I’ve been worrying about Hillary Clinton’s hair for twenty years. It’s one of my favorite recurrent worries, right after how to spend my lottery winnings, right before how to win the lottery without actually buying a ticket. I started worrying about Hillary’s hair when she was First Lady and kept changing her hairstyle. I got the sense that she wasn’t quite on top of the hair thing the way many previous first ladies seemed to have been. Just look at photos of Nancy Reagan: perfectly identical curly coifs every time.
I always felt a bit protective of Hillary in her First Lady years; the way the press trumpeted each style change and conservatives loathed her. They were downright vicious. The bitterness of it bewildered me, because just four years before they’d had a First Lady dressed in red practically running the White House and that didn’t faze them. I decided it was because the red queen was behind-the-scenes about it, whereas Hillary was all in your face, “hey, let’s solve this damn health care problem.”
When Hillary ran for President, someone handled her hair. You get those kinds of handlers when you’re a presidential candidate. We’d all look like a million bucks if we had such handlers. She looked terrific, her hair sleek and short and sophisticated. Topping her tailored pantsuit, I could see that look behind the desk in the Oval Office: it had authority.
Once she became Secretary of State, things went to you-know-where in a handbasket. It seems you don’t get such grooming at State, and I suspect the truth is, Hillary always hated that tidy look. She let her hair grow. It started flipping up on the ends, at her shoulders, began to be a bit—messy. Every time I saw her on TV, ignoring the fact that she just got China and Russia to agree to sanction North Korea, I couldn’t help myself, declared, “that woman needs a haircut.”
Hillary’s a few years younger than me, but we’re both in our sixties. Women in our age group have opinions about hair. Some of us think any woman over 50 who still wears her hair long is delusional: long hair is a young woman’s game. Grow up. Others of us remember the musical: flow it, show it, long as God can grow it. Hippie girl to earth mother to doting grandmother, all with the same au naturel hair. Artsy old ladies in yoga pants, that’s us. Screw you if you don’t like our do—or lack thereof. She’s one of us, Hillary is. I read rebellion in that long hair at sixty-four.
Hillary turns out to have been an excellent Secretary, has visited over 100 countries, more than any other Secretary of State ever; pioneered partnerships, put in 15-hour days, pushed social media and women’s rights, has been Gallup poll’s most admired woman for years. So there’s been no shortage of opportunities to examine her hair. We’ve seen her with her straight hair loose in Asia, combed back from her forehead in Europe, pulled into a scrunchie-tied ponytail in Africa. A scrunchie! She once went to the United Nations wearing her hair pulled away from her face in one of those plastic claw clips, for goodness sake. Lately, she’s often worn it folded into a classic twist at the back of her head, which I approve.
Not long ago, I read where Hillary said, the next international crisis, she’ll get a haircut and then all the news will be about that. Apparently Madam Secretary is aware that I’m preoccupied with her hair. Apparently I’m not the only one. Some of the rest of you have gone so far as to write her about it. Incessantly.
Frankly, the main reason I’m obsessed with Hillary’s hair is the fact that I myself have never had the hair thing under control. I’ve been wearing mine more or less short, in variations on a bob for years, gave up coloring it at 48. Yeah, it’s white as chalk—you got a problem with that? I have cowlicks, go from bangs to no bangs and back again, am seldom satisfied with a new haircut and often think, when I leave the house, “if I just had the right hat.”
It feels like a woman fail, one of those things we’re supposed to be able to finesse by the time we’re grown. Still, any woman who can go to the ultra-formal United Nations General Assembly with a hair clip on her head has killer nerve, don’t you think?