The Unbearable Lightness of Hair Gel

Okay, okay, I’m not supposed to be blogging, I’m supposed to be finishing up my novel. (Which, for those keeping score at home, crossed 42,000 words last night, at which point I realized that in all 40k+ words preceding, I’d forgotten to set up a major plot point. WHOOPS. Anyway.)

But I wanted to comment briefly on Fred Clark’s throwback post from yesterday. Originally published in November 2011, it treats on the issues of authenticity and hair styling on the campaign trail:

The expert opinion: No one’s hair stays in place like that without some product in there. And the coloring used everywhere but Romney’s temples isn’t always done as seamlessly or artfully as it could be.

The expert also says this is all silly. There’s nothing morally wrong with using products to keep your hair in place and there’s nothing shameful about deciding to keep your hair the same color it was when you were younger. The expert feels its an insult to her profession that candidates tend to lie about this sort of thing.

Political candidates have to go before the cameras on television — that means lots of work on hair and makeup, lots of necessary product, just to appear normal under the lights in high-def. We never criticize a candidate for wearing a shirt that’s been ironed, or a suit that’s been tailored, or for otherwise looking more presentable than someone who’s just rolled out of bed. But after several election cycles of stupidity and silliness around candidates’ hairstyles, the current vogue requires them to lie for the sake of “authenticity.”

Mitt Romney (who? I swear I remember someone by that name) probably only has to touch up his hair — and possibly wear some concealer and powder, to be honest — to look normal when he’s campaigning. And if he admits that his perfect Reed Richards-esque graying temples are chemically enhanced, he’ll get called out for being inauthentic.

Now, there were lots of good reasons to call Gov. Romney and the rest of the Republican primary candidates inauthentic, but this is a stupid one. As Fred Clark points out above, hair care and make-up are required to keep a person looking halfway normal under stage lights and on camera, as any actor will tell you. Putting a white person under stage lights with no make-up is a good way to wash them out completely.

Anyway, mainly I think it’s bitterly hilarious that a bunch of male politicians had to deal with this particular double standard: look photogenic but not too photogenic, and make it look effortless. Because guess who gets to deal with that on a daily basis, whether they’re on the campaign trail or not?

If you guessed “ladies,” congrats! You have come to understand my blog.

It’s not across the board, and a lot of it depends on what you train people to expect. On Reddit (click the picture), many users commented that because they don’t wear make-up regularly, or because of the culture at their workplace, a little eyeliner will be enough to make people comment on how made-up they are. For a lot of women, though, there’s a strong pressure, sometimes spoken and sometimes not, to wear a certain amount of make-up. I’ve heard from friends that in their workplaces, it was heavily implied by management that make-up was a requirement for business wear — of course, management couldn’t actually require make-up, but it was understood that women who didn’t wear make-up were considered less professional-looking, with all the possible consequences you might expect of that.

On the flip side, wear “too much” make-up, or let people take a peek at the transformative power of face paint, and a woman runs the risk of being called fake and deceitful. There’s so much pressure to look beautiful sans make-up that the Internet is flooded with tutorials on how to apply make-up so it looks like you’re not wearing make-up — like the most subtle Photoshop touch-up job ever. And this isn’t even getting into the conflicting pressures on, say, trans*women, for whom make-up may be a vital tool for passing or for addressing gender dysphoria — but who may also face more severe societal consequences if they slip up.

While all this talk of societal pressures and double standards is, I think, important, the central point is the one Clark’s expert friend made: there’s nothing morally wrong or shameful about making yourself look the way you want to look.

As pink-haired and wonderfully profane Internet personality albinwonderland says, “Let’s wear whatever makes us happy! … There is not a single thing I do in the morning that’s for you. … It’s for me.”

I’m so in love with your eyelashes it’s not even funny.

And that includes Mitt Romney, too. He gets to do whatever he wants to make himself look the way he wants to look.

On this note, I’m really looking forward to dyeing my hair blue again — but I have to make it to 50,000 words first.

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