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Hillary Clinton. (Photo: Getty)
Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton is no stranger to scrutiny about her appearance as a high-profile female public figure in Washington D.C.—from implications about how she is too old to be president (she will be 69 in 2016, the same age as Ronald Reagan when he took office) to criticism about the way she dresses. In a Facebook Q&A session on Monday, Facebook employee Libby Brittain asked Clinton about the “hair and makeup tax” on women, especially women in “high-pressure, public-facing jobs.” Brittain notes that every morning, her boyfriend “zips out the door” while she spends at least 30 minutes getting ready. “I know these questions can seem fluffy, but as a young professional woman, I’d genuinely love hear about how you manage getting ready in the morning … while staying focused on the ‘real’ work ahead of you that day,” Brittain enquired.
Exchange from Hillary Clinton’s Facebook Q&A. (Photo: Facebook)
Clinton’s reply was brief but cut to the chase: “Amen, sister — you’re preaching to the choir. It’s a daily challenge. I do the best I can — and as you may have noticed, some days are better than others!” Later in the Q&A, Clinton joked that she has “never met a pantsuit I didn’t love,” alluding to her notorious penchant for pantsuits.
In her book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, Barnard College president Debora Spar writes about the pressure for women to have it all—a successful career, a perfect family life, and to look good at the same time. “It’s unrealistic to assume that just because a woman shows up in a business school or on a trading floor or for an internship that somehow those other pressures are going to go away,” Spar told NPR. “So women really are feeling the pressure to be hugely successful professionally, and really sexy and attractive, in addition to being good mothers and everything else.” In a Saturday Night Live skit, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, portraying Sarah Palin and Clinton, respectively, call out the double standard placed on women who are either too attractive or not attractive enough: “Stop saying I have cankles,” says Poehler as Clinton. “Don’t refer to me as a MILF,” added Fey as Palin.
Of course, male presidential candidates face intense scrutiny on their appearances, too — Richard Nixon famously lost the debates to John F. Kennedy’s healthier, more bronzed appearance on television. Two weeks before the debates, Nixon told Walter Cronkite, “I can shave within 30 seconds before I go on television and still have a beard.” His aids eventually gave him Lazy Shave, a pancake makeup for men who were too lazy to shave but needed to hide their stubble. Under the harsh studio lights, however, the pancake makeup melted off, making Nixon look pale and sick. These aesthetic impressions make lasting impacts on a candidate’s success in the elections — and for female candidates like Clinton, they come with a double-edged sword: she risks looking too dolled up and not being taken seriously, or looking not attractive enough to capture and sustain our attention.