Before Forbes pronounced her the world's youngest self-made billionaire, before the bombshell story in the Wall Street Journal, before she faced up to 20 years in prison for massive fraud and conspiracy, and even before she purchased a Siberian husky for several thousand dollars and then told everyone he was a wolf (adopt, don't shop), Elizabeth Holmes was a 25-year-old Stanford dropout with a visionary idea, a bizarre fixation on Steve Jobs, and a mousy brown bob.
A decade ago, as a series of videos posted on YouTube by Entrepreneurship.org shows, Holmes' frazzled ends and grown-out blonde highlights had yet to become part of the Theranos founder's now-infamous signature look. The Holmes of 2009 was a brunette who was just clawing her way to the top of the health-tech game through illustrious political connections and an ambitious — and likely scientifically impossible — concept that sounded convincing enough to secure almost $100 million in venture-capital funding.
In more recent coverage of Holmes — like The Dropout, a podcast that explores the unraveling of Theranos and, with it, Holmes — much has been made of the extreme specificity of her appearance: the Jobs-like wardrobe of black turtlenecks, the deep, supposedly fake baritone, the bright blonde hair, the too-busy-to-care bun. (To be fair, she wasn't not busy — becoming the Bernie Madoff of biotech is hard work.)
In 2016, research conducted by business-school professors at the University of British Columbia found that female politicians and executives are disproportionately fair-haired; blondes make up just 2% of the world’s population but a whopping 48% of female CEOs at S&P 500 companies. Considering how calculated Holmes has shown herself to be, it's not hard to imagine that she'd take this into account — we are talking about a woman who reportedly tracked down and stocked up on the exact Issey Miyake mock-turtlenecks favored by Jobs himself.
In retrospect, the clips of the disgraced entrepreneur standing in front of a blackboard, speaking inauthentically about such topics as team building and cash flow, show a crack in her armor. Her perceived intensity is just a string of clichés fed into a machine and spit back out by a robot in a black blazer. Holmes' appearance is just that: a matter of carefully manufactured optics, not unlike projecting the appearance of a functioning company. In the end, not even her hair is real.
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