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The bald fact is that hair is at the root of modern man's insecurities.

Byline: By CATHERINE JONES Western Mail

What is it with men and hair? Movie star Michael Douglas and Dr Who pin-up David Tennant have grown Captain Birdseye beards while a balding pate has been blamed for MP Mark Oaten's fall into disgrace. What can it all mean, asks Catherine Jones POOR men. Once they could eat Monster Munch in front of the telly without fear of being pulled up for a fatty belly.

They could douse their hair with anti-dandruff shampoo and have done with it. They could wear smelly trainers, have scratch and sniff skin, wear stuff bought for them from Marks & Spencer and it would all be OK because they were 'only men'.

Most of all, they could have an enjoyable sneer about women making such an effort with their appearance, how catty they were about each other, and how absurd it all was when glossy magazines and newspapers carried articles about women's relationship with, say, their hair. Look, so-and-so has gone for a post-divorce crop - clearly she is cutting him out of her life. That kind of thing.

But now, in an age when a man without a manicure is apparently considered neglectful, the so- called metrosexual, damn him, has pushed men under the same microscopic gaze.

Clearly, Liberal Democrat MP Mark Oaten thought he was on to a winner when he tried to wriggle out of a rent boy incident by blaming it on his loss of hair and consequent belief he was - oh fate worse than death! - looking 'noticeably older'.

Here was a subject so close to the hearts of men today he couldn't fail to elicit a fey murmur of sympathy - 'Arrr, love 'im' - from lads as they sucked in their paunches, applied the Clinique and took one small bite from their Boots Shapers sandwich.

Like a latter-day Samson, Mr Oaten couldn't have chosen a better topic than hair for it is probably the Achilles heel - as opposed to today's stacked one for boys who like a little lift to their five- feet-eight-inches - of men through the ages.

And just as Mr Oaten has been losing his, 61-year-old Michael Douglas goes and gets a beard - Castaway eat your heart out! Add to the mix, the beards of Doctor Who's David Tennant and Lost star Dominic Monaghan - squeeze of co-star Evangeline Lilly - and Noel Edmonds is starting to look like a trend-setter.

A guy gets a beard and it's a matter of public record. This, boys, is the point to which you have been transported with all your talk about not wanting to let yourselves go. You have made hair obsession equal-opportunity.

Once, at a time when commentators thought it was the height of sophistication to poke fun at Kevin Keegan's hair, it was OK to have anything as long as it was not a mullet.

But hair, no longer only a woman's crowing glory, now appears to be a man's nightmare.

If he hasn't got it, he worries - women saying they like an egghead is as much comfort as men saying they like something to get hold of - and if he has got it, he can't stop potching with it.

So we arrive at the point of Gavin Henson's frosted quiff, everyday men sporting blonde streaks - what is this, a boy band? - and an MP, traditionally driven by ambition to better the human lot, blaming the desire to submit to degrading acts with a rent boy because he was losing his.

Sportsmen have submitted to appearing in adverts for hair renewal, the hair of ageing male politicians glows suspiciously under the glare of party conference spotlights, and sales of men's gel is soaring - tease that curl, boys!

We shouldn't make fun. Perhaps there is some psuedo-psychological link between hair and masculinity in the same way many women see a link between hair and femininity.

In an appearance-obsessed age which holds up Cat Deeley as the height of style and beauty, it necessarily follows that, as a woman with a crop has to be a lesbian, a man without a quiff is a Neanderthal and a man who is bald should be nick-named Ross Kemp.

More men are dying their hair but German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder certainly isn't one of them. In 2002, at the age of 58, he went to court to sue a news agency which carried a quote from an image consultant implying he dyed his hair. And he won.

Where once they might have tried all manner of remedies, one crafty new trend to emerge is the habit for balding men in their mid to late thirties to shave their heads, thereby signalling they only ever wanted something quick and easy and are happy to have done with it. Yeah, OK, we believe you.

This is a clever move, perhaps motivated by the memory of an old school master who laid streaks of hair across his shiny pate. It is also far more attractive than the old man with a 'good head of hair' who refuses, ever, to cut it, presumably on the basis he at least has that one up on his peers.

I'm thinking Mick Jagger and Ian McShane for starters with on-the-cusp Laurence Llewelyn- Bowen a rising contender. (Funny how both genders have their vanities. Thought for the day: Is relentlessly hanging on to thick locks the male equivalent of the ageing woman who barks on about shopping at Karen Millen?) Bruce Willis has admitted joining the shave-and-save- face men by razoring it all off to put his thinning thatch out of its misery. 'It's like when I started to lose my hair,' he says. 'At one point I decided to shave it off because it looked better that way.' Now his kids do it for him every morning and, after a shower, he's 'pretty much done'. These closet baldies may feel more in control but they should be prepared for women to tilt their heads with curiosity - is he one of those who's losing it or is he a wash 'n' go hero with no time for Toni & Guy? It's the great issue of our times.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 9, 2006
Words:1019
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