Dyed heads of state? Top secret, man.

(Saul Loeb)
  Enlarge Photo    

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
Thursday, February 10, 2011

Does he or doesn't he?

The Clairol question came up again Wednesday on the "Today" show when Michelle Obama was shown side-by-side photos of the president taken on Jan. 19: His hair is salt-and-pepper in the morning but looks darker later in the day. A dye job?

"No, he's pretty gray," said the first lady, who blamed the difference on lighting. "I think that if he had known he would be president, he would have started dyeing his hair 10 years ago."

Reality check, people: Male politicians are not going to admit that they dye their hair, so you might as well stop asking.

Science says most men turn gray by their 50s. Pollsters say voters (especially older men) think guys who dye their hair are vain and somehow less manly. So you can ask all the hair experts you want, but pols aren't going to fess up.

The topic pops up every couple of years, when gray streaks (or lack thereof) are cited as evidence of presidential stress, gravitas or fibbing. When Obama was running in 2008, he was accused of adding gray to his temples to look wiser; now some folks believe he's hitting the dye bottle. But it's nothing like the obsession with the wavy brown locks of Ronald Reagan, who went to his grave claiming he never, ever covered any gray.

"Reagan did not dye his hair - he used a little dab of Brylcreem," said Craig Shirley, a former campaign staffer who spent plenty of up-close time with the Gipper. The hair color was such an issue in the late '70s, said Shirley, that reporters staked out Reagan's barber in Beverly Hills and obtained hair clips they had tested. The result: no artificial color.

This isn't just an American fixation: Most countries grapple with the hair dye question. China's leaders, regardless of age, typically sport a suspicious head of glossy black hair; a young Malaysian politician was accused of dyeing his hair gray to look older, but he blamed the stress of the job.

Few take it as far as Germany's Gerhard Schroeder, who went to court in 2002 after accusations that the 58-year-old chancellor dyed his chestnut hair.

An image consultant had opined that Schroeder should fess up to boost his credibility; an opposition politician said "someone who touches up his hair also touches up statistics." A furious Schroeder sued, declaring, "Whoever suggests I'm coloring my hair is suggesting that I am an established liar." The courts ruled in his favor, banning the media from even suggesting his color came from a bottle.

Yeah. Not happening anytime soon, folks.

"If I had hair and I dyed it, I wouldn't admit it," said bald political strategist James Carville. "But I don't, so there's real integrity on my head."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile