Michele Bachmann returned to Waterloo, Iowa, yesterday to announce her candidacy for the presidency of the United States. She botched a fact or two noting that John Wayne was from Waterloo when he apparently grew up instead in Winterset. But both begin with “w” so no big deal. She was coifed impeccably and dressed in a soft silvery gray jacket, single buttoned, three pocketed with a matching sheath. Pearls wound round her wrist and sat subtly on each ear lobe. With the requisite flag pin on her lapel, the one who was once considered a back-up singer in Sarah Palin’s big band has now Lady Gaga’ed her way to center stage.
A few states away, in Houston, Texas, Gabrielle showed up at her first public appearance since January 8th to attend a ceremony at Space Center in Houston where Mark was being awarded a Spaceflight Medal. She sat in the audience, laughing, chatting and proud. Web reports described her hair as “very short” – shorter even then the photo that was released a few weeks back, which was taken just before her last surgery. She wore glasses, a beige scarf, light shirt, jeans and sneakers.
When I first began working for Gabrielle, way back in 2007, she still had brown hair that hung just below her shoulders. Although she never appeared in public with her glasses on, she was far more interested in issues, the people around her and the wonkish intricacies of government than in what she was wearing. She had an informal advisor or two who helped her with her look and lured her away from her Western garb toward the requisite suits and low heels that are de rigueur in Washington, D.C.
Over the next few years, Gabrielle’s style and look transformed into more Vogue than Arizona Highways. On the day she was shot, she sported beautifully styled blonde locks, a bright red jacket and pantyhose - a piece of clothing that was never her first choice. She had morphed in just a few years in office to a camera-ready blonde beauty whose external shimmer did nothing to diminish her brilliant, wonkish and wonderful self.
I love that she is going public with her new look. I applaud her courage, in this image-hungry world, that she is venturing out in public nearly bald, wearing glasses and sneakers; and still she inspires. And I hate that I ascribe “courage” to the simple act of going outside looking like a normal human being.
For too long, women in public office have had to be a zillion times smarter than their male counterparts and also manage to bear up in public under intense scrutiny of hair, dress length, sense of style and shade of lipstick. Sarah Palin has changed the equation a bit, and we all need to thank her for that. She is still babeilicious but not so concerned about facts and IQ. Bachmann, who is obviously smart and did make a good showing in the first Republican debate, nonetheless does not strike one as overly obsessed with remaining silent until every fact is firmly in place.
Each of these women in her own way is opening up new vistas for all females. Somewhere in between the spectrum of beautiful-but-not bookish and bald-and-brilliant, perhaps we can create a new space in the cultural milieu where women are accepted in public for being fully flawed and human. In this new place, I imagine a much wider range of females will make it to the top – some brilliant, some plain, some street smart and instinctual, but all modeling female leadership that fits comfortably within a much wider zoom of the camera’s eye.