Hillary, you won't make president looking like that
Not for the first time, I’m thinking that it might be interesting to conduct a time-and-motion study on female politician grooming regimes. Follow a high-profile woman around and take a look at how much effort goes into making her public-ready and media-proof. Not sexless (frump), but not too sexy (won’t be taken seriously), not too groomed (stiff), but not too casual (frump again). Hair, heel height and blouse buttons judged with precision, weight watched, voice modified. Not too much make up (blowsy), but definitely not make up-free—frump, frump, frumpety frump.
All those exhausting judgments, before the working day even begins. Once, Hillary Clinton might have been a good candidate for such a study. It’s still being debated whether she intends, as she says, to wind down her political career fully or run for the presidency in 2016. Her biographer Ed Klein thinks the latter, but says: “I don’t want to sound anti-feminist, but she’s not looking good these days. She’s looking overweight and tired.” Translation: Clinton is too much of a frump to be taken seriously.
This follows Clinton’s recent television interview where she talked about having had the audacity to appear make up-free in public. The US secretary of state said that she had got to a stage of life where she would tie back her hair with a scrunchie and pop on spectacles instead of contact lenses—there were more important things to think about.
Was this a public declaration of career suicide (she’s given up!) or what one might term “cosmetic exhaustion”, something a lot of high-profile women could doubtless relate to? After years of lacquered submission and colour block suits, was Clinton belatedly launching a speccy nerd rebellion? Another question: why does it all matter so much?
I’m not arguing that image should mean absolutely nothing in politics. That would be unrealistic. And, of course, men get it too. We’ve all heard the stories about them agonising about what colour tie to wear. Moreover, you see some of them on television, with more pancake slapped on than a peak-period Danny La Rue.
However, few could argue that men get anywhere near the levels of scrutiny and derision, even from other politicians. Nicolas Sarkozy is reported to have scorned Angela Merkel for eating too much cheese at an official dinner (translation: greedy cow). Silvio Berlusconi is alleged to have gone further, calling Merkel “an unfuckable lardarse”. Elsewhere, Harriet Harman has been deemed “unshaggable”, while IMF head Christine Lagarde recently made a “smitten” Robert Peston’s tummy go all funny. Never mind “seductive”; would Lagarde be considered as able were she to lose the lippy and start tucking into the after-dinner camembert? Would she be trusted to make all those difficult fiscal decisions if her hair were to go all frizzy?
While double standards have always been with us, it remains frightening how disastrous it is deemed for a female politico, even one as high ranking as Clinton, to “lose control” of her looks. When male politicians make it clear that they don’t care about such things, this is usually lauded as a victory of substance over style; Ed Miliband was making self-deprecating cracks about Wallace and Gromitonly last week. However, when a woman such as Clinton dismisses her image as unimportant, she is more or less classified as washed up and unfit for office.
No wonder so many female politicians waste time and energy on getting grooming right, when they could be doing something far more interesting and worthwhile. They have no choice. Not unless they want their every move to be met with sneers, insults and, worse, indifference. For them, succumbing to cosmetic exhaustion could mean not freedom, but the end of everything.
Maybe Hillary Clinton will run for the presidency, but lord help her if she doesn’t sort her hair out. - guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012