WASHINGTON – Power. Intelligence. Charisma.
While politicians are often stereotyped as charmers with better-than- average looks and campaign-commercial smiles, a survey of congressional photos reveals the shocking truth. They are just as bald as the rest of us.
Photos of each member of Congress reveal that 38 percent of the men are losing their hair — that is, they are bald or have a receding hairline.
The American Hair Loss Council estimates that about the same portion of American men, almost 40 percent, experiences some degree of hair loss, whether it be a mildly receding hairline or total baldness.
The council says that 22 percent of American women have to deal with thinning hair. Women in Congress are doing much better than average — none of them show the problem of thinning hair in their press photos.
“Based on the biblical example of Sampson … the problem in Congress is that we don’t have enough people with long enough tresses to give them the strength,” said Indianapolis Star congressional reporter George Stuteville.
“On the other hand, it appears that far too many of them are already equipped with the jawbone of an ass,” he added.
The decidedly non-scientific Capital News Service method for compiling statistics on Congress’ (lack of) hair was to look at photos that members sent to “A Guide to the 106th Congress,” which is published by the LTV Corp.
From those photos, each member was judged as having either “full” hair, which was no visible loss; “receding” hair, which was thinning at the temples or forehead; or “bald,” which was hairless enough that the entire top of the head is visible.
Results could be skewed, of course, by members who wear toupees, who had hair transplants or who submitted very out-of-date photographs.
“Admittedly, some of them like the older photographs,” said Lynn Brzezinski, an office manager at LTV, who said the company will “basically take whatever they send us.”
Of 538 members — one seat is empty and no photo could be found for another — 333 have full heads of hair, 177 have receding hairlines and 28 are bald.
Republicans hold a slight advantage — 173 members of the GOP still have all their hair, but only 160 Democrats have full manes.
Certain states do better in the hair-endowment area. All 11 members of Missouri’s delegation sport full heads of hair, as did 10 of Indiana’s 12 members, 20 of Florida’s 25 members, 40 of California’s 54 members and 22 of New York’s 33 members.
Stuteville defended Indiana’s delegation: One of the 12 who was listed as thinning just has a high forehead, he said.
While image is important to lawmakers, lying about hair loss or trying to cover it up is a bad idea, said media consultant Kim Alfano, of Alfano/Fremont- Smith. She said she would never advise a client to wear a toupee or to color his hair.
“They’re not actors … that’s cheesy,” Alfano said.
She said a politician is more likely to lose an election “because they try to cover it up and they’re not honest about it.”
Few on Capitol Hill put so much importance on hair to think that a ‘do’ can make or break a candidate, said one former Hill staffer. But jokes about who has good hair and who has bad hair abound. Talk swirls around the Capitol about members with “too much hair,” members with “shellacked” hair and members known as “chair of the comb-over caucus.”
One former campaign manager said a candidate’s hair is definitely discussed during a race. “I’ve only worked for people who have had great hair and they are definitely saying, ‘Show it off,'” she said.
Politicos and their aides are not the only ones who take note of the hair factor.
“I remember back in the early ’80s a lot of them had the blow-dry look, almost like they were TV anchors,” said Scott Shepard, a political reporter in Cox Newspapers’ Washington bureau. “You don’t see that as much now, it’s a more natural look, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t as concerned with it.”
Certain members are definitely concerned. One Republican staffer noted that while televised news conferences are a good way to get your boss exposure, choosing the location can be tricky.
“We were scheduled to have a press conference with another member … and we had reserved an outside location,” said the staffer, who asked not to be named. “Their staff called back in a panic and was saying, ‘What if it’s windy? What if it’s windy?’ I guess they had some comb-over concerns.”
Worrying about the boss’ appearance seems to go with the territory for Hill staffers.
One senator was getting his picture taken for a feature article when “right in the middle of the interview, his press secretary came over and started combing his hair,” said Shepard. “I didn’t know that was in the job description of a press secretary.”
The Congressional Barber Shop, which estimated that 75 percent of members get haircuts there, reports that “not too many are bald, not too many do comb- overs, and maybe only one has a hairpiece right now.”
But the Republican staffer said the number of toupees is definitely higher than one. “If the Congressional Barber Shop says that only one member wears a toupee — obviously the rest of them don’t go there,” she said.
What’s important is not the amount of hair, said Alfano, but being straightforward about it.
“I use the same rule for my clients as I do for the people I date,” she said. “You have to be honest and up-front about it and I have to know what I am getting into.”