Twenty-five years ago, if you told anyone you were consulting a feminist for advice on your appearance, that person would have stared at you for a minute and then burst out laughing. Back then, the feminist credo de-emphasized looks in an attempt to persuade the world that it's what's on the inside -- brains, heart, infections -- that you should pay attention to in people.
So while a feminist image-consultant might seem to be an oxymoron, stereotypes have shed faster than cat hair in recent decades. The feminist touch might be an idea whose time has come -- at least in one particular case.
Naomi Wolf is a feminist author -- a fine, insightful, likable and successful writer whose book "The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women" pointed out how women get suckered into media-created beauty standards that are ridiculous in real life. She's also a natural beauty with piercing eyes and a mane of hair that would make a Pantene model hiss (at least in the last picture I saw of her). So, while she's known for hacking away at standards of appearance, anyone in their right mind would look at her and be quick to say, "How do you get to be so attractive and what can I do to bring about the same for myself?" And who do you expect to be in his right mind at all times but Al Gore.
Sighs-ing him up
Gore, it turns out, took advice from Naomi on relaxing his image during last year's presidential campaign. She gave him tips on "losing the tie and trying to loosen his stiff style," according to the Associated Press. That advice was desperately needed, and we did see Gore become a more affable guy. He apparently thought it was good advice, too -- so good that he has now relaxed his image to the point where he looks warm and happy in that kind, professorial, "Here, take a copy of my book" kind of way. He did this by growing a beard, an act that has gotten more analysis than almost anything he did during the campaign (except -- sigh! -- all that sighing).
It's amazing how a little facial growth can change a guy's appearance ... not a goiter or a cold sore, just some distinguised fuzz. The beard softens Gore's sharp features, making him more approachable. As VP he came off as a little freeze-dried. He thawed some during the campaign, and now he looks like a guy who might nod off on the couch reading Time.
A day late and a state short, he has finally thrown a little Clinton earthiness into the act, though he didn't have trouble getting votes while clean-shaven. As columnist Maureen Dowd has pointed out repeatedly, Gore is The President of the United States.
Since he's such an important player, something as simple as forgetting to shave has raised his profile, our eyebrows and media questions: "Is the beard a clue as to his aspirations, or lack thereof, for another run in 2004?" I love it. It's like taking Vegas odds on what a kid's chances are of getting into Princeton now that she has traded her Scooby Doo backpack for a Harry Potter backpack.
How will the beard affect Gore's chances? Think of it this way: More people voted for him the first time, which means more people already want him to be president. Unless people become so stupid under Bush that they are fooled by the beard into thinking of Gore as Barry Gibb or Pavarotti, they're not likely to forget they liked him the first time.
Then there's the fact that he was elected but never installed, which enables him to claim the title without getting a chance to bungle official duties. He'll not piss people off over stem cells, bribe voters with ineffectual tax rebates or be seen in public wearing stupid father and son presidential ball caps.
No bong show
As long as Gore is never photographed with the beard while there is a curly fry or a bong ash or an intern's phone number in the picture, it shouldn't be a problem. Since we're talking about Al Gore here, no sweat.
In three years the beard will probably be looked at as a phase, like Oprah's liquid diet or Woody Allen's "Interiors." If Gore stays scandal-free, lives a nice private- sector life and beats up Ralph Nader spontaneously at some party they both attend, he's a shoe-in. He could win so plainly next time that even Katherine Harris will have to admit it.
Funny, though, no one has even considered the possibility that, since he's being reclusive, Gore's beard might be a fake -- the kind that usually has a plastic nose and glasses attached. Maybe he was trying to go incognito and just stunk at it.
It doesn't seem likely. But how do you think that possibility will impact his chances in 2016?