History shows that a majority of women political leaders who’ve risen to power have had short hair. From Theresa May, who is currently in India, to Angela Merkel, women leaders sport neatly trimmed, no-nonsense bob cuts. The current US Democrat presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, too belongs to the powerful coterie of bob-sporting female politicians.
So, is the length of a woman’s hair inextricably linked to her success in traditionally male dominated spheres like politics and business?
In 2014, Fivethirtyeight featured a story on whether businesswomen with short hair enjoyed more success than women with conventionally long hair. The author wrote, “some studies have found that women with long hair are associated with ‘decreased forcefulness’ and seen as ‘high maintenance’, or that long hair on a woman can ‘signify reproductive potential’ (think maternity-leave discrimination at a job interview).” It has been suggested that women with short, easy-to-blowdry haircuts were less likely to be concerned about their looks and more likely to focus on the job at hand.
For the longest time, Clinton’s hair (which has a history of changing repeatedly) received significant media attention. As the first lady, she received considerable flak for continuously altering her look and spending enormous amounts of money on haircuts. Over the years, particularly after Clinton employed a personal hair stylist, talks concerning her hair have simmered down. Today, she wears a cut that neatly frames her face.
A majority of strong women leaders across history, unbounded by geography, have worn their hair short. In India, it was Indira Gandhi, the country’s first woman Prime Minister. Across the border, Pakistan’s first woman Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto also sported short hair, which was often hidden under her dupatta. United Kingdom’s ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher sported an intimidating back-combed look, which went well with the stern persona she exhibited. In recent years, Park Geun-hye, South Korea’s current President, along with Merkel, May and Clinton all have all have hair that wouldn’t dare fall below the shoulders.
The length of a woman’s hair it seems, implicitly conveys her ability to access and handle a powerful position. Popular television series, House of Cards seems to corroborate that notion. It’s the pixie-cut sporting Claire Underwood – the highly intelligent, strong-willed, power-hungry character – who stealthily climbs the political ladder and eventually takes the chair as President of the United States.
Universally, long tresses have been synonymous with beauty. In most cultures, hair that falls below the waist is considered “womanly”. In the political sphere however, history suggests that women who want to gain political clout tend to disassociate themselves with images relating to beauty in order to be taken more seriously. Short hair signifies less flimsiness, greater authority and far greater dependability. So, while there are a few exceptions like Ukraine’s former Prime Minister, Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko whose elaborately styled hair has inspired several YouTube tutorials – long locks aren’t very popular in the political domain.