Here is the paradox of the comb-over: Men with comb-overs are presumably more image-conscious than most men, because the whole purpose of the comb-over is to hide baldness. Yet those who wear comb-overs almost always look worse than those who bare their bald skulls with pride.
Given the near-universal scorn for comb-overs, how do some men end up with them, and why do they keep them? It seems obvious there must be some degree of self-deception going on. They must believe that others don’t notice, or that the comb-over still looks better than the bald spot. But how did they get there? What psychological mechanism facilitates this level of delusion?
Naturally, I have a theory. I surmise that comb-overs don’t happen all at once, but by degrees. More importantly, in the early stages the comb-over actually works. Imagine a man whose hair is just starting to get a little thin on top. By moving his part just a tiny fraction of an inch toward his temple, he will increase the apparent thickness on the top of his head, while leaving his part in the acceptable range. He will actually look better! But as the thinning advances, the head-owner gradually moves his part farther and farther down the side of his head, until eventually he winds up with a full-blown comb-over.
This process would fail, however, if there were a clear line between moving-the-part and combing-over. Imagine if our heads were shaped like blocks, with actual corners left and right. As soon as you started to comb your hair from the flat side over the corner onto the flat top, the comb-over would be instantly obvious. But our actual heads, being more oval in shape, don’t permit such a bright-line distinction.
I conclude that comb-over-ers have fallen victim to a version of the sorites paradox, also known as the paradox of the heap. This paradox shows that when a concept has vague or fuzzy boundaries, it’s possible to move, by a series of individually logical or sensible steps, to an outcome that is thoroughly untenable. For instance, if you start with a heap of sand, you can always remove one grain of sand and still have a heap. But apply that premise repeatedly, and you’ll eventually conclude that a single grain of sand constitutes a heap. That is the position of the late-stage comb-over victim, who has concluded those last few pathetic combed-over strands constitute a full head of hair.