Putting on a good face is something Hillary Clinton is used to. Throughout her gruelling campaign for presidency every pant suit, hair-cut and slick of lick balm was a calculated move in letting the world know here was a professional woman in control. A woman in touch with her feminine side; a woman who knew what she was doing.
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So, it was quite a shock to see Hillary make her first appearance since conceding to Donald Trump. On Wednesday night at an event in aid of the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, Hillary Clinton appeared looking anything short of power-groomed.
Something had clearly shifted. The hair was flat, bereft of its normal stuffed up styling, she wore scant make-up, her eye-bags were defiantly on show, her skin a little sallow. She admitted to the crowd “there have been a few times this past week when all I wanted to do is just curl up with a good book or our dogs and never leave the house again”.
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In short she looked perhaps a little more like she really felt inside. She has lost the war – so why bother with the paint anymore?
That women in the public eye are judged ferociously on their turn-out is a depressing truth; the politicians polish being an indicator of their suitability, their conviction, their dedication to the gig. If I can be bothered to get up two hours earlier than a man to have my hair and make-up done perfectly, then surely I can handle government.
The chronicles of Clinton’s appearance – from scrunchie ties, $600 dollar Bergdorf and Goodman blow drys and her power pob – are something she herself has taken on and to an extent embraced. She played the game. On the campaign trail, her stylist packed two hairdryers in case one of them broke and she consistently used her clothing to make subtle sartorial points.
In launching her presidential gig she posted a picture on Instagram of her red, white and blue pantsuits with the caption “Tough choices” accepting the oppressive level of scrutiny that she knew existed for her. When asked in a Facebook q+a session how she manages the “hair and make-up tax” expected of women, she replied, “It’s a daily challenge. I do the best I can – and as you may have noticed, some days are better than others!”
She aesthetically highlighted that glass ceiling that she hasn’t quite smashed with her famous white pantsuit of suffrage. Similarly, in the face of crushing professional defeat, for her concession speech she chose purple to wear – to send signals of nobility, humility and, again, suffrage.
And yet, a week on, the Hillary we see before us couldn’t be more different – nor the message that she is conveying. Whilst her speech was a rallying call to her supporters not to lose hope but rather to ‘believe in our country, fight for our values and never, ever give up’, her appearance seemed to suggest something else entirely. By dropping her polish, she seems to be telling us that in losing the election she has woken up in her own American nightmare, one with serious repercussions for her country and career. No amount of blow drys will change this. This hasn’t been easy for her, and it is as though she wants the world to know, it won’t be easy for anyone else either.
But in allowing the mask to finally slip, Hillary has also revealed her humanity. What the world saw was the tired, blemished face of a 69-year-old woman. It is a serious face. It shows its weaknesses, and its losses. In these turbulent times, is she perhaps also trying to say that there are more important things to do than putting on a brave face?
For Hillary that has been the brutal truth – the uber-groomed women who now surround Donald Trump may disagree.
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