Bald truth is that combing it David Beckham just makes his hair loss seem worse than it is
Becks' vanity has always been part of his appeal, but this is more to do with male vulnerability, writes Sarah Caden
At the fine age of 43, David Beckham has been found, with some glee, to have a flaw. Paparazzi snaps taken earlier this month saw Beckham lounging by a Miami swimming pool looking decidedly thin on top.
Not a receding hairline or a denuded patch at the back of his head, but an all-over thinning. For purposes of comparison, you could call it Prince William-pattern balding. Which is fine for Prince William, but not really for David Beckham. William was once a dashing prince, but we've met the family, we've seen how the hair goes. Beckham, though, has always been invincibly, daringly stylish. How could such a mundane thing happen to him?
The glee which met Beckham's get-some-SPF-on-that head was unsettling, however. At last, the mighty had fallen.
That delight was bolstered last week when Beckham made an appearance in Hong Kong on behalf of an insurance company for which he is an ambassador.
Admittedly, there was something about the former footballer's appearance that caused one to do a double take. Beckham was fair-haired, right? Well, no more. His brows were like thick black caterpillars, his beard was admittedly salt and pepper, but distinctly black in the pepper department.
And his hair? Well, his hairline was very straight across his forehead and his hair was dark and seemed to cover his head entirely - like a dark velvet cushion.
Newspaper articles saw "experts" speculate that he was using a "thickener" to make the hair seem fuller. Others suggested he was using a product to colour-in his head and make it appear covered in hair. There were further hints that he had at some time undergone a hair transplant.
It all gave pause for thought as to whether anyone would dare be so pass-remarkable about a woman - or publicly, anyway. There would be a backlash to that, right?
But, then again, maybe it's just that comments about women being too fat, too thin, gaining weight, losing weight, dressing badly are simply executed more skilfully.
And that skill comes from greater practice, of course. We are all far better equipped in our comments about women's appearance than we are about men's.
Curve-embracing really means they're fat; toned pins really means fine legs on her; baby-bump flaunting really means huge belly; results of a fitness regime means she's lost weight, or got too thin.
Victoria Beckham, in fact, is a case in point of a woman for whom there are all too many euphemisms for thinness. They are mostly dressed up as compliments, though, and there's no reading any compliments into speculation about Beckham's hair.
The Bible story of Samson is one that has stood the test of time. There is something about suggesting that a man is losing his hair that is utterly undermining of him. It is utterly emasculating, even though, no more than any other physical attribute, it's really no reflection on who or what he is.
We feel pity, though, for the man who goes bald young, or is perceived to lose his edge along with his mane.
Over a decade ago I interviewed a pop star, then in his 20s, and was transfixed by what seemed to be his painted scalp.
The gaps in his hair - and there were gaps - seemed to be painted-in and, truthfully, I felt sorry for him.
I've never felt sorry for any female celebrity I've met with eyebrows that appear to be stencilled on. I've never judged any female at all for wearing make-up.
To suggest that a man is balding is seen as to undermine him, but to suggest that a balding man is covering it up is to strip him of his manhood entirely. It's bonkers, but it's the case.
It was bad that Beckham was looking thin on top by the pool, but it was far, far worse when he then seemed to be colouring-in his head to cover it.
It's not as simple as being a case of vanity being verboten for men because Beckham's vanity has always been part of his appeal. It's more about vulnerability being verboten.
If Beckham's covering up his hair loss, or even trying to replenish his hair with a transplant, then you would think we had become more accepting of that these days. Louis Walsh has been very open about his procedure, as has actor James Nesbitt. Wayne Rooney has had at least one transplant. Even Gordon Ramsay, Beckham's great pal, is reported to have had one.
Where's the shame in it, you have to wonder? Particularly when you're Beckham and your physical appearance is part of the brand.
But, for Beckham, the way to undermine, it seems, is to take a pop at the testosterone levels on his side of the brand partnership.
He's not the man he used to be, but God help him if he tries to cover that up.