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Facing baldness head-on



Published: Mon, October 23, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Celebrities and sports figures have helped popularize the bald look.

By DEBBIE CAFAZZO

SCRIPPS HOWARD

The year was 1968, and long hair was everywhere.

Even on Broadway.

"Give me down-to-there hair, shoulder length or longer," they sang in the musical "Hair." "Flow it, show it, long as God can grow it -- my hair."

Imagine Tony Snesko's embarrassment.

He was 22 that year, just back from Vietnam, sitting in an Italian barber's chair in Los Angeles. That's when the barber dropped the bomb: "You know, you're losing your hair."

At his barber's suggestion, Snesko tried rubbing his hair with olive oil.

"I went around looking like a tossed salad," he recalls.

His wife's cousin, a stylist, suggested bleaching to stimulate the hair follicles. Nothing worked. Nothing except a comb-over, that is.

"I did what I swore I wouldn't do," Snesko, now 60, says. Over the years, as the top of his mop grew thinner, "the part migrated down to my ear."

It was Snesko's wife who came up with the answer to his growing baldness.

As they were getting ready for an important dinner party, she asked him if she could fix his hair. Before Snesko knew what was happening, she had put Lady Schick to his scalp. In minutes, the comb-over -- along with the rest of his hair -- was gone. She told him he looked sexier.

He liked that.

That was in 1991, and Snesko has never looked back.

Today, he has a bit of hair around the sides, which he keeps closely clipped, and a full beard -- a look that appeals to a lot of bald and balding men.

Started Web site

In 1999, Snesko, a Washington, D.C., resident, started BaldRUs.com, a Web site devoted to celebrating baldness and educating consumers about what Snesko views as the false promise of hair-replacement methods.

"Our only goal in life is just to persuade men to say no to rugs, drugs, plugs and comb-overs," he states proudly.

Instead, his site encourages men to embrace their inner -- and outer -- baldness.

Gregg Olsen, 47, a true-crime writer from Olalla, Wash., says being bald is easier these days, thanks to a progression of actors, athletes and musicians who have made the hairless look fashionable.

But when Olsen graduated from high school in 1976, his hair was long and parted in the middle -- like a lot of young men's hair that year.

"Once that part starts getting wider, you're in trouble," says Olsen, who started losing his hair in his 20s.

He tried minoxidil (marketed as the drug Rogaine), but found it both ineffective and expensive.

His look has evolved into a hip and distinguished one -- close-cropped hair on the sides, none on the top, along with a mustache, soul patch and tattoo. But he acknowledges that as a young balding man, he felt prematurely old.

"A guy fights it," he says. "Everywhere you go, you are always checking out other people's hair. You look at people and think, 'If I had that hair, I wouldn't wear it like that.'"

Benefits

But Olsen has learned to see the plus side of early hair loss: "In a lot of ways I have stayed the same, where other people have gotten older-looking. Guys I went to school with who are just losing their hair now -- it looks like they're really aging."

But Olsen looks like he did 20 years ago. Maybe better.

"I've been working out, and dropped about 20 pounds over the last year or so," he says. "Gotta make sure that I don't match the trifecta of unappealingdom: fat, bald and 50."

If he lets the back of his hair grow long enough, 63-year-old Duane Diercks is proud to say he can still comb his hair into a pretty impressive D.A. -- the same kind of hairstyle (named for a duck's derriere) that the Spanaway, Wash., man sported during his 1950s and early '60s youth.

Did he ever think then, about getting older, losing his hair?

"You never think of those things when you're young," he says. Like retirement or death, Diercks adds, hair loss isn't really an issue until everybody's doing it.

An obvious look

Diercks once worked with a guy who wore a toupee.

"Everybody knew it," he says. "It was so obvious."

Especially after the man, named Al, started painting in white highlights so people would think he was going a distinguished gray at the temples.

There were several Als at work. People would ask for Al.

"You mean Al that wears the rug?" was the usual response.

"I never thought about doing any of that stuff," says Diercks.

Dick Inderbitzin, 77, carried a comb for five years in his left rear pants pocket -- long after his hair-combing days were over.

It was hard, at first, for a guy who graduated from high school with a full head of curly hair to part with it, so to speak. Hair loss started when Inderbitzin was in his mid-30s.

He tried rubbing his head with liniment, but after six weeks with no results, he gave up.

Today he sees definite advantages to having less hair. He's always the first guy to know it's raining.

"My friends see and treat me for what I am," he says. "I save on combs, hairbrushes and expensive shampoos."

His wife, Pauline, gives him the occasional trim, just as she has for more than 40 years.

"It never bothered me," says Pauline of her husband's hair loss. "I think it bothered him more than it did me. I love him for what he is inside."




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