as very pretty at first, but then you got to know them and now you can’t understand how it’s possible you didn’t see how actually, physically beautiful they are?

        It happens to me /all the time/.

        I think when I first meet a person, I just see the way they look, but as I’m getting to know them, something happens – I start associating their whole body with /who they are/. It’s not that I know who they are /behind/ their face. It’s more like their face /becomes/ them, I look at them and I can see their character reflected in it, all of their various smiles, the way they look at people, the way they move their body when they’re having fun… And it is legit, honest-to-God beautiful. And I may recognize that they’re not close to some common beauty standard – even the standard I used to initially judge their appearance – but it seems arbitrary when their physique has truly become beautiful to me because of how closely it’s tied to who they are and how much it just looks /like them/.

        Similarly, if I don’t like someone, I usually dislike the way they look, too. It’s like Bitch Eating Crackers, they might look like a cover of a magazine, but I look at them and their entire face just /bugs me/.

        I just want to say… I respect that you think you’re ugly and feel okay about it. But I really believe that people may absolutely find your physique beautiful, whatever you may look like. Because when they get to know you, all the positive associations they have with your body override whatever beauty standards they have by default. It’s not “you’re ugly but you’re a good person so I’m gonna pretend I like your looks too”. It’s “I have no idea how I didn’t use to find you beautiful, because now I wouldn’t change a single thing in the way you look”.

        Does this kind of make sense? Maybe it’s not the way you look at people, and that’s fair. Just, please believe me it’s /possible/ to see people this way. I do. And I’m not pretending or lying when I say that I find all of my friends gorgeous and wouldn’t change a single thing in their appearance.

        (Hi, Cap! Please feel free to delete this if it’s too much of a derail. I just couldn’t help myself.)

        1. I think it’s possible for people’s standards of beauty to evolve (c.f. someone in this thread suggesting the LW expose her husband to pictures of bald men in an effort to reframe what he considers to be attractive).

          So, yes, definitely there have been people I originally thought weren’t beautiful who gradually became beautiful in my eyes.

          But that still doesn’t mean I think everyone is beautiful and I still see a HUGE distinction between the kind of beauty where your looks actually grant you advantages in life and the consolation-prize-type of beauty that goes, “Wow, I used to think you were ugly but now I know you’re a good person!” I think–from a vocabulary standpoint–it doesn’t really do much good to conflate the two.

          1. Okay, thank you for replying, I appreciate your point about looks-based privilege. I think it would be useful to have vocabulary that makes it easier to talk about it; to distinguish between the common-standards-beauty and the subjectively-perceived-beauty.

          2. Don’t be so quick to assume that stunning looks get you an advantage in life. My wife is stunning and exotic. Men gawk at her and make catcalls. Straight women hate her and assume she is after their man. I have personally witnessed both.

        2. I do exactly the same thing. When I first met my fiancee, I was like, “Eh. That there is a person.” Getting to know her, she’s now the most attractive person in the world to me, and apparently I am to her, and neither of us fits western beauty standards in the least.

          1. I was similar with my boyfriend, and I find it really frustrating when people assume things like ‘oh, so you think he has a good personality and that’s why you find him sexy, not his body’, nope that is totally false! Just because my attraction didn’t build till after I really knew him as a person does not mean I do not find him geniunally sexy and gorgeous. No one’s actually said that to me but I’ve come across it many times as an assumption..ugh.

            Also, the reverse is true. I used to have a big crush on this one guy, we made out one night but he asked for something that made me REALLY uncomfortable (not consent related, he basically asked me to make out with him in front of his housemates on my way out so that they could see what a stud he was…I think he had virgin insecurity but No. Excuse.). That combined with some douchiness during the making out made my crush just vanish completely right after. He hadn’t changed his appearance but I just could not find him sexy any more.

        3. Doesn’t happen to me; I can see someone as a beautiful person without seeing them as physically beautiful.

          I can also find things which don’t particularly meet the social beauty standard to be very attractive and appealing to me. But again, that kind of attraction doesn’t rely on personality.

          (Would you change something in your friends’ appearance if you had the power to do it and they *wanted* it changed? Because I mean, I wouldn’t change anything about other people’s bodies without their consent, either, no matter how unattractive I personally found them. But if the kindest and most generous person in the world wanted their nose and teeth changed and it was in my power to do it, I would do it for them in a heartbeat. I like to think that if I could make that change for them and remove that source of unhappiness, I wouldn’t withhold it just because I thought they were beautiful the way they were.)

          1. I don’t think you have to set up a theoretical for that — there are all kinds of situations where people choose to modify their bodies and you have a choice about whether to be supportive or not.

            My mom got a facelift.

            My friend got braces.

            Another friend is on a diet.

            The first and the last stress me out, because I think their motivations are coming from a painful place of feeling inadequate and unacceptable, and because I fear that their enthusiasm for changing themselves will eventually be turned on me.

            I am coming from a philosophical place that your body is your body and it’s okay, even desirable, to accept it as it is, even if social standards say it’s ugly or gross. But in those relationships, I try to be neutral supportive (“I’m glad you’re doing something that makes you happy”) because one, they’re not going to make a different choice if I criticize them; it will just make them feel bad and damage the relationship; two, I believe in bodily autonomy; and three, I don’t imagine that just because I think body acceptance is a philosophically preferable choice doesn’t mean I imagine that there are no social or personal consequences to being fat and proud of it, or wrinkly and proud of it, or crooked-toothed and proud of it. If there’s a choice of things to struggle with, then people get to make that choice.

            In the wider discussion here, I think I am mostly in the party of people who find those I know and care about, or even just the people I am more familiar with, to be physically more beautiful. (Side hypothesis: a certain amount of remaining social anxiety means that I can better appreciate people who I have accustomed myself to.) I am 100% in the camp of forcing myself to accept how other people look nonjudgmentally, even if it makes me uncomfortable at first blush.

            But my relationship with a person’s looks or body should never trump their relationship with their own looks or body.

            I mean, it’s confusing, because I also said above: I think this husband should believe the LW if she says that she chooses and wants him, whatever he looks like, and not try to make his insecurity with his looks into her problem. But I also think that neither of them have the right to tell the other that their insecurity is unjustified, or that they ought to feel differently about their own bodies. This stuff is messy and generally painful, I would argue.

          2. I know you don’t need to set up a theoretical for it, but since Still and Storm *did* – “I wouldn’t change a single thing in their appearance” brings up the question of that being hypothetically possible – I was curious about the answer.

          3. whoops, edit fail: should be: “and three, just because I think body acceptance is a philosophically preferable choice doesn’t mean I imagine that there are no social or personal consequence.”

          4. I personally think asking for validation of your own feelings is a very different thing than asking someone else to act on that feeling.

            When I think about it: yeah, my dad paid for my mom’s facelift. So in some way he “made” that happen. This is a thing that I try not to think about too much, because I *do* want my mom to be happy with how she looks, and at the same time, this is the kind of behavior that throughout my childhood taught me to viciously hate my own body. So. You know.

            I think that part of the reason people adopt a radical position of acceptance and love for other people’s bodies/faces is because we need practice accepting our own bodies for what they are and — maybe — because we are hoping they will be kind to our bodies in return. I try to be nonjudgmental about other people’s appearances because I think that’s the right thing to do, but also largely because it’s an act of self-care — I am ultra-vulnerable and ultra-sensitive to body criticism, even when it’s not aimed at me.

            If my mom had asked me for the money to get a face lift (assuming that I had it lying around), I would have said no. Not because she doesn’t have a right to her feelings about her face, or to look the way she wants to, but because she doesn’t have a right to make me further complicit in her self-hatred. I don’t imagine that her choice to get a face lift is anything other than morally neutral — it’s her face — but it would be cruel to ask me to help with it. (I feel reasonably confident that there are many other situations and many other reasons for people to get a face-lift, but this is the one I have encountered.)

            I don’t think it’s clear-cut, and I don’t think it has to be. (I’d probably give money to someone for braces, or for hair-loss treatments, because those aren’t things I am hypersensitive about on my own person.) I think the way we perceive other people is tightly linked to how we perceive ourselves in irregular and unpredictable ways. Sometimes some aspect of how we see other people is a way to protect ourselves, or some aspect of how we see ourselves radically transforms how we see other people.

          5. I get that, and I agree; I’m just uneasy at how often “acceptance” is conflated with “the label beautiful”. No-one tells me to think of myself as someone who sings beautifully because I like it and it makes me happy, and that’s fine; I know what I sounds like when I sing and it isn’t beautiful. So why this focus on telling me that my body is beautiful, as if that was the only way for it to be acceptable?

          6. Gah. My reply got cut off. But yes: I am a bit tired of asking for validating of my feelings (it’s okay to not be beautiful) and getting shouted down (OMG NO YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL DON’T EVER THINK YOU’RE NOT BEAUTIFUL (subtext of “it is NOT OKAY to not be beautiful”)).

            In the words of OtherBecky on question 296, “Loving yourself doesn’t mean thinking you’re perfect”, and the constant reframing of “but you’re beautiful TO ME because you’re good/nice/kind” feels like other people insisting on keeping the conversation in an arena where they don’t need to recognize anything about me that ISN’T perfect.

          7. Aphotic Ink – wow, that’s an interesting question, and one I didn’t expect at all. I feel like we’re getting more and more off topic, but I also feel kind of called out, so I’m gonna give this one a go. 😉

            In my comment, I did not talk about changing someone’s appearance literally, it was more of a figure of speech meant to show how honestly and to what degree I find somebody beautiful; I meant to distinguish between “this is the way you look and it’s not gonna change so I might as well get used to it” and “I genuinely think everything about you is beautiful”.

            But if we’re going to play pretend… /Of course/ I wouldn’t change anyone’s body without their consent *shudders*. And I think if it was in my power to change something a friend really wanted changed… I would consider it, depending on the situation. Some things, like fixing someone’s teeth, I’d do without hesitation (I’ve had braces, I wish I could save everyone the hassle). But I don’t want to give a blanket reply, because there might be some things that would make me uncomfortable and that I wouldn’t want to be a part of. Then again, if somebody decided to make a drastic change to their appearance that I didn’t agree with, I would respect their decision… Though I’d give my honest opinion about it, if asked.

          8. *nods* It was just a figure of speech I found interesting, because I read the implication as being “I wouldn’t change how they look (because I think they’re beautiful)”. But if you wouldn’t change how they look *anyway* (which you obviously wouldn’t on your own), it seems to undermine it a bit. If you’d never do it to anyone, of course you wouldn’t do it to the particular subset of people you personally think are beautiful, right?

        4. I think part of those “beauty standards” are also subconsciously formed because we get used to seeing certain types of people called “beautiful” and our spongey little brains feverishly categorize things and eagerly leap on anything that sounds like a descriptor to attach to a thought-unit or idea or name. One thing I really like (though I admit I mostly ignore the fashion and beauty universes these days and rarely look at magazines or TV) is that diversity is much more of a thing now than it was when I was growing up. I mean, in the 1970s, if you didn’t look like Malibu Barbie, you probably weren’t working as a cover-model at all. Pretty much everyone on the covers of fashion magazines was white, tall, thin, blonde, blue-eyed and bony-faced. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

          Today you still don’t see as much diversity in body types or abled-ness or that sort of thing, but you do see a lot more diversity in ethnicity, some in age (with older models still working), gender expression (with intersex, trans, and gender-fluid people working), folks with body modifications/tattoos/piercings, folks with vitiligo or freckles or moles or birthmarks or eyebrow/cheek/etc. scars or other interesting looks that you would NEVER have seen in the 1970s or 1980s (e.g., Cindy Crawford’s mole was famous mostly because you had NEVER seen moles on models before; before that, Lauren Hutton’s gapped front teeth were A Big Thing, because ditto). It’s not surprising that the models who deviate the most from the old Malibu Barbie standards tend to show up advertising products to kids in high school and college (and their younger siblings). Younger folks are more open to seeing different things as beautiful. Their spongey brains are still collecting descriptors and filing things away, and what “beauty” is considered to be is a lot more inclusive than it used to be. They are also more savvy about how makeup and Photoshop and so forth are being used to fool us (though that’s not going to keep our lizard brains from glomming on to reams of manipulated images of people that are put forth as “beautiful” and consuming them uncritically, which is why diversity matters!)

          And you’re right, studies keep getting done where it turns out tall people are advantaged over shorter ones in a variety of arenas (e.g., job hunting, dating profile responses, living a few extra years(!), staying healthier), people with lighter skin tones are privileged over those with darker skin tones, and it goes on and on and on. We absorb a LOT of implicit bias! Being aware of it is a good first step.

          So, yay, our beauty standards are, slowly but surely, expanding to be more inclusive of people who aren’t all Malibu Barbie dolls, but that is not to say that they have arrived at the final destination yet, where thinness isn’t equated with being aspirational, where being different is celebrated more than not, where age is not worshipped blindly as a part of a whole encyclopedia of impossible beauty standards, and so on. Far from it. Sometimes it seems like the more diversity we see, the more push-back there is for the folks who STILL don’t fit into a “beauty” category. That stinks in a different way. It’s like, there used to be, like, 3 ways to be “beautiful,” then there were maybe 10, now there are 500 or more, but if you still don’t fit into any of those 500, it doesn’t matter that beauty is subjective if you are having an “I hate my face” no-confidence kind of day.

          What I hope for one day is that we get away from the ancient but frequently wrong assumption that beauty is equivalent to goodness (however you define it), which is something entrenched into faerie tales, pop culture, you-name-it. Beauty is nice and all, but it IS subjective to a great degree even if someone fits within society’s narrowly-defined current beauty standards. And people do become more beautiful when viewed with loving eyes and hearts. It’s just a really toxic assumption that beauty somehow denotes goodness, because if that is true, the inverse (appearances that don’t meet arbitrary beauty standards = not-goodness, however you want to define that) is implied, and I know for a fact that the inverse is not true. In faerie tales, the protagonists have “beauty” and are “good,” but reality is more complicated than stories we tell to kids, and we already know that faerie tales are problematic and a whole bunch of ways (like pro-patriarchy messaging).

          In short, beauty may matter, even if it shouldn’t, but it doesn’t make someone a better person if they are fortunate enough to adhere to current beauty standards. It is human to be conflicted about that, even as you are aware, intellectually, that you are good enough as you are, and your hair or size or height or eye color are all incidentals that observers may like and find beautiful or not, based on who cares what standards they adhere to, BUT these things don’t make you YOU as much as your good values and wise choices and kind behaviors toward other people.

          1. Yes. It’s tricky to navigate the difference between “you don’t have to be white to be beautiful” or “you don’t have to be tall and thin to be beautiful” (which are valid and important messages) and “you don’t have to be beautiful.”

      5. The thing is, people can look one way when you don’t know them, and another way when you do. My ex (of two years, most of that time glorious) would likely describe himself as ugly. People who didn’t know him might agree. But to me, he was actively handsome and attractive. I loved him for himself and I also truly loved the way he looked, because it was part of him. I never ever loved him *despite* the way he looked.

        …I guess what I’m saying is that people who might be considered conventionally unattractive really can be beautiful to select audiences. Just like conventionally attractive people can look downright ugly if they have a shitty personality.

        That said, I realize this doesn’t apply to people at large. The people passing you on the crowded street at lunchtime aren’t going to see anything other than the superficial outside, no matter the degree of your inner beauty. Just that to the people who know you best, you really might appear genuinely physically beautiful.

        1. Ugh, sorry, I now see this has pretty much been done to death. Teach me to reply without scrolling down first…

    3. I keep thinking of Roald Dahl’s “The Twits”: You can have a double chin and a wonky nose and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face and you will always be beautiful.

    4. Yeah. Uhm. It’s great if after others get to know me they *see* me as beautiful because my moral qualities trump their aesthetic judgement, but I get the feeling that’s not what’s being discussed, and it feels a bit dismissive. (I mean, if nothing else, the “people who like you will see you as beautiful if you are good” centers it *really* heavily in the perceptions of others, but because that’s not what was being discussed it’s not like there *is* nothing else.)

      In the (probably-not) immortal words of Amanda from SFP: “I just don’t think I can sit through another seminar where someone tells me I’m beautiful. I just really, really can’t do it. …Ever since I was 14, my mom, my sisters, everybody, has put so much pressure on me to think I was beautiful, just so I would have permission to like myself. And I can’t do it. I just think I might have to find another reason to like myself.”

      Let those of us who know and have come to terms with the fact that we don’t conform to societal beauty standards own it without picking our word choices to death, please.

      (SFP, the page mentioned: http://strongfemaleprotagonist.com/issue-6/page-62-3/ )

      1. “I just think I might have to find another reason to like myself.

        Yeah, I’m trying hard to break away from appearance-centered body positivity. I tend to be happy that my body works (even though it doesn’t, always).

    5. I gotta say I hate this response as someone not conventionally attractive I find the “everyone is beautiful” sort of comments to be little bit BS and erasing the struggle of those who do not meet society’s view of attractiveness where they live. This especially irks me because it is usually said by people who are are at least of “average” attractiveness or more attractive on the conventional beauty scale
      My best friend is what you would call conventionally model type beautiful and when we met she is all everyone is always so helpful and nice all the time and I have to explain mostly to pretty people not to everyone and she can see it now but she never noticed before that people are much more willing to help her than they are someone less attractive. Men are particularly more helpful but it isn’t just them women are also nicer and more helpful than they would be for me
      I also know people can become more attractive as you know them but most of the time when people are not conventionally attractive less people want to get to know them as well ssoooo there is that

      1. I agree so much lmao. It’s like how when I offhandedly referred to being fat at work. (We were talking about underboob sweat, so it was relevant, don’t look at me like that.) My coworker totally knocked my train off the tracks to be like “BETSY, YOU ARE ///NOT FAT///!!!” as if I’m completely oblivious to my total physical being, as if I haven’t been told to lose weight by every doctor I’ve been to since I turned fourteen, as if I don’t feel nauseous if I bend over and my pants dig into my belly fat, as if I don’t beeline for the plus size department at Target. I know what I look like! I know how I feel physically! I know how I’m treated every day! The amount of kindness and respect I receive from people at work and out in the world is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONATE to how much makeup I am wearing and if I am wearing shapewear underneath my dress to keep my thighs from chafing. I only get doors held open for me when I’m shopping with my sister, who is thin and has nicer hair than I do. So being told I ~wasn’t fat~ was the hugest waste of sound in my ears. I was like, why would you even say something so idiotic and meaningless.

        So when someone says, “No, you’re beautiful, everyone is beautiful!” it’s like being told, “You don’t have brown eyes, everyone has blue eyes!” Like, look. I get that people who say “everyone is beautiful” mean well. I get that they even believe what they’re saying is true. They really do think that they think that everyone is beautiful, they wouldn’t change a hair on my head, they see my soul and gentleness radiating out of all my invisible fat rolls, etc. But the thing they are saying is in direct opposition to my reality. Not only do I know with patent certainty what I am, I also don’t actually have a problem with it until people start denying it’s a thing. I’m a human being and I don’t HAVE to be beautiful. I don’t HAVE to be thin. I am deserving of self esteem and respect regardless of whether I am ugly or not, by virtue of being a human being.

        But I also agree that this is only tangentially related to the question asker, so to circle it back to LW and Husband, he’s pinned his self esteem to this aspect of himself, and now that he sees it slipping through his fingers, he feels as if he is falling apart. I get it. The issue isn’t whether baldness is or is not attractive. The issue is that baldness is a thing that Husband never anticipated or wanted for himself.

        I also get what LW is feeling: When I was nineteen or twenty I went shopping with a skinny friend and I was feeling gloomy because we were in Forever 21. (All the other fat people reading this comment just went, “Say no more.”) My friend found a romper she liked and she wanted to buy it, but the only one they had in her size was physically on the mannequin. She had to ask a store associate to undress the mannequin so she could buy the only remaining XS romper lol. She was embarrassed, and spent the rest of the evening moaning about having to stand there while the employee wrestled a romper off a mannequin, having forgotten that earlier she’d convinced me to try on a bandeau top that I then required assistance to get off of my body. That’s what I’m getting from LW’s husband. LW has spent her whole life experiencing this aspect of herself every day, and LW’s husband comes in with his mannequin romper problem. Losing your favorite physical attribute is a crappy thing to experience, it’s rough, but I, too, understand the difficulty of pulling sympathy out for it.

        And I’m sorry to say that I have no advice, LW, because whatever you end up doing or saying is going to be better than what I did and said, which was bitterly making fun of my friend for whining about the mannequin issue and now we aren’t friends anymore lmfao. Regardless, as Captain said, it’s not your job to help him accept thinning hair. Even if you wanted to take on that challenge, it’s a perspective he HAS to gain of his own accord. He’s the proverbial horse, and acceptance is the water.

        I guess just know that I feel for you, and maybe your husband could get used to a high casual bun.

  14. Some friends of mine have started complimenting each others insides instead of outsides. I really like it. In this case you could tell him ‘you’re still that high school rebel though’ and ‘you’ll figure out a look you like eventually because you’re smart and resilient’. As for your own resentment could it be because he doesn’t make enough positive noises about what he admires in you? Tell him what types of encouragement you want to hear. STOPPING negative noise is not enough.

    1. Indie – I LOVE this idea. This is what we should be doing for each other

    2. I get that it works for your friends. It’s a crap shoot whether complimenting someone on their virtues will cheer them up about their self-diagnosed aging or lack of sexiness.

      1. well, maybe it’s less about using it as a band-aid: complimenting someone’s insides ONLY when they are expressing their insecurities about their experience.

        Maybe it’s about saying, “That was a smart thing you just did” or “I noticed how patient you were w/ the salesclerk–that’s something I like about you” at pretty much anytime…

        It’s “retraining your mental eye,” as Cap’n phrases it above. It changes the societal message from
        “your value is in how you look, and you can tell because I just complimented your looks,”
        “your value is in how you act, and you can tell because I just complimented your actions, mindset, etc.”

        Why DO people feel crappy about their aging or body? Because the world around them talks about these things as though they’re important.

        1. Maybe it is about retraining. Certainly I like hearing how I am a virtuous person’s

          But I disagree about why (at least some) people feel crappy about aging.

          Aging is important.

          I don’t mourn the lost beauty of my youth. Ivrecognize that the changes in my body (I’m 58), and the changes in my mother’s body (she’s older than 58) indicate the reduced possibilities left to us.

          Note, I’m generally cheerful (so is she). Nonetheless, real losses accompany increased age, only some of which can be willed into insignificance.

          1. Agreed. Aging can be hard. Yes, there are some cosmetic concerns with it. But much harder to grapple with is realizing that there are things about your health and physical (or mental!) abilities that are no longer at their peak and never will be again. It’s having to say goodbye to things you used to take for granted.

          2. Right. That my hair won’t grow as long as it used to is what I mentioned here, because it’s relevant to this thread, but I’d trade it for a fix for the creaky joints (the combined effect of arthritis and an old knee injury). But “going bald isn’t important, as long as your knees still work” isn’t likely to help here: it’s more likely to make OP’s husband feel worse about losing his hair, by increasing the linkage to other unwanted change.

        2. Attractiveness and social status aren’t the only reasons the realisation that they’re aging is so disturbing to so many people, though.

          There’s also that whole ‘impending death’ thing…

          Even if it’s still hopefully decades away, it can be a scary thought to realise you’re already lived a third/half/quarter/(insert non-insignificant fraction) of your likely maximum.

          Or that your health and fitness may be getting worse or likely to start doing so soon.

          1. Oh, god yes, this. I’ve hit that point where I start looking at possessions and thinking “who’ll take care of this when I die”, or have a day when the stairs are hard and start wondering when/if we’re going to need to move to a place where stairs aren’t a concern

            Physical reminders that significant chunks of your life are over can be very stressful, even setting aside that society is focussed on youth to the point where (1) it tells you being old sucks and (2) it’s harder to find models for who you want to be.

    3. The Captain wrote: “Aw man, that sucks!” works.

      This is so important. Someone upstream called it “noncommittal.” It’s not–I SO object to calling it so.

      It’s sympathetic and empathetic.

      A few years ago I decided to avoid giving people either reassurance or advice. Because when people did it to me, it just felt dismissive–like they didn’t want to hear my worries, or they wanted my worries to go away, or they thought I was being stupid to worry about it.

      Now I just metaphorically walk over and stand BESIDE the person, and look AT their problem. (Instead of standing in my spot and looking AT them.) I see them first, and their problem as something separate from them.

      The natural reaction, therefore, is to react WITH them, not AT them. And I say, so often, “Aw man, that suck!” Literally. Or “stinks,” sometimes.
      And I go on a little bit about how or why it stinks. W/ the colleague whose son was diagnosed w/ peanut allergy: “Now you’re going to have to be careful, and you can’t just feed him anything, and even though it’s mild, and there are Epi-pens, it’s got this undercurrent of scariness to it. That really, really stinks!”

      I had told this person earlier about my decision to not give advice or reassurance, and she said to me, a little later, “You did that thing, didn’t you? You know, it felt good, better than some other people’s reaction.

      So, OP, just **be with** him as he grieves. An important part of his identity is being lost, and that hurts. Go along for the ride, IN his “car” instead of in your own car next to him, pointing out road signs.

      Imagine how he might feel, all the little nuances, and try to feel them a little yourself, and then express the grief.

      Heck, it might not hurt for you to express some of your own regret about his hair loss. Sometimes we know something or someone was valued when it is lamented.
      Also, express some admiration for how it looked in the past, and what parts of that still remain.

      But don’t try to “fix” his feelings, or even dampen them.
      There’s a counterintuitive: pushing emotions away doesn’t make them weaker. Embracing and expressing them does. Think of it as avoidance vs. going all the way through and out the other side. Which is shorter, which is more satisfying.

      1. Thank you for doing that.

        For a long time I kept a lot of my sadnesses, fears and frustrations to myself, because I didn’t want to be met with advice, reassurance or attempts at distracting me. Some validation goes a long way to help me accept both the situation and the emotion(s) about it, so that I can fairly quickly start working with them. Without validation, I seem to get stuck in a stubborn hold on my view and my emotions, just to “get” to have them until -I- decide that I’m done with them, and the more people try to “help” me, the more I hold on. I can however validate myself, so for me it kinda worked to just keep things to myself, even if it was somehow lonely and I’m better now that I have some people who validates my experience instead. And now that I am better at doing that for others too.

        I also know peope who drop into complete confusion and apathy (or even panic) about their experience and emotions when they get too much reassurance or advice without enough validation, so… yeah. Empathic validation is really neat.

      2. TootsNYC: I love this comment and your description of experiencing grief or another emotion “with” a person. As I read this, I recognized that this is often how my therapist reacts to me describing startling/upsetting things. Early on (3-4 years ago) it made me pretty uncomfortable because wtf? It’s not that big a deal. And all of my other therapists had been really action/solution-oriented and, like, “here are some handouts on self-soothing” and “have you tried meditating?” And then I realized that some of the things he was reacting to really _are_ that big a deal. A couple of weeks ago I was really upset about something that happened (to a loved one, not to me) and asked him to take a moment to share some outrage with me and then launched into describing the incident. It was really satisfying. (The situation is still outrageous, but it opened up space for me so that I can be there to support my loved one.)

      3. You’re so right about how helpful hearing validation can be when something upsets you.

        Nonetheless, I said “noncommittal” for a reason: the comment doesn’t commit LW to long conversations, or to feeling anything in particular.

        LW seems tired out by supporting her husband in his distress, and by the roiling mass of feelings caretaking generates.

        I want her to have an out.

      4. I like this comment. I think often in conversations like this, one person will talk about a particular thing that worked for them or their friend, and share it — somebody else will say “well, that wouldn’t work for me” and…well, maybe there *is* no overall “technique” that is going to work for everyone, which is why I think it would be nice to generally assume a helpful, kind person is trying to be helpful and kind right up till the point that you tell them “hey, this particular thing doesn’t work for me” and they keep doing it. There is so much focus on “what not to say to a person going through X” that it can feel paralysing sometimes, like if I can never find the perfect words that will work for everyone, I might be a horrible friend/SO etc.

    4. I like that these compliments directly address what LW has identified as the husband’s subtext. “I am losing this symbol of my self-confidence, my rebellion, my standing-up-to-the-crowd. I am losing the one good thing I took out of high school. When this is lost, will I still be independent? If I LOOK conventional, do I BECOME conventional?”

      We’re talking a bit as though the loss of hair is a cosmetic thing the husband needs to work through, that he needs to push himself to rebel against societal pressure, here. But you guys, long hair on a man was already a rebellion. Choosing to keep his hair long in the face of disapproval and Fabio comparisons was not likely the easy choice. This is a choice he fought for, and it’s a choice that’s being taken away from him.

      All to say, Some Of Us, you are well within your rights to say, “I can’t be the audience for this, or the person who helps you through this.” But I think you might find yourself less frustrated when he slips up, if you reframe it from “he’s a touch less conventionally attractive, whine, whine,” to “he’s losing a hard-fought symbol of his identity, there’ll be a mourning period.”

  15. A good way to be supportive: Fashionable classy men’s hats. A nice panama, the classic fedora, a golf cap, vintage panel flap. They look better than combovers. They’re fun. They shield the head from the sun. If he has a flare for the lightheartedly dramatic, he can brush up on old-fashioned manners on when to doff it. Make a gift of one, then another.

    1. My little brother had long, hippie-ish blonde hair in high school, and then started balding early in his 20s. I think it is hard for him — he hasn’t complained, but has made some wistful comments. He’s gotten very into hats of various styles and has the personality/charm to pull them off, so I second this recommendation!

    2. A “fashionably classy” men’s hat, such as a fedora? With “old-fashioned manners” to go with them? Dear God, n–

      What I mean is, I would like to respectfully disagree with this suggestion. I have met many a mid-thirties straight cisgender man who wears a fedora and doffs it while saying, “Hello, m’lday” or the like. To me, the fasionably hat and the vintage mannerisms convey a deep insecurity about how they are perceived by s/c women, and a willingness to ignore social norms (okay, fairly trivial social norms) in order to have their self-perceptions validated.

      I use the term “Hello, m’lday” for a reason. Amy Schumer did a hilarious sketch about the “Hello, m’lady” man, which I would post if I weren’t a total lazyboots.

      1. I have to agree. No offense to I’m sure some perfectly lovely hatted men, but I will avoid men with a certain look on the street after some spectacularly bad Nice Guy experiences.

        I don’t know if my husband gets the “m’lady” thing, but he never calls any person m’lady. He only calls my friend’s grand old 14 year old female Boston Terrier “m’lady.”

      2. I love the look of those hats, to my eternal shame. I hope that someday soon oldfashioned hats for men can not be associated with terrible behaviour.

        1. I agree with the comments above. Hats on men have been ruined for me by men in hats. Baseball cap or fedora (trilby!) or whatever, men in hats (not the 80s band) have behaved badly on too many occasions for me not to side-eye anyone who is not wearing a hat for a reason. If you’re not actually playing baseball, or a Greek fisherman, or a Edwardian paperboy selling newspapers, or Frank Sinatra, maybe cool it with the hats a little.

          But that’s just a personal opinion based on personal experiences, and certainly shouldn’t be weighed more heavily than your own pro-hat opinion, if you happen to have one of those.

      3. This is really no better than deciding that becasue there are looks that, say, sex workers tend to adopt, anyone adopting that look is a assumed to be a sex worker. Clothing-policing is messed up, period; maybe look to behaviors over hats to determine if someone is a misogynist. The fact that this association is becoming/has become common doesn’t make the association ethically okay.

        1. “Clothing-policing is messed up, period; maybe look to behaviors over hats to determine if someone is a misogynist.”
          Well, since your reply is nested in such a way that it appears to be a response to me, I’ll respond to you.

          (1) I hear your point about the unkindness of policing other people’s clothing choices. However, I don’t agree that conflating fedoras with MRAs and “hello, m’lady” men is as problematic and inaccurate as conflating fishnets with prostitutes. Okay, some old-school cool cat fedora-wearing jazz musicians might get unfairly corralled with the MRAS (hello, little bro’s FIL!), but…yeah. We’re just going to have to disagree on this point.

          (2) It’s not just the fedoras. As I said in my original comment, and as other folks have touched on, what made me literally shudder was the suggestion that a man who felt bad about going bald should not only buy a vintage hat such as a fedora, but also cultivate vintage mannerisms. And “make a gift of” said fedora and “Hello, m’lady” manners.

          Oof. I guess the idea is that other people — and in particular, women — would be delighted and pleased by this quirky, intriguing, and confident man, and demonstrate such delight, therefore making the man feel better about going bald. But how is that a gift to anyone except the “Hello, m’lady” man? As a general rule, people aren’t put on earth to be your audience or to reflect your self-perception. And as a particular rule, women aren’t put on earth to boost men’s egos. And beyond all those issues, it’s awkward and uncomfortable when people follow their own idiosyncratic rules for social interactions.

          That’s why suggestion didn’t sit well with me. I don’t think anyone will be well-served by it.

        2. Incorrect.

          Sex workers are not a privileged group who oppress and abuse others. Women do not need to look for red flags which indicate that someone might be a sex worker so that they can avoid them for safety reasons. In fact, sex workers are (often) themselves an oppressed class, legally and socially. This is a false equivalence. Nice try though.

        3. Assuming someone is a sex worker lines them up for wh*rephobic abuse and misogynistic abuse, depending on gender.
          Assuming someone is a misogynist (which no one is actually doing; they’re just talking about a personal turnoff of theirs and why that association developed) is 9 times out of 10 not going to affect your life, except that you might drive away potential dates.
          Clothing-policing is messed up, but please get a little perspective and cut out the “#notallfedoras” stuff.

    3. Uh. I love hats, but if I were a balding man and my wife gave me one, I’d probably take it to be a veiled “you’re not fooling anyone, honey, cover those ugly bald spots up”. Sort of like if someone gave me a burlap sack with eyeholes.

      So, maybe let husband be the one who decides if he wants to go hatty and how he wants to go about it? If the LW wants to, she may casually throw the suggestion out there and see if he picks it up.

      Still, this strategy calls for a greater involvement of the LW that she may feel comfortable giving. She already has to deal with her own complex feelings about bodies and beauty, it’s unfair to ask her to take on her husband’s as well.

      And I agree with everything Tepid Tea said about fedoras and old-fashioned manners. Beware the toxic masculinity behaviours that go oft hand in hand with an otherwise lovely piece of clothing!

      1. Agreed; it kind of reminds me of when you’re fat, so you get marketed dresses and tops that are sacks and don’t adhere to your body shape in any way, and just cover everything up.

    4. FWIW …. I would strongly advise against the fedora suggestion, and even more strongly against the “old-fashioned manners”. There is a certain type of redpiller/”nice guy” who does this, and it’s become a signal to GTFO for many women. If I see a dude in a fedora and hear him say “m’lady”, I’m done.

      One of my male friends decided to embrace the fedora because he’s going bald, and tried to make it a “thing”, and we had to gently explain what the whole “m’lady” thing and fedora actually means to modern women.

    5. I was thinking Clarry specified classic fedora to indicate the Indiana Jones fedora, not the modern trilby that gets called a fedora. I would absolutely avoid the associations with a trilby, but the Indiana Jones look has no such associations, I think?

      1. Sadly, I think you’re mistaken. At least here, it’s the hat that most man-babies started wearing once we all started busting on them for fedora-wearing.

      2. I was indeed thinking of any stylish hat when I posted before never having heard of the association between hats and MRA or the association between old fashioned manners and toxic masculinity. I learn all the time.

  16. LW, I sympathize with you. I’ve also never been conventionally attractive and I’m mostly ok with that but I still hate listening to friends that I see as a lot more beautiful talking about their body issues.
    Can you tell your husband directly about how you feel? If he makes passing comments about his hair then soothing noises, compliments of his personality and redirection to a barber are good tactics imo. But if he wants to have deep discussions about it maybe you should be open about not wanting that: “Husband, I love you very much and find you attractive regardless of your haircut. I cannot discuss this issue with you any further because it brings up bad feelings about my own body that I’ve worked hard to let go of. I understand you need emotional support but please find it with a friend or a therapist.”

    1. This. I’ve noticed that in my intimate relationship, sometimes my partner talking negatively about her body can kind of create an environment of body negativity, where I feel almost guilty feeling OK about my body – or it can just make it harder to feel fine.

      LW, if you want, it’s justified for you to have a negative body talk ban in your house if that suits you and that your husband can talk through his feelings about his hair loss in a neutral environment (I like the therapist suggestion). This can be because negative body talk makes you feel like crap, or because it highlights him wanting you to be there for him in a way that he wasn’t for you. This is a thing you can ask for and that you would deserve.

  17. Is there anyone else that LW’s partner can vent to who might be a better audience for it? Sometimes gently suggesting another friend can help get the pressure off of just one partner. For example, when I have too many intractable being-a-woman-in-society complaints, my husband will sometimes say, “I understand what you’re saying. Have you tried talking to [Very Feminist Friend] about it?” Usually he pulls this out at the point in the conversation where he can’t really relate very well, but understands that I need to process something. I like to keep him on the loop of what’s bothering me, but there’s really nothing like a good old fashioned mope session with someone who shares your concerns.

  18. Totally agree with Cap that the LW should have respectful yet firm boundaries around hubs.

    This post reminded me of this novelty ecard that went something like ‘I want to cling to you like an old dude with a pony tail clings to his youth’, and though I did snort-laughed at first , I’m seeing in another light now, like if I were to picture myself 40 or 50 years in the future dressing and presenting the way I want, and then just get sh*t on because of someone thinking ‘ew, old people wanting to stand out’.
    I have a pretty unusual sense of style (not unrelated to my gender expression ) and on many occasions have received unsolicited advice on my appearance. It’s quite different from the concern trolling I’ve heard that fat people have to endure, because it’s related more to my presentation rather than to my body, so in that sense I’ve got privilege.
    But when people say stuff like ‘you’d look so nice if…’ I get tense because I have to explain (and am rarely ever believed) that I’ve tried different looks, and many of the suggestions just make me deeply uncomfortable, so I’ll have to get a ticket from the fashion police because I chose to be happy instead.
    So, with utmost respect to shiny headed people and those who love them, isn’t they’re a better suggestion than shaving it off, hell, maybe even a rat tail (they’re not that bad). Because what if it’s not about hair=good, bald=bad? what if it’s not about youth but identity? Bodies are going to change, we all have to deal, and maybe hubs is eventually going to loose all the hair, but if he’s getting pressured into the cut by stylists or people around him because bald spots get a bad rap, then how healthy is the change of look going to be :/

    1. Good point. I’m a cis woman, whose hair has been getting shorter with time, and I am clinging to my somewhat shaggy, somewhat long hair rather than get a short haircut, because short hair doesn’t fit my self-image. The last time I had short hair, I could see that the woman in the mirror was attractive, but she didn’t look like me, so I grew my hair out again and haven’t so much as had it trimmed in years. (This is suboptimal, but I don’t trust anyone with a pair of scissors not to take off more than I tell them to.)

      1. I’m pretty much the opposite, honestly. I’ve always had short hair, tried going long in college and the decade after but could never find a way to style it that I liked. When I went back to short hair, I literally looked in the mirror and said, “Oh, there you are!” But, it’s a thin line between short enough to look good and so short it becomes unmanageable. Without product, this short, my hair wants to do Flock of Seagulls or Anime Protagonist.

        I’ve yet to find a hairdresser that doesn’t look at my hair and think, “All the way back to the protagonist of Rosemary’s Baby, got it!” instead of “Pixie’s the right shape, but she needs that extra inch and a half, let’s just trim the bangs, around the ears, and neaten the back of the neck.” So yes, I FEEL YOU about those damned scissors.

        1. “my hair wants to do Flock of Seagulls or Anime Protagonist”

          You say this like it’s a bad thing???!! 😉

  19. Captain’s advice about sending him to a professional is really great.

    I’m a woman, but I lost probably 40 – 50% of my hair last year after I had a medical crisis and nearly died. Apparently, the shock of what happened to my body caused my hair to rapidly change phase and fall out. It was really traumatic, and worse than the ICU stay, FWIW, but my hair stylist has been helping me through it.

    I am fortunate that my hair is growing back, and I shouldn’t have lasting effects.

    1. This happened to me after my husband died–I could run my hand through my hair and pull away a handful. It was EXTREMELY dismaying. I started taking supplements and doing other things, but ultimately time fixed it. It’s still thinner than it was, but that’s actually nice because I used to have an alarming amount of hair and as wistful as I feel for those days, it’s nice not to have hair elastics give up the ghost after a single use, to be able to buy accessories that will actually mostly contain my hair, etc.

      1. I’m so sorry for your loss.

        I had a ton of hair, so with some artful arranging, the loss wasn’t as noticeable as it could have been. I wore a weird low ponytail that was hairsprayed into place for months.

        1. Thank you; you are very kind.

          Zigzag parts and spraying a little lift into every zag did wonders for me until the volume started coming back! My stylist also really dramatically layered and thinned my hair as it started coming back to normal so that it was easier to create volume at the root. I found that really massaging my scalp while shampooing–making sure to get every part of my head–helped a lot as well. (My stylist at the time had worked while an apprentice at a “hair regrowth parlour” where they applied herbal tinctures and special lotions to balding men’s scalps and then gave them a 45 minute scalp massage “to really work it into the follicles” several times a week, and she said that while the service actually worked really well for most of their clients, it was definitely the massage rather than the herbal stuff.)

  20. Utterly inappropriate for the LW to share with their partner at this time, but great for all who love the face-abundant gents, and for lightening the tone of the discussion! Christine Lavin and the 6 B****in Babes: Bald-Headed Men, with visual aids. It’s also catchy. https://youtu.be/t144cdYJj8U

    1. Was just coming here to share that. Glad I checked first.

      “John Malkovich? LOVE HIM!
      That guy on Star Trek the Next Generation? LOVE HIM!
      Michael Jordan? LOVE HIM!….
      “Yul Brynner? LOVED HIM!
      Telly Savalas? WHO LOVES YA BABY!”

    2. I was totally coming here originally to recommend Bald Headed Men. Glad I checked first.

      “Telly Savalas? WHO LOVES YA, BABY!”

  21. A very short haircut plus a fedora and great glasses can look extremely dapper. Maybe he needs a shopping trip? I also like the idea of a piercing. My brother who was also very vain about his hair has, after an initial period of grieving, handled his early male-pattern baldness like a boss. He rocks his current look as much as he once rocked his locks.

  22. Wow, this is extremely timely for me – I’m going through the same thing. My husband wears his hair long, and I wear mine short, to the point where sometimes when we’re out together we get some small kid pointing and commenting loudly about why the lady has the short hair and the man has the long hair (always cracks us up), and his long hair is very important to his sense of self.

    We have a mutual understanding that our looks belong to ourselves, and compliments are fine, but demands to change are not. My husband would prefer I wore my hair long, but he knows it’s not his choice, and while I love how his hair was, it’s getting… pretty sparse, and I wish he’d bite the bullet and let it go. Especially since I’ve seen pictures of when he shaved his head at 19 – he can definitely pull it off! But I don’t want to step on his toes here.

    So because of the no-nagging-about-style-choices pact, I’m not really sure how to encourage him to see a stylist, which I want him to do not because they’ll necessarily tell him to shave it off, but because they’ll tell him to stop using shitty shampoos that can interfere with hair growth. He doesn’t believe me that Head & Shoulders is Actually A Bad Decision, and he doesn’t believe that a stylist would “actually know” what to do about hair loss – he thinks they’ll just scam him into some overpriced nonsense that won’t help. Which, sure, maybe at some salons! But the stylist I see has a focus on environmentally friendly products and knows her stuff, and even has a specific option for consulting on hair loss!

    He keeps saying he’s going to see a dermatologist about it, but A) he keeps saying it, not doing it, and B) a dermatologist is expensive, not covered by our insurance, and… I’m not convinced they’d be any more useful than seeing a stylist. I just don’t know what to do at this point! I want him to feel like himself, and I know how much hairstyle can play into that, but I don’t know how to help him through this.

    (Wow, sorry, An Essay occurred!)

    1. Re: seeing a dermatologist – actually, they can help if you go to them in a timely fashion. There are meds/treatments for balding that keep the hair follicles alive. However, once the hair follicles die there’s nothing that can be done. So if losing hair is really harming someone’s identity, I would argue for going to a dermatologist sooner rather than later, since while lost hair can’t be brought back, they can prevent/slow down future loss.

    2. *shudders* Head and Shoulders will, if you leave it on dry hair for about 20 minutes, fade permanent hair dye like a good three shades. (I don’t recommend it except for emergencies.)

      My hairdresser literally says it causes hair loss and I trust her with my hair.

  23. Re: husband- I read through the comments and no one said doctor checkup or meds check? I felt it was relevant. I was fiund to need a thyroid supplement and the man-made version caused my hair to fall out in sheets. Got on the pork-based version and the loss stopped. Lots of medical things could be causing the hair loss. I hope all is well.
    There are increasingly men getting various kinds of hair replacement, so I assume the price is dropping as more practioners learn how. Sometimes if a person isn’t opposed to being the Before and After patient in the photo ads, they can get a sizeable discount from a provider.

    Now for people searching for clothes. My mother had learned to sew and was really a master at it. I loved to go with her to the fabric store and discuss the fabrics and patterns. I felt bad for people who would buy from stores as clearly they were stuck wearing duplicates of someone else’s outfit. This horrified me. She’s passed away and I so miss those well-sewn, perfectly-fitting clothes.

    My ex-boyfriend’s mom was also a dressmaker, and she also told me to not be one of those people with a closet of ill-fitting clothes that I hated. She pointed out that it was far cheaper (and quicker) to find someone who’d sew the exact clothes I wanted. I’ve thought about finding a design student or a tailor. A shop near me is also offering inexpensive sewing lessons and I really want to go. They’re having fun while not stuck yanking ugly fast fashion onto themselves.

    1. After the torture of shopping, to have less clothes in your closet, but every one being something you like that fits and is flattering is a heady joy. It’s very easy for a pattern to be altered when laying it on the fabric. Sleeves and necklines can be exactly what you want.

  24. Speaking of fashion, I had none. My mom taught me how to dress presentably for work and how to dress decently, but that was it. I didn’t even know how to apply makeup properly until I turned 40, when my wife, a very artistic and fashionable Goth, dumped five bags of ugly hippie clothes down the trash chute. They were also ill-suited to my shape (a most generous hourglass) and had holes in them. Many makeup applications and a shopping trip to NYC later, I had an amazing wardrobe courtesy of the plus-size section at Macy’s and the know-how to blend different eyeshadow shades together. I have a lot more body confidence and know how to dress for my shape thanks to her. I now wear clothes that show off my figure instead of hiding in shapeless hippie garb.

  25. LW, if he has not consulted a dermatologist about using minoxidil or a similar product, he should do so ASAP, rather than a salon or stylist. His hair loss likely has nothing to do with hair care products and everything to do with hormones.

    I also suggest some counseling for him, as he seems not to be able to anticipate and accept the inevitable changes to his body as he ages. In general, this is not much discussed for or by men in a serious and compassionate way. Denial or poor coping skills around those issues can strain relationships. I suggest this because he is in his mid-30’s and invests so much power in his high-school image that it’s already affecting you.

  26. LW, I know you’re not asking for advice about how your husband can retain edgy and long locks while balding. But I’m going to leave this here in case you, or another balding human, ever is:

    If it’s professionally feasible, embrace the mohawk. My husband started balding long before I met him, and he has a mohawk that’s sexy, luxurious and soft… And I didn’t even notice he was balding for months after we were dating. His widows peak goes back FAR. Of course, this really only works if you’re balding in the receding-from-the-sides way, but it works wonderfully well–and gives you a new, cool hair identity.

  27. My partner sometimes comments about his body size and shape and how he wants to lose weight. This is hard for me, as I come from a family that body-shames hardcore, and it triggers thoughts and feelings about my own appearance I’d rather not have.

    I usually say something like ‘Ugh, I know you were talking about your weight, but hearing you say that makes ME feel bad about myself’ or ‘yikes, that’s bringing up a lot of bad feelings I got from my family’. My partner usually quickly apologises and changes the subject, and keeps his comments to himself for a while.

    I know it depends a lot on the specifics of your relationship – your husband has body-shamed you in the past, so maybe it’s a no-go with him, but then it sounds like the two of you are in a loving relationship so maybe it would work. Or perhaps an honest conversation about the impact of his comments on you would be helpful (said when he’s not mid-panic about hair loss).

    I think it’s ok for your husband to be sad and anxious about the loss of something that has defined him, and if he’s conventionally attractive, maybe this is the first time he’s confronted how hard it can be to feel good about yourself when you have a feature that is widely considered unappealing. I think that’s genuinely tough. But his feelings are his own to manage, and he needs to be aware of and sensitive to how he’s impacting you.

    1. Yes. I don’t understand why LW should tiptoe around the issue. Or, for that matter, why it would be so wrong for her to say something like, “Y’know, I’ve been quietly dealing with this kind of thing my whole life, and while you’ve stopped being part of the problem, you haven’t exactly been supportive about it either.” It likely wouldn’t work because of the whole health-concern rationale, but it still seems like it’s worth getting out there.

      1. I think it depends on how much the LW wants to delve into it, and on the particular relationship, which we don’t know much about. Maybe she just wants a way to reduce the impact of his comments with a minimum of fuss and without dredging up the deeper issues.

        Still, directly raising an issue like this strikes me as a pretty normal thing to do in a long-term relationship, and I think it would be good for LW’s husband to be mindful of how his comments are impacting his wife. Particularly since I can see how he wouldn’t realise that his comments about baldness are triggering his wife’s feelings about fatness.

      2. Considering LW said her husband hasn’t brought this up in /years/, it may not be a good thing to bring up now. Trust me in a marriage there’s a time to put things away.
        That being said I think I would go nuts if my partner frequently complained about something I considered inconsequential; I just don’t like needless negativity. LW did a great job explaining why the hair was meaningful to her husband – but NGL I find most cosmetic things unimportant so my sympathies are limited. I think LW would be best served by expressing it as “hey, I love you and I know this is a change but ultimately we have each other, our health, [etc] and I don’t think it’s good to be angsting over this so much. How about a hairstylist!” rather than trying to wrap it back to her own body feelings. No one wins the insecurity olympics.

        1. Oh, I wasn’t talking about bringing up the past body-shaming. I was suggesting that it might be good for LW to bring up how his comments are impacting her in the present.

          I think your comment demonstrates pretty well how different relationship dynamics can be, if my partner said something like the script you suggested, I’d feel dismissed and hurt. I’d much rather know my partner couldn’t listen to me process the change because it was triggering his issues, because that would help me understand the situation and adjust my behaviour accordingly. I don’t consider sharing feelings and vulnerabilities to be an ‘insecurity olympics’.

          1. I think I know what you are saying and certainly it is good to share things. At some point separate from the hair thing bringing up “man sometimes it’s hard to feel good about myself in X way” is fine, vs a dialogue like P: “I feel bad about this thing!” OP: “Yeah but remember when you made me feel bad about my own thing a few years ago?!” obviously doesn’t fly.
            As far as my script, I wouldn’t bring it in until round 3 or so, rounds 1 and 2 are for sympathetic noises. Also I am probably not the most sensitive partner either.

    2. I was thinking this too. I have this picture in my head of the LW saying gently and firmly and empathetically, “It’s really hard not to look the way you want to look. *Really* hard. I know. I’ve dealt with it for a very long time.”

      Maybe that would be enough of a wake-up call? Maybe. I feel like the LW may feel this is off the table for some reason, since she didn’t even ask for a script on it or anything, and maybe it really is, but… worth a thought at least?

  28. I know the questions was “How do I reassure someone I love about their body issues without being bitter about my own?”, but to me it seems like a situation where it would be entirely reasonable to let husband know that you are not the right person to do that for reasons, and not to take on that work.

    Basically what mimi wrote above, only applied not just to “further discussions” but to the huffing and puffing itself:

    “Husband, I love you very much and find you attractive regardless of your haircut. However, I ask you not to bring this up around me because it brings up bad feelings about my own body that I’ve worked hard to let go of. I understand you need emotional support but please find it with a friend or a therapist.”

    You do not have to figure out how to reassure someone who has not exactly been stellar in this regard towards you.

    I mean, do you really _want_ to reassure him, or would you rather just not have to listen to him about it but don’t feel entitled/permitted to say so?

    1. I mean, do you really _want_ to reassure him, or would you rather just not have to listen to him about it but don’t feel entitled/permitted to say so?


      1. Yes!

        This is the heart of the problem. LW, why do you have to swallow the words, afraid to say what you want?

        Also, he should see a dermatologist already.

  29. I think the Captain’s advice and scripts are good for addressing the very, very specific problem of how to talk about the husband’s anxiety about hair loss, but…well….I don’t know that it addresses the root problem, which is that the LW’s husband is so invested in his hair as a core part of his *current* identity. He is of course far more than his hair, and his considering his hair to be an inextricable part of his identity discounts the actual human being he is right now. Human beings aren’t the strands of protein poking out of their heads. They’re so much more!

    Of course, the husband’s hair *was* significant. His successful battle with his high school and using his long hair as a signal to attract kindred spirits definitely formed part of his identity, and that’s a part of his personal history that shouldn’t be discounted or minimized.

    But that part of his life experience is also *over.* He won the battle with his high school, and he has his social circle now, at 35. He’s a different person today than he was before going through his hair-related transformation/maturation. It sounds like he’s the person he wants to be, which means he no longer *needs* to assert his agency by fighting with authority figures over his hair, and presumably his current social circle isn’t holding his long hair as a condition of love and friendship.

    In other words, what his hair did for the LW’s husband in the past no longer applies *today.* He doesn’t need it anymore to fight his current battles.

    To that end, I think gently encouraging the husband to think of his hair as a critical tool of his past – but not a critical tool of his present – is the more compassionate strategy for helping him feel better about its inevitable loss.

    Not knowing the husband, I don’t know what that encouragement looks like, exactly. If the husband is the journaling type, maybe writing some kind of narrative essay about what his hair has meant in the different decades of his life might help him see that his hair isn’t a tool he actively needs *now.* Or maybe there’s a sort of verbal /storytelling version that could help internalize that narrative.

    I suppose my script would be something like, “Husband, your hair was definitely an important part of your history. The way you successfully fought your conservative school to wear it the way you wanted was brave and admirable, and going through that struggle helped you grow and make important connections in your life. I’m so glad that defending your hair shaped you into the person you are today, because I love you!’

    “What your hair helped you do in your past was so important, but those battles are also long since won and done. Today, you have me, and your friends. We all love you because (whatever *specific actions* the husband does *today* that are awesome), not because of the length you keep your hair. *We* don’t think of your hair as being what makes you special, and none of us are going to feel differently about you if you change your hair.”

    Emphasizing all the important about the husband that are definitely not his hair might help him eventually see his hair as not that important. It could take some time, but hopefully the encouragement might shift his priorities so that he can let go.

    1. “To that end, I think gently encouraging the husband to think of his hair as **a critical tool of his past – but not a critical tool of his present – is the more compassionate strategy for helping him feel better about its inevitable loss.**”

      Oh wow, this is a really wise and compassionate take on the husband’s issues. I’m going to steal this approach as a way of coping with change and loss in my own life. Thanks!

    2. Although well-intentioned, I think this not likely to turn out well, for a number of reasons:

      – It puts an even larger​ burden of emotional care on LW, who by the sounds of it already struggles with the emotional care she is expected (as a woman) to provide.
      – It does not encourage the husband to work through his emotions himself. Instead, he is merely presented with a conclusion and asked to accept it. He will almost certainly resent this.
      – It underestimates the significance of long hair in the male social sphere. It may not be the sixties anymore, but long hair on a man or an otherwise male-presenting person is still not just a style choice, but also a very deliberate deviation from expected male gender presentation. The husband adopted this as part of his look in his teens, i.e. when he was first exploring his post-puberty gender identity. Ever since, he will have been facing pressure to conform to a more cis hairstyle. Cutting his hair now may feel like a betrayal of his gender identity on some level, even if he is cis by self-identification.
      – It begs the question by focusing on why the husband’s long hair was important to him “in the past”. On the contrary, I think the evidence is that his hair is important to him in the present, and the fact that biology is taking it from him does not change that fact.

      (Apologies if that came across too forcefully. I am working through the same issues myself at the moment, so this is resonating somewhat.)

      1. Oh, no worries about forcefulness. I was holding back on some forcefulness myself, actually.

        You are right, my advice asks the LW to do some emotional labor. But it’s with the hope that minimal time spent by the LW reframing the issue of the husband’s hair might lead to a quick resolution (rather than years of comb-overs and complaining, etc).

        Because here’s the thing:

        The husband’s excessive vanity about his hair isn’t actually okay. His values about what hair (and by extension, physical appearance) means to identity are toxic for both him and the LW. He’s engaging in unrealistic beauty-standard bullshit, and it needs to stop, because it’s distressing to both of them. He needs to follow the LW’s example of self-acceptance about her body and his hair needs to not be so important to him now, in the present day.

        I think the kindest and most effective way to do that is to rationally discuss why he has the values he does (holdover from teen years that made sense at the time), and why his hair isn’t actually that relevant today (he grew up). Hopefully, if that doesn’t work, a close friend or family member might lovingly be more blunt: “Dude, no one cares about you having long hair. It’s gone. Just shave it already.”

        The other thing to consider is that, while the husband is not his hair, the choices he’s making with his hair *do* visually signal some of his internal life:

        His choice as a teen to have long hair expressed a rebellion against arbitrary authority. (Good!)

        His choice as an adult to wear ineffective comb-overs expresses both a lack of realistic self-acceptance and excessive vanity. (Bad!)

  30. This sounds like one of those marital situations where a bunch of separate issues are getting tangled together and creating a bit of emotional mess. Maybe it’d help to separate them out?

    1. LW, from what you say in your letter, it sounds as if one reason you resent your husband’s behaviour is that you simply envy him for being thin. That, as kindly as possible, really is your own issue to sort out; as they say around here, he’s not being thin AT you. I do sympathise, but you’ll almost certainly find the rest of it easier to deal with if you can be aware that some of your feelings – not all, but some – aren’t really being caused by your husband.

    2. However, your husband has, in the past, hurt your feelings by criticising your weight, and that kind of thing is hard to forgive entirely. Part of your resentment seems to be that when you were feeling bad about yourself, he made you feel worse, yet now he’s feeling bad about himself, you’re worried you’ll be expected him feel better.

    On that subject … is there anything he could do to make you feel better about his comments in the past? Or has he made as much amends as possible? If the latter, you may need to shunt this into category 1, but if not, maybe it’s something to bring up.

    3. While it’s natural to be unhappy about losing a look that was very important to him, your husband’s way of dealing with it is – well, it’s actually not dealing with it; he’s intensively monitoring it in a way that seems pretty calculated to maximize the pain he feels. Our feelings follow our actions as much as our actions follow our feelings, and by scouring the shower trap and hairbrush, he’s creating a pattern of behaviour that’s guaranteed to send the message to his brain, ‘This is a really big deal.’

    So I can understand why annoyance is mixed in with your sympathy: while it’s understandable he’d be upset, he’s also unintentionally upsetting himself worse than he has to.

    And the thing is, it’s not going to help him. When we’re anxious, it’s easy to go into a state of hyper-vigilance. That’s useful if there’s a tiger in the forest, but counting how many hairs he’s lost is not going to prevent him from losing any more – if anything, he’s likely to speed up the process by ramping up his stress levels.

    I agree with the others that he needs a hair makeover, but I think he needs an attitude makeover more. I get being attached to an identity marker, but realistically, time isn’t kind to anyone’s barnet, and he needs to start appreciating that his personality isn’t going to fall out along with his hair and, as Goose suggests above, find other ways to make himself feel like the same cool person his hair used to.

    4. If he finds it really impossible to picture himself as himself but with a different haircut, that’s not actually about his hair. That’s deep-seated insecurities stemming from a childhood in a culture that wasn’t friendly to him. And that really does call for a therapist. It’s one thing to grow your hair long to mark a line between yourself and your teachers when you’re actually in school; a decade and a half after leaving school, if you still need the hair to draw the line, then, well, you’ve kind of got stuck. Identity markers are cool when they make your life better; when they become security blankets that you’re dependent on to feel good, then there’s a problem somewhere.

    5. Persuading him of all that is an effort for you, and more so because you’re dealing with your own feelings about looks, and possibly feelings of resentment towards his past behaviour. So it’s fair enough to lay it on the line for him: you sympathise, you find it uncomfortable to be in an atmosphere where physical imperfection is treated like a big deal because that trips off your own issues, you figure he needs a long-term strategy anyway. So: you’ll be supportive of anything he does to fix his look and make himself feel better about it, on the understanding that in return, he supports your need for a body-positive atmosphere and stops with the extreme monitoring of his hair loss, and makes an effort to do what it takes to be happy with himself in the future.

    You need a home without extreme body-monitoring; he needs to feel good about himself whether he has long hair or not. See if you can make an agreement where you both work on those together.

      1. Thanks aebhel.

        One thing I’d say is that it is possible to create a virtuous circle around involuntary changes in your appearance, but it takes commitment. A while ago something happened to my face, I won’t go into details, but there was a definite possibility that I was going to look kind of messed-up permanently. I couldn’t control whether I felt worried and upset, but I could control whether I felt proud of myself, so I made it a point to make jokes about it, wear customized bandages, and generally act as positive and resourceful as I could. I poked fun at myself. I dressed brightly around it. If people said they were concerned for me, I talked about how lucky I was that it wasn’t anything worse.

        I did get better in the end, but there was a period when it wasn’t clear whether I would or not – and while I didn’t feel great, I managed to minimize my own suffering a lot by deciding that yes, my identity was going to be affected by my appearance, but darn it, if anyone was going to choose a new identity it was going to be me, and I was choosing ‘person with the creative attitude.’

        This is, of course, easier to apply to oneself than it is to convince another person to try. But if it’s about identity rather than looks, or identity as expressed through looks, the best advice I can give would be to say, ‘Picture the person you want to be, and then act like that person as hard as you can.’ Of course, you have to be able to come up with an image of an ideal person that isn’t dependent on their outside appearance, but if you can do that, it really does help. (It helps too, if you’ve ever known a really tedious whiner, to say to yourself, ‘What would Tedious do about this?’ and then do the opposite of that. It’s not exactly noble, but when you’re feeling down, having something to feel superior to can be a bit comforting.)

        It’s one of those strategies that needs a certain leap to get started on, an energy push, but if you can get it started, it feeds on itself and makes you feel quite a lot better.

        1. I’m going to absolutely thumbs up the “virtuous circle around involuntary changes in your appearance.” Aspects of one’s appearance might be involuntary, but there’s always the choice to appear to be self-accepting, brave, positive, confident, etc.

          That counts for a lot when it comes to people making assumptions – unconscious or otherwise – about appearance. Making an outward-facing display of one’s anxieties by doing things like comb-overs or ill-fitting clothes often only makes things worse; other people can “smell” the internal fear of judgment and often prey on it.

          As for me, I was aggressively indifferent and unapologetic about being very noticeably fat and I can honestly say that I just plain didn’t experience the kind of fat-shaming other people report receiving from strangers. In 20 years, I never noticed that I was being stared at by little kids, I never caught a restaurant server look judgmental about my indulgent order, and I never received shouted comments from cars, etc. It literally just didn’t happen, so much so that I sometimes secretly doubted the personal accounts of other fat people. How could public shaming by strangers be happening to everyone else, but not me? Why was I any different?

          The only exception – and I mean the *only* one in my entire life – was a panhandler who suggested that I. “…go to Jenny Motherfucking Craig…” when I refused to give him cash. Far from having my feelings hurt, I was actually *delighted* to finally be part of the trope, and with such a colorful language, too!

          I still can’t say how much was sheer obliviousness vs not presenting as a vulnerable target, but the point is: I was deliberately and unapologetically indifferent and that seems to have spared me a tremendous amount of suffering. It feels great and I hope the LW’s husband can get into that headspace.

          1. I’m glad you’re not on the receiving end, but I’ve gotten them in all kinds of situations, including from people sitting on their backsides while I was whizzing past on my bike (if they’d thought for a second: who was the lazy party there?), so it frequently is just about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and one cannot dress or behave one’s way out of the company of arseholes.

  31. As someone who has also had friends whose issues hit close to my issues and needed to navigate that, I just want to make a quick plug for – you also deserve to feel more than an uneasy peace with yourself and *your* body.

    When I had friends navigating break-ups after I left a long and very bad relationship that was abusive and scary, I also felt like “wow, are you seriously kidding me that there is this level of drama that he didn’t text you back immediately when I felt unsafe in my own home for YEARS?”

    Sure, I was well within my right to make myself *not the audience* for those rants, and gentle redirection and disengagement is still the absolute right play, but — I also realized that relationships were a common experience and if I still felt such a visceral anguish when folks around me were navigating the up’s and down’s, I might need to do a little more self-care and recovery. Not as a service to *them* really, but so I could feel less anguished overall living in the world. For me.

    Of *course* you can use the scripts to minimize his constant monologue about this, but you also might consider doing a little more to feel good about your body if you don’t right now.

    It may be therapy, it may be trying your own new look, it may be finding an activity that helps you appreciate your body in different ways (for what it’s capable of vs. how it fits a really narrow aesthetic), or it may be appreciating some of the beautiful body-positive literature and art that exists in many online communities.

    You have two issues here – one is that your husband is insensitively yet likely unintentionally foregrounding his issues with his body in stark relief to yours, the other is you seem a little extra raw around yours anyway.

    I know it’s so hard to have a particular and damaging experience when other folks grouse about things that really pale in comparison, but it also helps those remarks feel a little less barbed and pointed and *at* you if you’re willing to work on soothing your own raw spots while *also* applying a bandaid to keep all the icky stuff out.

    Rooting for you!

  32. Sometimes we have to gently tell the people we love that we cannot be cheerleaders for a certain issue. I feel bad that my husband is upset that he’s gaining weight, but as a fat woman I can’t hear him lament about it and later say that I’m beautiful without bitterness.

    It’s very very hard to decide not to be there, but you can’t always be there. And that’s totally ok.

  33. If you want to be nice, that’s probably not your solution, but I’ve found that people stop complaining about issues they have that you’ve had for years when you answer with a sharp “I’m really sorry that you are experiencing X. Now you know how I’ve felt the last ten years.”

    Then again, I’m the daughter of a woman whose new husband woke her up in the middle of the night to comfort him because he just had had a bad dream in which his child had died – one week after my sibling (not this guy’s child, only my mum’s) had died.

    1. I think that’s probably a little harsh – I have no idea what the OP’s body journey has but there is a difference between wishing your body looked different and having your body significantly change in appearance. She may or may not have been through what the husband has been through; I don’t think it’s fair for her to to compare her experience to his if she hasn’t.

      I, like most women, wish I looked closer to the media ideal at various times. I’m mostly okay with the way I look, but I’m subject to “I wish I was prettier thoughts!” every now and then. This is a very, very different feeling from the time I dyed my hair the wrong color – every time I looked in the mirror, it just felt wrong. It wasn’t the ugly factor that bothered me (though I didn’t think it looked good); it was that it felt so much like the person in the mirror was not-me and couldn’t be me, because I was a person with a different hair color.

      Neither is worse or better than the other, and the OP is absolutely fine to say she doesn’t want to do a lot of emotional labor around this. But I think there’s a huge difference in how you feel losing something that is part of your identity (his hair) versus accepting a part of your identity you’re told not to like (her weight). So her telling him, “oh this is what I’ve been dealing with forever” may not be true or helpful for him. Her telling him, “This actually makes me feel really insecure about myself, even if it’s not what you intended,” is both true and helpful for him (in that he can get support elsewhere.) while also helpful for her.

    2. 1. That man is an incredible jerk.

      2. This sounds pretty harsh, and I’d be worried about shutting down anybody whose body issues you judge to be lesser than your own. If someone complains about an injury, is one-upping them with my own connective tissue disease and frequent injuries going to make that conversation any better for either of us?

    3. That’s kind of a nuclear option. ‘I can’t be the person you vent to about this’ is fine, but that kind of ‘sorry not sorry’ thing strikes me as very cruel. If someone said that to me, I would indeed stop complaining to them about the issue, mostly because I would no longer be talking to them about anything at all.

      Then again, sarcastic non-apology ‘apologies’ are something I find uniquely infuriating, so ymmv on that.

  34. Long time reader, first time posting, yadda yadda.

    I read this letter with interest because my young son has a receding hairline, and it’s making him sad. He began losing his hair in his late teens, (he recently turned twenty), and my heart just broke a little bit more for him. (He’s had a lot of personal challenges in recent years, and he suffers from low self esteem. Counseling and time and the love of his amazing girlfriend have gone a long way towards helping him, but he still expresses to me often that he doesn’t like himself much.)

    The responses regarding hair loss are great for me to keep in mind the next time he brings it up. Thank you, Captain.

    OP, I’m a total noob here, and I can neither compete with nor add to the spectacular advice given by The Captain or the regular respondents. But I wanted to add my well wishes. Best to you and your husband!

    1. I said this above, but my (much younger) boyfriend was in this boat–hairline started receding in his teens, started growing a thinning/balding spot in his early 20s. He expected it, though, because of family history, so he did all the wild stuff he wanted to do with his hair *early*. By his 20s he was doing hair dye and had a giant mohawk. If your son hasn’t hit the thinning top stage yet, he still has time to do some extreme and enjoyable things with his hair! My boyfriend is now 30 and shaves his head (and rocks a giant beard) and while he’s wistful about his hair sometimes, overall he says that he got his money’s worth out of the time it was with him, however brief. 🙂

  35. So. It took me like 15 hours to figure out why this letter hit so close to home for me. My boyfriend got punched my a “friend” this weekend, leading to a cut on his face and five stitches. A fair amount of conversation in our household for the past 67ish hours has been centered around him obsessing over whether the cut on his face will lead to a scar, and how horrendously he would hate that. It’s his face, and it’s totally his right to be anxious about how it looks, especially since it’s really not a story that he wants to re-live every time someone asks him about his scar. I get that. But my daily reality is acne scars, stretch marks, and a body marked in a lot of ways as not conventionally attractive, especially size-wise, and so every time he mentions how awful it would be to have a scar…I feel it. I’m really glad I saw this letter this week, and the Cap’s response.

        1. I’ve got a visible scar from a surgery, which I have gone from grieving over to a proud “Ha ha, lookit what I survived.”
          Now when people ask me about it, my story I tell them is that I was jumping my unicorn over a rainbow and his horn scratched me. The inferred message to back the hell off seems to be received really well.

          1. I have a big, puckered, highly visible scar on one arm, and a bunch of smaller ones scattered around here and there. Products of doing various fun but unwise things in my youth like running obstacle-course-type trails in the woods, riding/being thrown from horses, etc. I’ve never minded any of them; I don’t love being scarred, but I always felt like at least they meant you could tell I’d done some interesting things earlier in my life. My mom asked me if I was going to try to cover up the one on my arm when I got married, but I opted for a dress that left my arms bare, and never gave it a second thought. It was only really when she asked me that, that I realized that other people might think them ugly, but I didn’t, so I didn’t care.

            My oldest child – she’s almost 13 – realized a few weeks ago that a fall off her bike had resulted in a small, discreet, but visible-from-the-right-angle scar under her chin. She was admiring it happily in the mirror and commenting cheerfully that, “Hey, I got my first scar!” Lol. I wanted to impress upon her that scars aren’t a rite of passage! They’re not something to aspire to! But I guess she’s picked up on my attitude about them.

          2. Um. Not meaning to imply that anybody else should think about scars like I do! Just offering a different POV.

    1. This makes lots of sense and also sucks for you. You might be in the perfect position to say after a point “I’m not the audience for this.”

      1. Thank you. It’s nice to get validation that it is okay to re-direct him at some point and not be 100% in charge of listening to his anxieties about this.

    2. I agree with you, Eggplant-that’s a lot of labor on you. If he’s still repeating himself after the initial shock has worn off, the person he needs to be talking with about scarring is the doctor who treated him. The specifics of how deep the cut is and his sun-damage, etc, are perfect Dr questions that happily, are past your pay grade to answer.

      I’ve been tempted to buy the special scar reduction cream I’ve seen in the drugstore. I must have decided it was too pricey and I didn’t know anyone who’d used it. The label claims it can help make any scar less visible.

    3. I also wonder if your boyfriend should talk this over with a therapist, not only because this was a traumatic experience, but he was injured by someone he considered a friend and there’s bound to be some baggage from that relationship/betrayal.

      Also, has he considered pressing charges?

  36. One of my brothers went bald very young, when he was in his early 20s. The main problem he got from this was that people tended to assume that he was much older than he was and make snide remarks about “professional students” if he mentioned he was still at university. On the plus side, I suppose it gave him some gravitas that made some employers look at him as mature and wise.
    On the other side of the coin was my better half, who when I met him was over 40, divorced for over a year and wearing a really awful toupee to reenter the dating life. It took a long time to persuade him he looked better bald, I think he felt he’d look too old to date if he went without.
    I think for most men, loss of hair represents loss of youth. I’m not sure there really is a female equivalent to hair loss that we can truly relate to. Going through menopause and leaving our childbearing years behind?
    Anyway, LW can remind him that there’s a reason why elderly male alcoholics often have thick heads of hair – they don’t make very much testosterone.

    1. ‘LW can remind him that there’s a reason why elderly male alcoholics often have thick heads of hair – they don’t make very much testosterone.’- uhhhhhh…. I think that’s an innoppropriately loaded statement. We should really move away from ‘testosterone=manly, therefore more testosterone=more manly’. And I’m assuming you mean alcoholics who have been alcoholics for a very long time, as in throughout the years where men often lost their hair- I can’t think of anything that funny about long-term alcoholism, I really can’t. 😦

      I like the rest of your comment. My brother also started noticiably losing his hair, previously very thick, during his late teens and early 20s (which he is still in). He was forewarned due to premature baldness genes on my mum’s side, but I don’t think that helped him feel any better. A few months ago he shaved his head, which he really pulls off and goes well with his beard. I think this has made him feel better about it.

  37. For a solid decade of my life I was “the girl with the long hair”. People at work who didn’t know my name referred to me as “the bun girl”. If the LW’s husband’s issue is less about attractiveness and more about “who am I if I’m not The Guy With The Long Hair”, he’s got to work out his own identity in that regard and there may not be anything anyone other than a trained counselor can do to help him work through that. For me, when I decided to cut my hair, I made the conscious choice to become “the girl who” something else immediately identifiable, which turned out to be “the girl who dresses like a vintage pinup all the time”. The time may come when I move on to a different highly distinctive personal appearance, because my social anxiety makes me constantly think everyone is staring at me anyway and it feels a lot better to choose the reason.

  38. It’s probably worth mentioning that all the men I know who have an iconic or unique fashion sense also have close-cropped hair. Reading this I’m wondering if they started balding and switched to something else to declare their personality.

    1. That’s a good point, because this is really a lifelong endeavor. It would be ridiculous to keep the same look decade after decade. We change, styles change, how we perceive ourselves also changes. We have a wild artistic period, a more professional period, switch careers; we need some flexibility.

      I think the LW’s husband might be struggling with hurt from the past; which we can all understand. It’s an ironic fact that when we are building our first sense of adult self, teen hormones and body issues are also wreaking the most havoc.

      But we don’t have to be stuck there.

  39. My sibling’s boyfriend has male pattern baldness in the family, and when he hit about twenty-two, his lovely big curly hair started to thin and look kinda silly. So he shaved it, and he made having it shaved his new ‘hair statement’ – he could have cut it shorter and just had regular ‘guy-length’ hair for the next ten or fifteen years before the baldness would really have started to show through at that length, but nope, he liked having interesting hair, so he just went to the other extreme. I kind of envy him his confidence, sometimes, he’s a very chill guy.

    And then my sibling cut zir hair to be very close cropped and short, and now neither of them take more than about ten minutes in the shower, and they don’t have to spend money on shampoo. Now that I (and my waist length hair) definitely envy.

  40. LW, I completely feel you. I have had to tell some of my female friends and relatives before that I basically 100% cannot handle their feelings about how ~~~fat~~~ they are when they are about half my size or neurotic about the fact that they have cellulite. I simply cannot do it; it makes me go from calm to out-of-my-mind furious in the snap of a second. So I tell them upfront that that is a feeling I cannot help them with and to please not ask me to, and if they push…well, I’ve practiced flatly saying “no matter how fat you think you are, you are not as fat as me and I do not give a fuck about skinny people’s imaginary fatness”.

    (And for the record I am fat and exceptionally beautiful, but nevertheless being not socially-conventially beautiful leaves its scars. *shrug*)

    I think I would have an even harder time making myself be able to be a sympathetic ear to a man with this kind of problem, if only because attractiveness for men really doesn’t matter in the same social sense as it does for women (and people assumed to be women). It just doesn’t matter for their them as much.

    Granted, I think with a romantic partner there might be more pushback of “but you’re my wife, you should be able to be there fore me”–but with something as simultaneously painful for you and relatively Not That Deep in the grand scheme of your lives, I think it’s totally fine to just tell him that you cannot handle his angst about this and am happy to appreciate his new baldness or whatnot, but that you cannot deal with it and he needs to have someone else to process this with him. Maybe a hairdresser or male friends?

        1. I was at work, so I couldn’t be that harsh. By the way, the culprit was always someone at least fifty pounds lighter than me. Rude much?

          1. Ahh, yeah.

            And it’s always the people who have quite likely never been called fat in their lives who are this…loud and tactless about their own weight insecurities, too. Visibly much skinnier than me. Funny how it works out.

          2. I’m sorry, but I don’t really agree. Other people’s body image problems or medical concerns are not about you, and do not reflect their opinion of you. People who want to change their weight aren’t doing so “at” you.

          3. I’m aware of that. I didn’t want to hear the “I’m so fat!” song from someone who clearly is not overweight. I figured out a way to shut that shit down.

          4. I can completely understand your point, but a) some people really *do* do it as a pointed way of passive-aggressive concern-trolling, and b) even when someone is not even thinking a little bit about the logical implications of their intense angst over being 105 instead of 90 pounds, for example, it is really rude (and if it’s a friend/family downright hurtful) to try to rope me into it. People have a right to their feelings–neither me nor jerrylinskyb have disputed that–but bringing up all feelings in front of all people is exceptionally rude and likely to end poorly.

            (And I’ll be blunt: if someone really does think their tiny extra “freshman fifteen” on their thin frame is hideous, makes them unattractive and gross, and is Just Ugly and Horrible, what do they think about *my* body?)

          5. I am sick of thin people singing the “I’m so fat!” song. It’s just attention-whoring. I got sick of playing the game and shut it down. Nobody has ever concern-trolled me, and I’m thankful for that.

          6. “if someone really does think their tiny extra “freshman fifteen” on their thin frame is hideous, makes them unattractive and gross, and is Just Ugly and Horrible, what do they think about *my* body?”

            Nothing. They think nothing at all about your body. The distress they feel over the change in their body’s appearance has literally nothing to do with you.They live in their own body, not yours.

            Go ahead and tell them that you are the wrong audience for their woes, and simultaneously, stop making their woes about you.

          7. I was not the one who made the comment you quoted. I’m aware they’re not thinking about my body when they do that. The only thing I’m doing is shutting down that particular gender performance. Women in American culture are almost expected to deprecate how they look on a regular basis.

    1. TW: Eating disorders, fatphobia

      This thread reminded me of a situation I was once in that I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts on. I was dating a woman who had an eating disorder. It wasn’t diagnosed and she mostly refused to acknowledge it but after hours of begging her to eat more than (starvation level number of calories) a day, I was pretty darn sure. She was convinced she was fat and there was absolutely nothing I could do to convince her otherwise (to be clear, I was trying to convince her otherwise to stop her starving herself, not because there’s anything wrong with being fat.)

      She vehemently denied that fatphobia existed and said all manner of horrible things about fat people. When I tried to argue that it did exist she would say ‘well I’m fat and I’ve never experienced it’.

      Honestly this completely stumped me. There was no way I could convince her she was not in fact fat and therefore that she didn’t have the right to say that fatphobia wasn’t real. We’re no longer in contact but I still sort of wonder what I would do if I were in that situation again. I am neither fat nor have I ever had an eating disorder, so my perspective is obviously limited.

      1. When you suspect a serious illness, whether that’s anorexia, alcoholism, cancer, depression, or pneumonia, you urge your friend to see a professional. If they refuse, and if it’s an emergency situation, you call the professional yourself and hope for the best. In between stages include making it easy for them to see that professional might include scouting around for who is recommended or checking for insurance coverage. You want to avoid making absolute diagnoses on your own. (Though from what you’ve told us, it sounds like you were probably right. Still, leave diagnoses for the professionals). You can say how concerned you are and how much you care for them. You can smooth the way for them to get help. After that, you’ve done all you can do.

        1. Thanks, yeah I basically did that stuff. I meant more how to handle the ‘this form of oppression doesn’t exist because I don’t experience it’ thing. Like, how do you argue that fatphobia exists to someone who is wrongly convinced that they are fat? Is it even worth trying? Obviously that was a small problem in the much larger problem of her food problems but I found it really hard when I would ask her not to say some nasty thing about fat people and she would say ‘well I’m fat’.

          1. I think it still comes down to the impossibility of arguing rationally with irrational people.

          2. I found it really hard when I would ask her not to say some nasty thing about fat people and she would say ‘well I’m fat’.

            The only thing I can think of to say there is “It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re fat, I don’t want you to say those things in front of me.”

            As for people in general insisting a form of oppression doesn’t exist because they don’t experience it, I wish I knew what to do about that. In my experience it’s disgustingly common for men to insist sexism doesn’t exist because they haven’t seen it for themselves or don’t understand why it’s that big a deal it was just a joke god are you on the rag or something why do you have to be such a [slur]. Mostly I avoid those people if I can and go vent to friends if I can’t.

          3. I’m with Clarry; saying horrible things about fat people sounds like it was, basically, a symptom. Anorexia pretty much definitionally involves thinking that you’re fat when you aren’t, but also that being fat is a horrendously bad thing. And if someone holds that belief as a symptom of a mental illness, you aren’t going to convince them that people discriminate against fat people, because as far as her distorted thinking goes, seeing fat people as *insert nasty comment here* is simply a correct perception of reality. It’s not discrimination if it’s a fact, right?

            I doubt there was anything you could have said to convince her, any more than there was anything you could have said to convince her she wasn’t fat. Both sound like like a job for a professional.

      2. I think in that kind of situation it might be best not to really get into an argument. When someone is obviously believing something solely because of a mental illness they have, it’s not always good to argue with it, because it can make them feel defensive and argue with you and thus strengthen that belief. It’s also not necessarily like beliefs that people have because of reality.

        I mean, me personally I just wouldn’t be friends with someone like that, but yeah.

        ” Like, how do you argue that fatphobia exists to someone who is wrongly convinced that they are fat? Is it even worth trying?”

        I honestly don’t know. I’ve shown people who knew damn well that they were skinny that there is medical discrimination against fat people and things like that through studies, but we were friends before that and they also knew that they did not have firsthand experience with it like I did. It also depends on how defensive they feel about their own bodies–if they’re the type of deeply irritating skinny person who thinks being told once or twice to eat a cheeseburger is just as bad as having doctors refuse to test them for actual problems, then it’s really hard if not impossible to break through their defensive nonsense.

  41. GirlCalledBob, as a fellow longhair, I recommend Dread Soap from DreadHead HQ. It rinses out with no residue and makes my long, thick hair easy to comb afterwards. My hair also dries twice as fast. I also don’t need conditioner anymore, and I used to have to wash my hair with three double handfuls of conditioner.

    1. These days I use a spray-in dry conditioner, just so I don’t have to do it in the shower! Sadly, I have super sensitive skin and terrible dandruff, so I have to use lovely medical grade moisturising stuff that smells like coal tar… at least the spray masks that and smells of flowers. Thanks for the thought, though, the Dread Soap sounds amazing.

      Of course, I love my long hair, so it’s worth it… for now, anyway.

      1. [hair product digression] As a long-haired person with hair that is in between straight and curly, and which has a lot of cowlicks, I recommend “Crack” (available in spritz-spray and goop-gel formats and on Amazon or in salons for twice the price on Amazon) or “Perfect 10” sprays (grocery stores, drugstores, Amazon, and a variety of formulas), and for really aggravating hair that needs to cooperate, Sebastian #9 goop (but the generic is a third the price and just as good). My hair mostly cooperates whether I towel-dry, air-dry, blow-dry or do a combo platter with a straightening hot brush or curling iron. Feria conditioner is also THE BEST STUFF (for my hair, anyway) and the generic at Sally Beauty Supply stores (or on Amazon) is just as good as the real stuff that comes in the dye kit boxes. I use it even when I am not dyeing my hair. My split ends are a thing of the distant past, and I am rough on my hair. [end hair product digression]

  42. I want to pick up on the description that LW’s husband “considers [his long hair] an inextricable part of the identity he constructed”. It is possible he’s worried about ageing or being less conventionally attractive, but actually it may be about his own self-image and identity.

    In my case, I have thigh-length hair. And I’m female so this long hair makes me more gender conforming and is generally socially valued. Lucky me. But it’s also really really really important to my idea of what I am supposed to look like. If I ever lost my hair for any medical reason, I would be absolutely devastated. Not because I’m scared of growing old or because people wouldn’t find me sexy, but because I just wouldn’t feel like myself. If a fat or disfigured or otherwise conventionally unattractive person didn’t want me to complain about it, I hope I would respect that, but I wouldn’t be complaining that short hair makes me _ugly_, I’d be complaining that it makes me not me. Conversely, if someone expressed empathy for the actual issue, I would feel validated and supported, and probably wouldn’t need to hear the reassurance twice, whereas if they kept on telling me, don’t worry, you’re still attractive, I would continue being sad.

    If the identity thing is about being unconventional, well, pattern baldness doesn’t condemn you to having a conservative-looking crew cut. A pro stylist might be one route to go down, but another could be helping to come up with ways of looking a bit counter-cultural with thinning hair. It’s perfectly possible to have long hair when it’s thin or absent on the crown of his head, and perhaps that’s not fashionable, but so what, it can still totally work as a look. Or perhaps some creative approach to shaving his head, an undercut or interesting patterns or colours, or even getting a tattoo on his pate.

    Or he could consider wearing a wig. As a political position, it’s fine to say that appearance shouldn’t matter, but it’s not wrong for an individual to want to alter their appearance. We don’t condemn women for wearing makeup or dyeing grey hair or choosing to minimize wrinkles or other blemishes; why shouldn’t a man use grooming to make his appearance better match his self-image?

    1. I have to admit the self-image thing resonates hard with me. Maybe a bit like the LW’s husband, I had an constructed identity I had to fight for in high school. My out-of-all-proportion appearance-related stress period came a couple years later when I started going grey–which is an easier thing to hide, but happened way before I was ready–and I remember I did not exactly react well. It wasn’t so much about feeling old or feeling unattractive; it was more about a loss of control. I had a defined image of “what makes me look like me” and a brief period of feeling like I was the one in charge of my own appearance, at least to an extent. And then time and genetics suddenly came along, said “Nope!” and started making the first of many unauthorized changes. (It also didn’t help that this particular issue was inherited from the parent I least wanted to resemble; if the FaceTime app is to be believed, this is something I need to start making a lot more peace with really fast.) Assurances from others couldn’t help, because they were assurances about things that weren’t really the problem, though I’m not sure I could have explained that at the time.

      I’d like to say now I’m older and wiser and better able to roll with any aesthetic change my body goes through. Most of the time that’s even true. But I’ve also since experienced how hard it can be to deal with someone else’s body image stress when it’s bringing up your own. Especially if that person has been less than kind to you or others about similar issues in the past.

      All of which is to say I think that the Captain’s advice is spot on. The husband needs to find a healthy way to address and manage his own anxieties around this, which I have no doubt are very real. Whether that comes in the form of cultivating a new look or something else. He also needs to find the person who will help him do that, and that person is not and should not be the LW.

      1. ‘I started going grey–which is an easier thing to hide, but happened way before I was ready–and I remember I did not exactly react well. It wasn’t so much about feeling old or feeling unattractive; it was more about a loss of control. I had a defined image of “what makes me look like me” and a brief period of feeling like I was the one in charge of my own appearance, at least to an extent. And then time and genetics suddenly came along, said “Nope!” and started making the first of many unauthorized changes.’

        Thak you so much for sharing this, it really helped me realise what’s upsetting me so much about the steadily growing patches of grey on my temples, that are getting quite noticeable. I used to dye my hair a lot in my mid teens, but in my older teens and into adulthood I realised I didn’t want to dye my hair because I loved my natural colour so much. Now my natural colour is changing, there’s nothing I can do about it, and it makes me feel horrible.

        1. My hairdresser had to break the news to me that I do, in fact, have some grey hairs at age [mumblemumble] but since they are all on the rear-wards crown of my head, I hadn’t seen them. I’m half glad and half sorry she told me that. I still can’t see them, but they are apparently there, currently hiding under some root touch-up. Out of sight, but not entirely out of mind.

          Hey, that’ll make staying blonde easier, right?

  43. First time commenter though a lurker for some time.

    My dear husband went pretty much bald at 23. He tried to do some “haircuts” to help the look, but finally just decided to get a set of clippers and buzz his hair off. At first he didn’t like it, but discovered he saved a lot of money on haircuts and that was at least a little helpful to him.

    One night he had a business dinner with some colleagues. They brought a client who was apparently notoriously difficult about everything. They had stories that reached legendary status about her being picky about food and most other things. Husband deftly got client to enjoy some Brussels sprouts at the dinner. Colleagues were amazed. And then at one point the client turned to husband and said, “you know what? You’re a really good lookin’ bald man!”

    He was kind of ok with the bald after that.

    1. LOL! What a great story. What a resourceful man!

      That’s the essence of the challenge here; for everyone. We are not one thing. We are the sum of our parts.

      And there isn’t a thing wrong with what Jason Statham brings. And he was a male model… he’s arguably done more with his present look than his first one.

      1. In addition, guys I did not see mentioned yet: Michael Clarke Duncan, Telly Savalas, and perhaps the original, Yul Brynner.

        But the LW is correct about how it makes her feel to have him be so angsty about appearance; no matter who we are or what we look like, we are all sensitive about this. If her husband knows carrying on about appearance upsets his partner, that should be acknowledged in his own behavior.

  44. He can embrace it like Greg Universe, keeping the long locks and go starkers on top, or he can go the full Aang and shave it all off.

    But ultimately, he needs to stop moaning about it, especially he needs to stop moaning about it to you.

    BTW, both my dads are bald, and both embraced the shaved look.

  45. This is why I think casual self-shaming is inconsiderate. You aren’t just saying, “It’s bad that I don’t meet societal appearance standards.” By logical extension, you’re saying that all people who don’t are somehow lesser.

    I have friends my age who get together and talk about how old they look (I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say that no minuscule sign of aging goes unscrutinized.) I don’t want to spend my life wishing I looked twenty, or trying to cheer up people who don’t look twenty. I used to say “it’s better than the alternative” but now I typically just change the subject.

    I do still feel exhausted and drained afterward, though. Like I’m wrong for feeling happy instead of anxious. Don’t we have enough corporations trying to make us feel bad about ourselves without piling on ourselves, too?

    1. Thank you! I’m sick of listening to that too! I say “it’s better than the alternative” in a deadpan voice. That shuts them up quick.

  46. Nothing to add, but I have to say I love the Howl’s Moving Castle reference LW. Howl’s Moving Castle is my favorite animated movie.

  47. Loved the throwback to the fatshionista community. By the time I worked up the courage to post my own pictures, it was basically a ghosttown. Body positive is all encompassing, and I’m sure there’s some kind of support system for bald or balding men. Like George Costanza’s lifesized poster of Dennis Franz in his bathroom.

  48. “Call in the pros” is really the right answer. Not just because of hair styling but because of treatment to slow hair loss. Basically if one has a reason to moan about something with one’s own body, one does need to call in the pros,whoever they are in a given situation. A spouse or partner can help in a minority of cases (massages, etc) but they can not replace a professional eye.

    Moaning and not calling in the pros is just as counterproductive as doing the same about a leaky tap.

  49. Some great ideas here. Maybe some insight (but not apologia):

    I just want to share, as a woman who started losing her hair in her early 20s, how very very hard it is. It’s not a joke or a matter of oversensitivity. You are losing a part of your body slowly. It is horrifying, and the helplessness is profound. And the shower is especially difficult because you can watch the process of each hair as it falls out of your body, never to return again.

    There are emotional, social and professional penalties for being bald. Bald people are not getting more dates. You will be the butt of jokes at work. And the jokes are vicious. (In my opinion, bald jokes are on par with dumb blonde jokes, but somehow socially sanctioned as mild teasing).

    This is not an apology for a body shamer or an attempt to shift blame to the LW. She was the victim of his crappy behavior, and it is unreasonable to ask her to fulfill the role of comforter. Period.

    I just wanted to suggest, so she could figure out how to address this in general, that her partner might be in crisis. And that’s reasonable. The waaambulance comment made me wince. It’s the minimization and derision everyone struggling with hair loss fears.

    I hope this helps with understanding what he’s going through. You don’t have to be the one sympathizing with him, but I do think he’s is worthy of sympathy. And if he ever body shames you again then fuck him.

    P.S.: Please advise him, if you’re in a larger city, to see a stylist who specializes in thinning hair. If you’re in a smaller area, it’d be helpful to call a salon and ask which stylist might be best for this situation. It can be really traumatic to go to someone who is insensitive and inexperienced.

    1. Yes, absolutely, to what Checkers says about how visible the process of losing hair is. I’m a woman dealing both with body issues (thanks, Hashimoto’s!) and hair loss (thanks, Hashimoto’s and lupus!), and cleaning up in the shower and Swiffering up all my fallen hair around the apartment make me cry. If my (also-losing-hair) husband listened to me talk about my hair loss and made only practical suggestions like getting a new haircut, I would have found that very upsetting. I agree that the LW in no way has to do the emotional work of dealing with her partner’s feelings around hair loss, but I want to add that it might be very useful for him to seek out someone who *can* help him process those feelings, whether that’s some other friend, relative, or a therapist. Professional styling advice is great, but professional assistance in managing the emotions involved might be just as (or more) helpful.

  50. As a Pagan who does not identify as Heathen but has close Heathen friends and regularly attends Heathen rites, there is a lot of male dominance and weird toxic masculinity issues bound up within that community. My friends, who started the recently successful (yay!) Open Halls Project (the arduous process of getting the US military to accept Heathenry and other forms of Paganism as religious affiliations alongside Christianity, etc.) are now having another battle with fellow Heathens, some of whom are now demanding to be allowed to keep their hair (particularly beards) as a religious requirement.

    There is no such tenet within Heathenry to keep a beard. But, I bring this up because toxic masculine baggage regarding hair and virility (and in this case, the “Viking” aesthetic) seems to be so pervasive and deeply held that it’s almost religious.

    Balding as a symptom of losing one’s virility and what this may mean to him is his own bag to unpack; if you’re interested in hairstyle advice from the Heathen or Metal communities on what to do if you start balding and you think you’re starting to look lame, the solution is often found in shaving your head and growing a big beard. Thankfully, beards are in right now, and there are all sorts of oils and waxes and products to tend them.

  51. LW, your annoyance is 100% justified. It’s not fair for him to treat you as a sounding board for body-image issues when he has not been a supportive listener in the past himself.

    You did mention he’s grown since then, though, so perhaps it’s time to lay your cards on the table.

    “Husband, it pains me when you talk of feeling unattractive. I empathise strongly, but at the same time this dredges up a whole lot of negative emotions related to my own self-image, which I still struggle with. Are we best talking about these issues to each other, or to other people?”

    *If* you can discuss each others’ issues without bitterness, defensiveness, or solutioneering, then some guiding questions you might ask him are:

    “When did you decide to grow your hair long, and why?”
    “How would you describe your overall image?”
    “How does having long hair make you feel about yourself?”
    “What else makes you feel this way about yourself?”
    “What negative traits do you associate with bald men?”
    “Are there any bald or balding men who break those stereotypes in your eyes?”

    Don’t continue, however, if you’re not getting the same support back from him about your own issues. And if either of you become overwhelmed or unable to move past something, then perhaps it’s time to bring in a professional.

  52. I feel oddly moved to stand up for the combover a bit. My grandpa had a combover, and it was… well, it definitely looked like a combover. But when he got too ill to do his own hair, and thus his combover was less skillfully styled, it became clear that it actually had been more effective than I’d realized.

    Even if a combover is how OP’s husband chooses to continue dealing with this, he still might find it useful to seek help from a skilled stylist. Even if he isn’t interested in hearing non-combover suggestions, it’s possible that they might be able help him achieve a better combover and/or a better understanding of the limitations of combovers.

  53. I’m in a similar situation; I’m overweight but fit, and my other half is balding and greying apace. We’ve decided this is a trade-off; I’d love to be slim like him but I wouldn’t want to lose my hair – and he has no personal vanity at all but I suspect that if piling on the pounds was the price for getting his hair back he’d be just as happy to live without it. In other words we’ve accepted that people develop in different ways and this is just what happened to us. Maybe not an approach that would suit everyone, but it keeps us (relatively) sane!

  54. I wanted to add a point about the ‘call in a barber (or therapist, or other professional)’ advice:

    Don’t call in one barber (or therapist, or other professional); check out and meet with three or four, and then pick the one that respects your wishes and matches your needs and your personal style and ethos or worldview.

    Barbers and hairdressers (or therapists, or other professionals) can have a wide range of attitudes and opinions about hair and body image, and I cannot count the number of times I have wanted to walk out because someone said something that triggered one of my personal issues. (I have hip-length hair. It’s socially acceptable, but hairstylists *always* try to get me to spend more money by having it layered or coloured or styled, or cut to waist length to make it look ‘neater and tidier’; after I’ve repeatedly told them I want is to preserve a much length as possible with the scantiest of scant trims. It’s put me off the entire hairdressing industry, to be honest.)

    Just like people should never have to put up with fat-shaming to get basic healthcare advice (for example), your husband should never have to put up with bullshit that hurts him while he’s trying to get (ideally, professional, sympathetic and empathetic) advice about his hair.

    So many people write this off with this ‘it’s just hair’ attitude, with a subtext that you’re being childish or stupid for having feelings about your own body — and I know you’re not doing that, OP! — but some of the professionals and experts do this too, so just – give yourself a choice about the people that you deal with.

    I’d also like to respectfully disagree with one more point: your husband’s identity was tied in to defying convention about having long hair. The social requirement that balding men ‘should’ cut their hair short or shave it all off has aspects of body-shaming and strong peer pressure to it. It’s a social convention that should be optional, not compulsory. If he’s complaining about social pressure to conform, he has a point. What’s wrong with a bald man having a comb-over or a Trump-style candy-floss floof? Would the world end, if he keeps his hair long and it gets thinner on top?

    If he wants to do the comb-over; if he wants to do a bald on top / party at the back super-long mullet-thing — that’s his choice. He does not have to shave it all off. Your feelings about his hair are your feelings and (if that’s a problem) it’s your problem. Just like society’s issues around his hair / visible signs of ageing / toxic masculinity are society’s problems, not his or yours.

    And lastly, I just want to restate this: you have every right to protect your own emotional stability by asking him to not expect or demand support form you on this issue, or to set limits on how much and what kind of support he can expect from you. Expecting one partner to be and to provide everything their partner needs is toxic and unhealthy. It;s okay to admit that you can’t do it all.

  55. Oof. I’m fat, I empathize with how hard it can be to listen to other people talk about their relatively minor body image issues. Not that I don’t sympathize with them, but that it makes me relive my own.

    I’m wondering, though, if in this case it’s *really* about the hair, or if it’s that that’s a visible symptom of aging. Maybe that’s a good way to approach it with him- “Husband, I know you’re upset about your hair, but your identity is so much more than your looks. So is it the looks you’re worried about, or your identity changing as you get older? I can’t do anything about your hair, but I’d like you to be able to talk through your feelings about aging with me.” Maybe talk up all the things you love about him that have nothing to do with his hair.

    For the record, my uncle Jim has fairly significant balding…and a ponytail. Long hair, don’t care. It’s its own look.

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