Bruce Willis is a hair hero.
I can think of no better way to celebrate Bruce Willis' 60th birthday than by thanking him for making the world better for bald men everywhere. Sure, a celebrity's birthday is an excellent opportunity to examine their professional work. And Bruce Willis has given us some pop culture dandies: Die Hard, The Sixth Sense, Look Who's Talking, and my personal favorite, Nobody's Fool, to name a few. But it was Bruce Willis deciding to shave his head for the role of Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction that made a definitive statement -- losing your hair can be cool. And in doing so he helped a lot of men, including this author, go from despair to determination.
It's hard to remember Bruce Willis with hair -- you really have to go back to the Moonlighting days. But hair he had -- and lots of it. And this is what made his transformation so important. Sure, there were other people with shaved heads around -- Yul Brynner, Telly Savalas, Michael Jordan, the Dalai Lama. Even Ving Rhames transitioned to a shaved head in Pulp Fiction. But Bruce Willis was different not only because he was a leading man but also because his hair was originally part of his appeal. So watching him lose his hair and seamlessly transition to a shaved head while maintaining and perhaps even enhancing his status as a sex symbol was something very different and liberating.
It may seem trivial and vain to some, but for men, going bald is a big deal. While body image concerns stereotypically are associated with women, there is actually evidence that men are just as, if not more, concerned with their body image. And the consequences can be significant.
For example, a recent longitudinal study of boys ages 12-18 from 1999-2010 found that boys with high concerns about thinness were more likely to develop depression, and those with concerns about both muscularity and thinness were more likely to use drugs. In the most extreme cases, poor body image can result in dangerous use of performance enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids.
And going bald is a major body image concern for men. For example, one study of 729 men who reported experiencing hair loss, over 70 percent reported hair to be an important feature of body image, and 62 percent said that hair loss could affect self-esteem. Further, 43 percent felt that hair loss would mean losing an important part of one's attractiveness. Dermatologists are becoming more aware of the importance of managing the psychological consequences of alopecia (hair loss) in men.
And it's not just men -- hair loss can be a substantial body image issue for women as well. Approximately one-third of women experience alopecia at some point in their lives. As many as two-thirds of post-menopausal women can experience hair thinning or bald spots. And hair loss can be associated with psychological and social issues. One study of 157 women in an outpatient dermatology clinic found that 54 percent of women reported hair loss, and that complaints about hair loss were significantly related to increased depressive symptoms as well as relationship problems.
Thanks to pioneers like Bruce Willis, however, the world looks different for bald men. It seems like everyone is rocking a shaved head nowadays, from Vin Diesel to Jason Stratham to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Even Willis' former Pulp Fiction and Die Hard co-star Samuel L. Jackson has a shaved head. And we are starting to see shaved heads become more common and acceptable among women. Years after Sinead O'Connor began to wear a shaved head, model Amber Rose now sports the shaved-head look.
And while some may dismiss this trend as irrelevant, we know that media images influence body image, particularly among kids. And as more and more celebrities rock the shaved head look, so will more people become comfortable with hair loss, and have at least one option of how to manage it. The best thing about this trend is that it's not news. At all. The notion that people can be attractive without hair is sinking in.
So 'Happy Birthday' to you, Bruce Willis.
And thanks for the bald gift that keeps on giving.