Friday, January 24, 2014

Hillary Clinton’s New Hair – Sexist Comments or Psychological Signals?

In an article titled "Let’s face it, the ‘beauty premium’ exists at work" published on January 10, 2014, in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Leah Eichler flirts with the idea that attention to Mrs. Clinton’s bangs – and to any women’s appearance – might be unfair and, perhaps, even sexist. Lamenting the fact that, “The hairstyles of prominent female leaders never fail to make the news,” she mentions "The Beauty Premium" as one explanation.

Interpreting our fixation with Mrs. Clinton's hair as an aspect of the "beauty premium" misses the
Janet Mayer - Splash
point. We look at the hair of any person of influence and power to discern whether they can function in their role in an effective and expected way. We do judge books by their covers and before we say, "oh, that isn’t right; that shouldn't happen," think about how we label a person in tattered clothes pushing a shopping cart along the street. Do we think "corporate executive?" Or "homeless?" Undercover Boss tells us we probably judge “homeless.” That’s just the way we do it. It's in our DNA.

And before we lament the fact that attention is paid to Mrs. Clinton's hair - again - let's look at the hair of some men. Malcolm Gladwell's deliciously unruly locks work for him because he’s a writer who thinks thoughts the rest of us only dream of. That hair would work against him if he aspired to be, say, a bank president and any of his male mentors would be quick to tell him so. The same with Einstein and his wild locks. The Reverend Al Sharpton is another case in point. As he has moved more into the mainstream, he has tamed his signature James-Brown-tribute hair. And on January 21, 2014, ABC Evening News’ Senior National Correspondent Jim Avila, in reporting on Chris Christie’s inauguration said Christie was "sporting a more presidential haircut." So … "they" just say these things to and about women? Obviously not. Perhaps men follow the rules so much that they don’t need the comments. My money is on the latter.

Rich Schultz - AP Photos
Though we can always find the few exceptions that prove the rule, more conventional positions almost always necessitate conventional hair. We, the people, require  it. We make judgments on competence (and 16 other qualities) within 3.5 seconds of meeting someone and those conclusions, once made, are visceral, deep and long-lasting - a point tangentially made in Malcolm Gladwell's blink!

So Mrs. Clinton's hair is not a beauty issue. It is a can-we-trust-her-to-be-the-chief-executive issue. It is a question of what her clothes and hair project, an issue, finally, answered by looking through the prism of The Silent Language of Clothes©. And here are some points she could think about in choosing her hair style and her wardrobe: 

  • Get the hair right quickly. Frequent hair changes signal a flip-flopping mind and your opposition will use that to their advantage. "She just seems unstable" they can say and many people will resonate with that deep in their core without quite knowing why.
  • Choose a style that projects the elements you need for the job and for the campaign trail. Among the qualities we look for in our president are: authority (you will be the commander-in-chief, of course), effectiveness, authenticity, trustworthiness and friendliness (when relating with the public).
  • Project these qualities in your clothes every day, taking into consideration the venue and your audience. Though you have more than amply demonstrated these qualities in your stellar public service career, every appearance is a mini first impression and you must visually reinforce these qualities each day. Your opponents will be doing so. Don’t let them get the edge.

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