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Is Justin Trudeau dyeing his hair? What does it mean for him if he is?


As voters amble to the polls in Canada, it’s clear one of the questions that will be answered when we emerge from the fallout is this: will we, or won’t be, be along for Justin Trudeau’s hair journey for another four years?

As this present national election treads along, the Liberal Leader’s tresses — long a talking point — have seen, at times, to get inkier — a visual feat brought particularly home during the English-language leaders debate a couple weeks back. A contrast to the lush chestnut shade that made up a big part of the JT persona in 2015 — in part, why he was dubbed the “hair apparent” by The Economist then — the darker, shorter lid lit up some quarters of the Twittersphere, with some meanies quickly labelling it a “helmet,” and others chafing that “Trudeau’s hair dye clearly won the debate.”

The creak of middle age. The Trudeau-not-as-advertised on the Conservatives’ dartboard. The reverse-sexism of men colouring their hair, vis-à-vis women of a similar vintage (where it is almost expected, particularly if they are in the public eye!). You could read all of it into his coif — done by his longtime stylist, Stefania Capovilla, who once bragged that Justin’s hair “thick and wavy but not frizzy.”

If anything, it made for a circle-back moment for Trudeau, who turns 48 in December and seems to have taken to heart the follicular counsel that Barack Obama offered during a congratulatory call made when he first won power. “I indicated to him that if, in fact, you plan to keep your dark hair, then you have to start dyeing it early,” the then-president later shared.

“You hit a certain point,” Obama added, when “it’s too late. You’ll be caught.” (Obama, as we all know, went increasingly salt-and-pepper during his own two terms in office.)

George Clooney, the patron saint of silver foxes by any measure, has mused on that other path — the one of less resistance. “I’m a big believer in the idea that you can’t try to look younger,” he once explained during an interview on BBC Radio. “You just have to look the best you can at the age you are and not worry about it.

“For me, it’s never been an issue or an option,” he went on, “on men I don’t think it really works. I think it actually makes you look older.”

The manly hair divide? It can plausibly be seen as a bifurcated choice between the Clooneys and Cruises. Expect Tom to look as eerily boyish as ever when he returns in the “Top Gun” sequel next year, some three decades after the first movie. Bottom line: as his leading ladies have gotten younger, his hair has remained Mission Possible. This, even though the leading man is some six years older today than Wilford Brimley was when he played the grizzled grandpa in 1985’s “Cocoon.”

That comparison of Brimley and Cruise is often made, with a writer in the New Yorker once zeroing on a contrast between the former’s premature fogeydom and the latter’s eternal youthfulness: “It also highlights how the mores, signifiers, and very science of aging have changed — that sixty is the new fifty, which is the new forty, and so on.” (And no, it is not Xenu, alien despot from Scientology texts, that keeps Cruise taut and slick. More like the holy trinity of Botox, fillers, diet, and exercise, plus a hair regime that reportedly involves every strand of hair being coloured individually!)

More recently, alas, the grey brigade boasted its latest convert when Paul McCartney recently stopped dyeing his hair — locks which have ranged from Fergie red to burnt cocoa over time. It was a phase that lasted 30 years, but at 76, it finally happened: the Beatle discovered his inner silver fox. Hallelujah! So went much of the response.

The gender dimension to dyeing has always struck me as interesting. For women, it is de rigueur, nay customary, for women to vanquish all traces of grey and white — this despite high-profile outliers like Christine Lagarde and Helen Mirren. Just consider that not one of the 15 women listed among the Fortune 500 female CEOs had grey hair, according to a Time magazine article a while back! With men it is significantly more complicated. Vain. Effete. Insecure. Those are the jabs thrown at the man who rigs his roots.

So it has been essentially since the 1950s when dyeing became commonplace, and when Clairol changed it all with their notorious mid-century ad campaign — “Does she or doesn’t she?” Women never looked back. Or as Nora Ephron put it in the driest terms in her book “I Feel Bad About My Neck”: “There’s a reason why 40, 50 and 60 don’t look the way they used to, and it’s not because of feminism, or better living through exercise. It’s because of hair dye.”

Meanwhile, for men, as has been the case for thousands of years, and as psychologist Vivian Diller has written, “value was based on having strength and power. A little salt — or even totally white hair — was not, nor still isn’t necessarily, associated with loss of that role. In fact, white hair was thought to mean greater hardiness, the ability to survive long enough to attain greater wisdom and increased power — think white wigs on our founding fathers.”

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For a new generation of blokes, though, the taboo is somewhat dimming, with sales of hair dye increasing (as are the rates of male plastic surgery!) Nonetheless, the first rule of Dye Club seems to be the same one as the one about Fight Club: don’t talk about it.

Hair norms. Hair fuss. For Trudeau, like with so many others, it remains a brush with much symbolism.

Shinan Govani is a Toronto-based freelance contributing columnist covering culture and society. Follow him on Twitter: @shinangovani



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