[caption id="" align="alignright" width="180" caption="Image by Getty Images North America via @daylife"][/caption]
Hair. It's so weighty, so important, so central to our presentation of self in the modern world. For years I have dyed mine radically different colors as a sort of social experiment- trying to disrupt the notion that anyone has "naturally" bright blond hair by dying it dark brown the next time, or red, or strawberry blond. What I've learned is that if my hair is blonder than "dark blond" people treat me differently- as if I'm stupid or a child. Men in hardware stores are much more likely to help me. Men on the street are much more likely to make comments. If I'm a brunette or a dark red, people act as if I'm smart. People in hardware stores ask me for help. A dark blond or light brown make me nearly invisible- neither sexy nor smart- just a blank slate which I must fill out with sartorial signifiers and actions.
I like to think that my unwillingness to commit to the central lie of American femininity- that we "naturally" look this way- without the aid of cosmetics, hair dye, razors, tweezers, and increasingly Botox- marks me as a heretic (or, for those of you who enjoy a bad pun, hairetic).
That's why the recent political brouhaha over Barbara Boxer's hair is so interesting- because hair is a weighty subject, full of social rules, class status, race, gender embodiment, and sexual desires. The political hairball started when Senator Boxer's GOP opponent, Carly Fiorina, got caught on an open mic saying
Ms. Fiorina has her own issues with hair as the result of chemotherapy. She has talked about her hair publicly as something she "misses" now that it is cropped close to her head. Barbara Boxer, to my knowledge, has made no public statements regarding her hair.
But let's take a close look as these women and their hair and think about what social signifiers are twisted into it.
Ms. Fiorina is the former Chief Executive of Hewlett Packard and her hair says as much. It's not just short (obviously she lost it during the chemo), but it's also kinda butch (there are ways to cut short hair to signify "femininity" if one wants or needs to). There's a no nonsense feel about it, especially because it is also undyed. Honestly, I like Ms. Fiorina's hair. Like President Obama's closely shaved locks, her hair says "really, I just have way more on my mind than my hair." It also signifies an unwillingness to look "younger" or "softer" because she's a woman.
Senator Boxer's, by contrast, is a veritable rats nest of white femininity. It's dyed blond, to signify "youth" and "innocence." It's clearly marked as feminine, but also feminized- not the practical hairdo of the hardworking, but the sort of hair that gets in the way, has to be tied back, slows one down.
Don't get me wrong- my hair at the moment is more like Senator Boxer's than Ms. Fiorino's. It's longish and kinda girly and is always in my way. And I far prefer Senator Boxer's politics and policies to Ms. Fiorinio's- who quite honestly scares me a little. But Senator Boxer 's hair says "young girl" when in fact she's one of the most accomplished politicians of our time. It's time to lose the little girl blond, the come-hither messiness, and show that a woman in charge need not try to look as if she's not.