TELEVISION STAR Bruce Willis has a hairline that seems to get higher each season. Movie stars Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson and Michael Keaton also make no bones about the fact that their hairlines are receding.
With leading men losing hair with heads held high, it seems logical that the average man is now rethinking the importance of having a full head of hair. Indeed, it seems that what was once considered a detriment to good looks is now considered an attractive characteristic.
The first signs of hair loss traditionally have been accompanied by strong emotional reactions, even trauma, according to Joseph Pleck, a psychology professor at Wheaton College in Massachusetts and the author of "The Myth of Masculinity."
But having role models who appear unfazed by it may help change all that. "When there are men out there who are very popular who don't need to conceal their hair loss," Pleck says, "what it's saying to the man on the street is, 'If you don't want to be upset about hair loss, you don't have to be.' "
Joe Torrenueva of Torrenueva Hair Designs in West Hollywood goes so far as to say that the receding hairline has become a fashion statement.
"I've been cutting men's hair for 25 years, and this is the first time I haven't been asked to cover over the balding areas," he says. "Men have definitely changed their attitudes."
Hairdresser Allen Edwards, who has five salons in Southern California, admits that he "went through all kinds of emotions" when his own hair started thinning.
"I thought about getting transplants," Edwards says. "Then I wore it long and sort of flapped it over. But I finally decided not to get hung up on the negative aspects. First, I cut it very short so the top just stood up. But I am really a long-hair person, so now I've got it long again and combed straight back.
"What's new is that men are putting their energy into trying to do something contemporary with thinning hair," he says.
The man who chooses not to hide his thinning hair now has options: He can wear it spiky, the way Willis does; gel it, a la Nicholson, or wear it combed back and long, like Michael Douglas wears his. "The idea of wearing thinning hairline creatively is appealing to men. And women are responding to it," Edwards says. "It is the first time men are exposing their hairlines and saying, 'Take me as I am.' "
Even younger stars are adopting the look, Torrenueva says. Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen, for example, are now wearing their hair combed back, the way their father, Martin Sheen, does.
"It takes a lot of confidence to say, 'I'm not trying to hide anything.' It's very masculine-looking," Torrenueva says.
Ryan Boyd, owner of the Hair, Ph.D. salon in West Hollywood, observes that "societal pressure has been lessened. Most of us--that large, consuming mass of the baby boom--are accepting a look of maturity as being sexy. You can be 45 and a sex symbol. As baby boomers mature, we'll continue to dictate what happens in the economy and fashion. One day we'll see 'Sexy at 70' on the cover of Vogue."
Still, some researchers think that if there is a trend toward aging with grace, at least as far as hair growth is concerned, it may be short-lived. "Throughout history, hair has been associated with physical attractiveness and manliness," explains Gordon L. Patzer, author of "The Physical Attractiveness Phenomena" and a professor of consumer psychology at Loyola Marymount University.
Emphasizing a receding hairline, Patzer says, is "a novelty, and human nature likes things that are new and different for a while. I can't believe that we'll feel the same way about it in five years."
Pleck adds that "while men are probably less concerned with hair loss today" than they were before Willis made it hip to go bald, "men with a full head of hair aren't likely to go to their barbers and say, 'Please make me look like I have a receding hairline.' "