THERE IS MUCH TO LIKE IN THIS HUMOR-FILLED EXAMINATION OF HAIR LOSS, BUT TOO MUCH LOWBROW JOSHING GETS IN THE WAY OF THE MESSAGE.
“I can’t remember the exact age I was when I first began noticing the inexorable exodus of my hair. This is not due so much to my not knowing my own age, as it was my unwillingness to recognize and accept that which was all around me — namely, my hair.”
So begins Beyond Bald! How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Hairless Head, an excursion into the mind and experiences of a 50-year-old man who has some three decades of experience as part of the bald brotherhood and has a lot to say about it. The opening quote certainly indicates this is a book that intends to tackle the subject with at least a dash of humor.
Truth to tell, the potential for humor in the writing is hinted at even earlier, when you glance at the cover of the book to discover that it is penned by one “Wildman Weiner, Ph.D.” and that the indicated degree apparently stands for “Proudly hairless. Dude.”
There’s a lot to like in Beyond Bald!, as that opening promises, but there’s also a tendency toward the childish, as the author’s name threatens. Sure, it’s the kind of frat boy phallic nickname that’s amusing in small doses and when one is still a hormone-rattled college student. But it’s not the kind of humor that one wants to encounter in large doses, which regrettably is the case here.
Time and again the pseudonymous Weiner indulges in the kind of lowbrow joshing that is, admittedly, a lot of fun when you’re out for a few drinks with the guys. In person, with friends, sitting around and exchanging lewd comments over a few beers can be a lot of fun. But it’s not the kind of thing that transfers easily to the printed page; you really have to be a master manipulator, a deftly skilled craftsman if not a true artist, to pull this off in print. This Weiner is not.
That’s not to say he doesn’t pull it off in places. There are segments where the author’s humor and his skill and his way with words come together to deliver a nice punch. When he makes his point and does so in a truly amusing fashion, the book comes alive and has a great vibrancy. It’s during these moments that you wish Weiner had not written a book (albeit at 184 pages, a relatively short one) but had instead been satisfied with a lengthy article. There’s enough gold in the humor-filled moments that you just wish the dross had been sifted away.
Beyond Bald! has it’s strengths and weaknesses
And did I mention the digressions? There are a lot of them, most of which are extensions of the author’s pursuit of humor where there’s little profit in the pursuit. As with the humor, Weiner is attempting a difficult stylistic feat with the digressions, and while I can admire his ambition, I’m afraid I can’t say the same for the results.
As mentioned earlier, however, there are many worthwhile things in the book, one of which is Weiner’s honesty. Yes, the author is hiding behind a character and is relating a tale that may be partially or even entirely false, but he is doing so in a manner that is open and emotionally honest. Even when at his most brazen, there’s a humility and vulnerability lurking underneath, and that makes what could otherwise be questionable sequences quite readable.
Weiner’s attitude is also entirely laudable. At least as he presents himself in the book, this is a man who suffered from an unendurably harsh father. Weiner was psychically beaten down by a bully who destroyed any semblance of self-esteem in the author. Yet he found a way to create for himself that which his father denied him; even more impressively, he has done so in a manner that allows him to acknowledge the damage done to him by his father and yet to forgive him for his actions.
Even with hair loss, be confident and proud of yourself
Finally, as a result of his journey to a self-created self-esteem, Weiner is able to share the importance of being comfortable with and proud of yourself, no matter how bald you may be. He hammers home the hard-learned point that what is inside your head is infinitely more important than what is on the outside — and that this is true not just in terms of how you see yourself but also in terms of how others see you. Feeling at ease with your looks crucially influences how others feel about your looks.
Beyond Bald! is very definitely a flawed book, but it’s a very worthwhile read for any bald or balding man who is uncomfortable or anxious about his hair loss. Weiner knows what you’re going through; learning from his life lesson might do you a world of good.