The Stigma

“That’s me?!”, I exclaimed. I remember the first time that I realized that my hair was thinning up top. I had just gotten home after a road trip with the New York Jets. My family had taped a game (yes, on a VCR) and found me on the field. I had a position in the early 2000’s with the National Football League franchise that required me to work on the sidelines during games. It was a great gig! The problem with (and great part of) the job for me was that it often required me to spend hours upon hours in the hot sun in places like Miami and San Diego. I wore the requisite team gear (I don’t look great in green) and did my job.

The realization

“That’s not me!”. Yes, it was and you know how my family picked me out? They pointed to the guy with the balding spot on the back of his head, me. The wide-angle lens from the top of stadium somehow found the back of my head. I realized two things in that moment, I was no longer a spring chicken and that my head was burning at games. I had never thought about applying sunscreen to the top of my head. I never looked at the top of my head! I knew that I was no Andy Gibb, but it was that thin?

Hats, toupees, and combovers

Thus, began my love affair with hats, hats of every kind, but especially baseball hats. I wore hats to every game and have a nice collection to this day. Of course, hat wear has its limitations. Who tries to wear a baseball cap bodysurfing? Who wants to spray SPF 100 on their scalp, mixing it with the hair that you DO have? First world problems! I thought about other solutions. Do they make 100 SPF toupees? How about a radical comb over? This combined with the compression socks that I am supposed to wear because of blood clot issues, I pictured myself on the beach listening to Perry Como with black socks to my knees and sandals. Maybe I should just stay at home and binge watch my favorite drama.

The image

Toupees and comb over hairstyles are not really my thing, but what I had come to realize is that I had grown up in a culture that seemed to value two things rather highly; being tan and lean. Tan and lean were the order of the day with my crowd in Los Angeles in the 1960-80’s. When you can exercise outside nearly all year long, you can meet both requirements at one time. I tried and accomplished both. Being in shape was great, but the burning rays were not.

Hollywood

From the time, I was very little, I remember the barrage of advertisements from high profiled tanning lotion manufacturers. Hollywood stars like Elke Sommer, Julie Newmar, Mitzi Gaynor and Sharon Tate all lent their names and images to these ads and pitched the idea of “healthy tanning”. Most of the concern around tanning didn’t seem to be about skin cancer, but about the effects of the sun and aging. Appearing young was right up there with being lean and tan. Check out https://flashbak.com/let-the-sunshine-in-1960s-70s-adverts-in-the-golden-age-of-the-tan-27039/ for some of these pitches. Most of us just didn’t know any better, but now we do.

I’m good

I am committed to a healthy lifestyle. I have lost over 60 pounds and am eating as clean as I can. I am ok with and in my skin. I am ok with not going to the beach and working on my tan. I am happy with who I am. I don’t judge others that want to tan. I just hope that they understand the risks. This is not about being critical of others’ choices, but helping people get the information they need to live long and healthy lives. I don’t feel stigmatized being the hat-wearing, non-tanning guy. I would like my hair back though.

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