Did He or Didn’t He? The Botoxing and Peacocking of Male Politicos

| February 8, 2013

Mention in the title of your article that Hillary Clinton may be undergoing a facelift and watch, as in seconds, how the comments flow like a rage-spewing spigot: “Who cares!” and “So what!” and “I’m sick of men objectifying women!” 

Sure, we rally and banner-wave that the old adage that what’s inside matters more, and we’re right. However, we don’t wear our entrails on our lapels. Whether we want to admit it or not, image matters, especially in politics.

Even Clinton herself humorously acknowledged that if she wanted “to knock a story off the front page,” she’d “just change [her] hairstyle.”

And to those who rant that “We wouldn’t be asking this of a male politician,” you’re wrong. In fact, the coverage of female politicians enhancing their appearance is equal to that of their peacocked compatriots; it’s the loud resistance to the former as being newsworthy, however, that makes it — well, more newsworthy.

As Texas Senator Phil Gramm rhetorically asked, “Can an ugly man be elected president?” In short: No.  

Politicians who have yet to dabble in cosmetic enhancements have certainly not shied away from makeup since President Nixon eschewed concealer before going mano a mano with his Democratic opponent John Kennedy. And we all know how that turned out.

From Speaker Boehner’s butterscotch-pudding slickness to Vice President Biden’s Chiclet-y grin and curiously thickening locks, the illusion of virility has long been a prerequisite for politicking — at least among those who actually want to win elections.

History proves it: The most recent bald resident of the White House was President Eisenhower and the last time a serious hairless contender made it even close to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was Ike’s opponent Governor Adlai Stevenson.

Height matters, too: Our shortest commander in chief before President Carter — who stands a half-inch above the American average at 5 feet 9-1/2 inches — was Franklin Pierce, and that was 156 years ago. President Reagan and his successors have all been 6 feet 1 inch or taller.

While we’ve yet to hear of a male politician to undergo one of the new, and risky, limb-lengthening procedures, which are gaining popularity in Asia; hair enhancements, conversely, are commonplace.

The Vice Presidential pate, and Senator Chuck Schumer’s head are plugged or hair-graphed to perfection around the crown, while their backs of their heads are left bald: fifty in the front, seventy in the back. The last time Mayor Giuliani won election he had a full head of hair, and as it fell out it morphed into an unctuous comb-over until he finally clipped the hair canopy.

Then there’s the Wig Party. If Republican Trent Lott wasn’t wearing a plastic toupee atop his melted mug, then surely the former senator’s barber is a Democrat out for revenge. And we’re not saying that Reverend Sharpton wears a hair hat, but we are saying that Lacey Costume Wigs makes a versatile James Brown/Al Sharpton full-cap wig; though, if truth be told, the former civil rights leader often bears an uncanny resemblance to Della Reese. Senator Rand Paul’s springy Jheri Curl certainly looks like human hair; even it looks like it once belonged to a very sassy black woman from the 1970s.


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Throughout the 1980s, there wasn’t a newspaper worth its ink that didn’t endlessly propose the question: “Does Reagan dye his hair?” It was obvious to everyone, including President Ford who once quipped, “Ronald Reagan doesn’t dye his hair. He’s just prematurely orange.” And if you thought Hillary was hounded about her locks, that’s nothing: a recent Google search inquiring if President Obama colored his hair yielded 342,000 results.

For Senator John Edwards it actually took an affair, a lovechild, and the death of his estranged wife before journalists would stop tagging him as the man with the four-hundred-buck haircut. But it’s not just the price tag that raised eyebrows, there was also the image of Edwards over-preening his coif in a mirror that voters couldn’t shake.

The last time a president’s physique was discussed negatively was President Clinton, whose fast food flab gave him a BMI that hovered around 28.3. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, who can recall a president ever being swooned over more than when Obama went shirtless on a Hawaiian beach?

The four roundest men to occupy the Oval Office, coincidentally, came in back-to-back succession: Cleveland (34.6), McKinley (31.1), Theodore Roosevelt (30.2), and Taft (42.91). Politicians’ girth has been an issue ever since Taft supposedly got stuck in a bathtub and, with the exception of Bill’s ballooning toward the end of his first term, America hasn’t seen a fat president for 100 years. And no one can speak of Governor Chris Christie rising to higher office without discussing his need to slim his silhouette.  

And then there’s the case of Botox. Watch the Congressional craniums next time you C-Span and you’ll see very few over the age of sixty-five that actually move.

When then-Senator John Kerry threw his hat into the ring in 2004, speculation of presidential contender’s Botox use was so prevalent that both he and his press secretary were forced to respond and deny it. Repeatedly. Comedians like Jay Leno and Colin Quinn, however, were less than convinced. Bill Mahr joked that Kerry “had to deny internet rumors … that he had Botox treatments.” Adding that, “The Republicans say Kerry should have a clear, unfurrowed brow the old fashioned way — by not giving a shit.”

And what of actual plastic surgeries? To those of us with corneas, it’s safe to say that when Governor Schwarzenegger began to look less like a politico and more like a garbage bag full of coat hangers, the jig was up — yet he kept dancing with Mildred. Naturally, no man in public office would admit to having a facelift, even doctors will only speculate outside of the obvious.

Shortly after President Clinton left office, speculation arose that he’d done something to his nose. Dr, Oakley Smith of Toronto suspected that the president had rhinophyma, a condition in which the tip of the nose become thicker and more bulbous as a person ages, like W.C. Fields. While it certainly appears that the forty-second president had his nose de-tipped, it seems to have merely turned back the clock on its appearance.

Image matters, and to deny it is to buy into a sociological utopian fantasy. And how one achieves that vision, be it with a nip, a tuck, or a needle doesn’t matter: Unless they begin to go the way of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi: plastic’d and pomaded on the outside, and rotten to core — “Who cares!” Magazine sales and webtraffic prove that, if nothing else, we certainly care enough to watch.

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