Last summer, Samantha Thomas of Buffalo, New York, met a guy on Tinder. A few dates followed. Wherever they went ― casual drinks, a movie, a walk around the neighborhood ― the guy left his hat firmly in place, just as he had in all his Tinder pics.
“It was summer and he had sort of a country vibe and casual style of dress, so I didn’t think anything of it,” the 24-year-old told HuffPost. “But one night, one thing led to another, if you catch my drift, and off came the hat: He was bald. Damn, was I shocked.”
While Thomas recognizes that looks aren’t everything ― and says she’s been attracted to bald guys in the past ― the late-night reveal was “a game changer” for her and the man.
“The sexual tension and attraction just wasn’t there as much,” she said. “We slowly stopped talking, I felt bad. But I also felt like, ‘Hey, I was lied to.’ It was him hiding it that was hard to get over.”
If you’re single ― or have single friends ― you’ve no doubt heard stories like this: A less deceptive (and considerably less serious) subcategory of catfishing, so-called hatfishing occurs when someone wears a hat to conceal the fact that they’re more or less balding. This practice is often used in photos on dating apps. Like most popular dating slang, the term appeared on Urban Dictionary back in 2014, and trend pieces about the habit followed, including a 2017 piece from The Cut sympathizing with hatfishers.
Cristian Garcia of San Francisco encounters a lot of hatfishers on Tinder, and wishes more men would present themselves honestly on apps and IRL.
“I wish hatfishers knew that many of us don’t mind it,” he said. “I personally just don’t like them trying to hide it from me because I’ll find out eventually. I want hatfishers to stop and be the realest version of themselves when dating.”
The inclination to hatfish makes sense, given how sensitive men can be about their hair. In 2013, researchers in Berlin conducted a major study of the psychosomatic effects of hair loss, and concluded that even minimal balding could lead to “an enormous emotional burden with low self-confidence, impaired quality of life, and even psychological disorders.”
“The truth is, gradual thinning of the hair is a natural, inevitable condition, like death, taxes and the next selfie from the Kardashians.”
The American Hair Loss Association estimates that 2 out of every 3 men will start to lose at least some of their hair by the time they’re 35 ― an unnerving prospect for young guys trying to project virility on dating apps.
“Young guys feel like there’s this unwritten rule that a luscious head of locks is directly associated with their masculinity,” celebrity hairstylist Kristan Serafino said. “The truth is, gradual thinning of the hair is a natural, inevitable condition, like death, taxes and the next selfie from the Kardashians.”
Natural or not, the pressure to present a perfectly coiffed head ― or at least a Prince William-esque buzz cut ― is high on dating apps, where your profile photos mean everything.
George Halley, a 48-year-old from Colorado, has hatfished in the past and thinks the majority of men do it to avoid having people make snap judgments and quick swipes left based solely on their hairline.
“No one shaves the male pattern baldness shape into their head because they think it’s hot.”
“No one wants to reveal what they perceive as their least attractive feature right off the bat,” he said. “Few guys want to be bald. No one shaves the male pattern baldness shape into their head because they think it’s hot.”
The face-framing, universally flattering baseball cap look can help a follicularly challenged dude get his foot in the door, Halley said.
“Guys think that if they can get someone interested in their cute faces and their personalities, then they stand a better chance of hooking the person before the baldness is unleashed,” he said.
The good news if you recognize yourself as a hatfisher? Experts say you have options when it comes to making your hairline less noticeable.
If you have some remaining hair, microfiber-based products can temporarily give you the appearance of a thicker hairline, said John Mosley, a barber and men’s grooming expert who’s worked with Kendrick Lamar and Eminem.
“Microfiber-based products stick to the scalp and the hair which makes the hair look fuller and brings down some of the shine on the bald area,” he said. “There are many products out there, but my top product would be Toppik Hair Fibers.”
Asking your stylist or barber to give you a more flattering cut will make a world of difference, too. As your hairline recedes, continue to cut the sides and back shorter, said Megan Moore, owner of Moore Hair Design in Salt Lake City and blogger at The Beauty Snoop.
“Start with progressively shorter cuts so that you, and those around you, have time to get used to each step,” she said. “A sudden buzzcut will draw too much attention to the situation.”
And between now and your next salon visit, why not be bold and sprinkle some hatless selfies into your deck of Tinder photos? In a sea of hatfishers, your would-be dates just might be impressed by your display of confidence and resemblance to English actor Jason Statham.
Our former hatfisher agrees.
“As someone who’s hatfished, I’d advise against doing it,” Halley said. “It really puts both people in an awkward situation later on. Plus, I believe self-confidence is a strongly attractive characteristic. Starting off bald shows that you have that.”