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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Political Cost of Hair

It’s fair to say hair is not just some stringy stuff on the top of our heads.

According to Grant McCracken, an anthropologist and author of “Big Hair,” our hair is “our court of deliberation, the place where we contemplate who and what we are.”

It is visible, accessible, gender-freighted. It has associations with sex, punishment, class and power. It is probably not happenstance that the United States has not elected a bald president since Dwight D. Eisenhower left office in 1961.

When it comes to politics, to care too much about hair, to spend too much on it, makes one seen as superficial and vain; focused on yourself at the expense (literally sometimes) of taxpayers. Ignore it and you are sloppy and lack attention to detail. Men have traditionally used their ability to get inexpensive barber-trims as bragging rights and something of a badge of honor. In the Washington Times story, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions is lauded for the fact he got his cuts at the Senate Hair Care Services in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building for a mere $20 — though it is acknowledged that “men’s haircuts there and everywhere else are cheaper than women’s.” In turn, women have often complained about a double standard in price and scrutiny.

This has only become more true in the age of Instagram, and during a White House administration where hair has played an outsize symbolic role, from the glossy, blow-dried locks of pretty much all the women in the Trump orbit (the first lady, Tiffany Trump, Vanessa Trump, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Hope Hicks — and Ivanka before the bob) to the orange-hued and complicated comb-over worn by the president himself.

People joke about it, but no one forgets it.

Fact is, we’re talking about hair more than ever these days, not less. All of which suggests that, whether we like it or not, when it comes to politics (as when it comes to a lot of life), a trim is rarely just a trim. It’s a weapon, and a tool. If we don’t admit that and wield it ourselves — with humor, ideally — then someone else will.

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