With the GOP veepstakes heating up, many eyes are turning to Rep. Paul Ryan, who gave a big boost to Mitt Romney in his home state of Wisconsin this week. No wonder: The youthful House Budget Committee chairman has a strong conservative fan base, a great rapport with the frontrunner — and a potential game-changer of a widow’s peak.
You’ve noticed it even if you think you haven’t. That furry little dip in the center of his hairline, like the notch at the top of a valentine. You see it now? Yeah — how about that!
A not-uncommon trait, the widow’s peak runs in families. They can help define a leading man’s handsomeness (check out the forehead on Colin Farrell) or lend a sinister aspect (see Dracula, the Joker, Eddie Munster) — but it’s rare to see one so prominent in presidential politics. George H.W. Bush has a very minor one that became all but invisible with the passage of years. Andrew Jackson might have had one — pull out a $20 and judge for yourself — or perhaps it was just the contrast of a tousled forelock against a standard Nixonian receding hairline.
Whereas Ryan’s widow’s peak — his defining feature in the eyes of many political cartoonists — has the drama of a Keanu Reeves or Cary Grant or even a young John Travolta. In fact, the last time we saw such a magnificent peak in the White House might have been — well, Ronald Reagan
Research suggests widow’s peaks are a plus at the polls. Shawn Rosenberg, a professor of political science and psychology at the University of California-Irvine, did a study in the late 1980s that found subjects were drawn to photos of mock politicians with certain facial characteristics. Widow’s peaks, though more so on female candidates, were “a clear positive,” he said. “It was associated with being seen as more competent and with greater integrity.” (Really, why? “To be frank, I have no idea,” he told us.)
Rosenberg said Ryan has other features that subliminally play well with voters: Rounded upper eyelids and thin lips. But looking as young as Ryan does could actually hurt, the study found, while square jaws surprisingly have no sway on voters.
Ryan’s office declined to comment on the congressman’s hairline, but he’s definitely aware of it. “When I look in the mirror, I see a broken nose and a widow’s peak,” he joked to a forum at Marquette University law school last year. “I don’t see a future president.”