The picture of Hillary Rodham Clinton sans makeup was front and center on The Drudge Report Monday.

View Photo Gallery: The U.S. secretary of state is on a three-day tour to consult with the Indian leadership on key regional and global issues.

The caption read “Hillary Au Naturale,” and the photo showed the Secretary of state without makeup except lipstick, wearing black-framed glasses. Her hair fell in natural, unspectacular waves. Clinton was speaking at a news conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh during a trip to promote democracy and development. The event followed a complicated and highly dramatic trip to China.

Of course, if this was a male politician, few — if any — would focus on whether he had primped before his public appearance this deep into an overseas trip. It would only become a headline if Joe Biden suddenly started wearing eyeliner and lipstick.

But we aren’t accustomed to seeing female politicians and politicos without camera-ready makeup and, God forbid, showing wrinkles. In fact, how many pictures in glossy magazines have probably been airbrushed to make Hillary picture-perfect?

While I’m a makeup addict, it’s refreshing to see Hillary fresh-faced. She looked like a schoolgirl in the picture – the Hillary from her granola college days at Wellesley. It was the look that won her few fans back in Arkansas in her days as the state’s first lady. After all, Southern women love their makeup, and Hillary wore little.

As Hillary prepares to exit the high-wire of politics, are we finally seeing the real woman? It seems so.

Hillary showed by going natural that she is more concerned about doing her job than with her image. She has always been more policy wonk than fashion diva. But in America, we expect our first ladies and potential first ladies to look perfect--even if we do critique them relentlessly for spending thousands on clothing. So Hillary played the role, ditching her beloved headbands for short, highlighted hair and wearing high-end couture.

Last month, in Colombia, Hillary was photographed dancing and drinking at Café Havana, a Cartagena hot spot. Even Republicans defended her right to cut loose with a drink. She also joked around with the two creators of the hyper-popular meme about her. She went so far as to invite them to her office and write her own meme for them. Various media outlets finally declared Hillary cool.

Hillary, unfiltered, has hit a certain level; most everything she does is deemed likeable and untouchable.

This real-life Hillary – the sassy geek, not the woman who polled every move to test political waters – is what many voters wanted in 2008. If she cried today, like she did in the presidential race four years ago, we would believe her. Then, critics lashed out at her, and voters weren’t sure if she was shedding tears because of exhaustion or a photo-op.

It’s too bad that just as we begin to see the real Hillary, she has decided to vanish from the national stage.

On Monday in India Hillary said, “I have been active in high-level politics for the last 20 years. I feel it’s time for me to get off the high wire. I would like to come to India and wander without streets being closed and a lot of security.”

But the rumor mill – or at least pundits – still swirl about Hillary replacing Biden as vice president on this year’s ticket. New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin said on Fox & Friends Monday that if the race tightens between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, “Hillary Clinton will be on the ticket and Joe Biden will be sleeping with the fishes.”

I think Hillary will be running – sans makeup and wearing glasses – with the bulls in Spain, traipsing through Australia’s outback and enjoying the landscape of Rwanda with Bill. She will write another book about her life in the Obama administration. She will start a book tour just in time for 2016. Then we will all wonder again if she’ll be the first woman president.

As she said in India, she wants to see a female president in her lifetime. She stressed that she wants out of politics. But she also said, “We still have a pretty hard glass ceiling that has not been broken at the presidential level.”

This relaxed, carefree-yet-ever-brilliant-and-hip Hillary may still be the one to crack it.

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker

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