Remember when Hillary Clinton was seen as dowdy and wonky, standing by her man? Things have changed. No longer are there the ugly '80s-'90s era pantsuits (yeah, they were ugly)—the 2012 pantsuits, when they are pantsuits, are of a decidedly more chic variety. Along with the fashion changes, the new Clinton is more free, going out and having fun, even drinking beer, while at the same time, getting the job done. And not just any job, the job of Secretary of State.
The most recent addition in this storyline on the newly cool, frankly awesome Clinton involves her pitch-perfect response to a photo of herself posted on The Drudge Report, along with the headline "Hillary Au Naturale," Monday. In the photo taken by the AP during her visit to Bangladesh last Saturday, she appears to be wearing no makeup, though she does sport dark-framed, square-ish glasses and a dash of red lipstick. If anything, her look is pretty 2012, with a certain hipster vibe in keeping with Clinton's burgeoning cool cred. But we're not used to seeing our lady politicians that way, so casually uncoiffed, their wrinkles and freckles visible, like... Well, like real human women. Because that's the thing, right? As we rail on magazines and websites and advertisements for photoshopping women into oblivion, we're still more comfortable seeing fake images of women, without acknowledging they're fake. Instead, each time we look at a prettier/better/more perfect image of what we are supposed to be or or aspire to be, we think to ourselves, "Oh, she is better than I am." It's hard not to.
Hillary standing up and having her photo taken without a layer of pancake makeup between her and the lens, smiling, looking normal...this is a huge coup. Anyone criticizing it, or commenting that she looks like she needs a rest, is quite woefully missing the point. Would a man be asked, or mocked, about something like this? And, actually, doesn't Hillary look far better than the typical male politician at her—or any—age? She is 64. Even as we shouldn't be concerned about her appearance, she looks great!
Obviously, a double standard continues to exist in our expectations of looks from female and male politicians. Photos of a grey-haired or wrinkly Obama are more frequently used as a show of his accomplishments and the toll of the White House than they are to call for the president to get some beauty rest. That double standard of looks and age is not only true for politicians, it's true for civilians, too, which means we should be all the more committed to appreciating when women refuse to be defined in that way.
As Suzi Parker wrote in the Washington Post's She The People blog, "it’s refreshing to see Hillary fresh-faced. She looked like a schoolgirl in the picture – the Hillary from her granola college days at Wellesley. It was the look that won her few fans back in Arkansas in her days as the state’s first lady. After all, Southern women love their makeup, and Hillary wore little. As Hillary prepares to exit the high-wire of politics, are we finally seeing the real woman? It seems so."
Beyond the photo itself, there's Hillary's fantastic response. In an interview with CNN's Jill Dougherty Tuesday, via Politico, she said that worrying about stuff like how she looks when she's actually, you know, busy being the Secretary of State, is pretty silly. Clinton adds, with refreshing devil-may-care élan:
“I feel so relieved to be at the stage I'm at in my life right now, Jill, because if I want to wear my glasses, I'm wearing my glasses.”
“If I want to pull my hair back, I'm pulling my hair back. At some point it's just not something that deserves a whole lot of time and attention. If others want to worry about it, I'll let them do the worrying for a change.”
This new matter-of-fact look and attitude seems to be working well for Clinton. Along with being touted as suddenly cool and meme-worthy, she's engendering talk of how she's gone from divisive, disliked by many, to almost overwhelmingly adored. As Brian Montopoli writes in a piece for CBS News, "What a difference two decades makes." Those 20 years have turned perceived liabilities into strengths, which is both tribute to Clinton and to the ways we've progressed overall in politics and society. Clinton has denied wanting to run for president in 2016, saying that she hopes she'll see the first woman president elected in the U.S. in her lifetime, but that it won't be her. Regardless of that, she's looking good. And we're not talking about her looks.