Me and My Big Head

May 21, 2019 Updated: May 21, 2019

It’s spring, a poignant time of year for me, for it was one spring in my youth when I learned I was … different from other kids.

Like many a young boy, once I became old enough I signed up for Little League baseball. Getting accepted isn’t hard. All you have to do is pass a cursory physical exam, administered in my case in a National Guard armory where scary posters looked down on the assembled 9-year-olds and told us if captured by a foreign enemy we only had to give our name, rank, and serial number. In that kind of portentous atmosphere, you had to figure that the doctors on call would do their jobs diligently, but somehow I slipped through the cracks.

I was duly assigned to a team, and passed unnoticed for either talent or deformities until the day came for distribution of caps. The coach opened the box, took a gander at each of us and guessed what size we needed—small, medium, or large. 

He gave me a large-size hat, but it didn’t fit. It sat on top of my head like a cherry on a cupcake, an afterthought, not an article of clothing. Over the next two years no “L” hat ever came close to fitting me, so that when I eventually reached “the majors” my fourth and last year, I just went out and bought an adult-size hat rather than subject myself to the embarrassment.

I am, you see, one of the Big-Headed People.

I had occasion recently to revisit those days of youthful pain as my son gave me a “one-size-fits-all” New England Patriots throwback hat.

It was a nice gesture, but hopelessly misguided. I was able to use the occasion as a “teaching moment.” “One-size fits all is one of the three big lies of our time,” I told him. Another is “The check’s in the mail” and the third is too ribald for his impressionable young ears.

I checked my head when I thought about returning that hat for a fitted one; my head measures 24 inches—two feet!—in circumference. From head to toe, I’m only 5 feet 11 inches, 5 feet 10 inches on a depressing day. A 34 percent head-to-height ratio has got to be right up there among the all-time leaders.

Big heads are associated with a number of human characteristics, few of them nice.

If someone says of you “He has a big head” and means it figuratively, they think you’re conceited, or have too high an opinion of yourself.

If you literally have a big head, there is an off-the-shelf insult—“Fathead”—ready to go.

A common technique used in drawing caricatures of people is to depict the subject with an oversized head. So big heads are both funny strange, and funny ha-ha.

It is often assumed that people with big heads must be smart since their skulls have more room for brains, but there is no direct correlation between head size and intellect. During the years when both were alive, Victor Hugo had one of the largest heads in France and Anatole France one of the smallest, and each was a more than competent scribbler. This may account for the bitter disappointment I see on the faces of people who expect me with my big head to compute 18 percent tips after two glasses of wine.

The corollary of the “big head smart/little head dumb” school of thought is that people with oversized crania turn into the human equivalent of space aliens in science fiction movies, who typically have massive heads to hold their super-sized brains. Again, this is not an association to be wished for, since the part of the alien among humans is always written as that of a hyper-rational loner among hopelessly sentimental humans, like Spock on Star Trek. Big-headed aliens are portrayed as unfeeling, uncaring creatures, as if their emotions had been cauterized when they were young.

Well, what did you expect? Their whole lives, they’ve had a universe of creatures sniggering behind their hands at them.

Ever since they went out for Little League.

Con Chapman is a Boston writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Boston Globe, among other publications. His biography of Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington’s alto saxophonist, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press.