Columns » Autumn Tolbert

Forget the hairdo



My 4-year-old daughter loves makeup. She is seriously obsessed. She sneaks into my bathroom and reappears with lipstick on her eyebrows, cheeks and all over her hands and tells she just put on "a little bit." A few weeks ago, she said something new: "Don't wear too much make-up or else the boys will get the wrong idea." Shocked, I asked her who told her that. She answered that it was a line in a Disney movie she recently watched. I explained to her that as she grew up, she could wear as much or as little make-up as she wanted and no one would care, but even as I told her, I knew it wasn't true. She will be judged on her makeup, hair and clothes, especially if she goes into politics.

As the 2018 races begin to heat up, we see more and more women running for office. And as more women run, we will see more of the seemingly endless critiques of their appearances. I could change the line to, "Don't wear too much makeup or else the voters will get the wrong idea." Or don't wear too short a skirt or too long a skirt or too much black or too much color or too high a heel or too low a heel. No matter what a woman wears, someone will judge her on her appearance first and her accomplishments and policies second.

Earlier this year, Bill O'Reilly (good riddance) criticized Maxine Waters' hair. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is referred to as "plain." When Hillary Clinton appeared late last year for a speech with no makeup on, more attention was paid to her face than to her words. In Arkansas, I've heard criticism of Justice Courtney Goodson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge for having blonde hair, as if somehow hair color affects their policies and decisions. I hope Maureen Skinner, who is running for Sen. Jason Rapert's seat, has thick skin, as there will be those who come after her hair and clothing instead of critiquing her for her politics. I often wonder how many women choose not to run for office for this very reason.

I admit that I'm guilty. When I saw the photo of Ted Nugent, Kid Rock and Sarah Palin in the Oval Office last week, I snickered at Palin's choice of outfit. Shame on me, as I, like all of us, have worn something that others would consider too youthful or too casual or too dressy or too ill-fitting. Choosing the right outfit every single day can be a chore. I understand why Clinton goes with a uniform of solid pantsuits and why Merkel sports her no-nonsense haircut.

Yes, men in politics hear it, too, but it is not as widespread. I don't believe I've ever heard any talk of Vice President Mike Pence's choice of footwear or Governor Hutchinson's hairstyle. Most of the talk of appearances centers around Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Donald Trump, with Trudeau recently having more attention paid to his looks and rear end than his support of the Keystone Pipeline. Those who constantly ridicule Trump's appearance undermine the real criticisms of his extremist policies. Let's make a pact. As we move closer to the election, let's call out and try to end the appearance-based criticism of both men and women. With social media and the constant flow of information, it is easy to find a policy position or voting record to praise or criticize. Let's leave appearances out of it. We are all just doing the best we can with what we have. Let's give our candidates and politicians a break on the things that don't matter and hold them accountable on the things that do.

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