There's more to the presidential campaign than the trade deficit, Social Security and arms control. Now there's the eyebrow issue.
Specifically, the blond brows of Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, whose usually pallid arches became national conversation pieces when they suddenly began to show up nicely in televised commercials and personal appearances. Some political pundits have even linked his rise in the Iowa caucus polls to his new brow appeal.
There was, of course, the question of aesthetics: How did the Democrat from Missouri suddenly have definition on his forehead? Does he resort to dyes, tints or brush-on powders? None of that, according to published reports. He uses a bit of pencil and only to counter the bright lights of television, which tend to "wash out" his upper face.
Image Makers and Analysts
American politics--peppered with fates linked to chickens, peanuts, personal valor, jutting jaws and holes in soles--now has the brow. Image makers and analysts aren't surprised, although some are a little dismayed.
John Weitz, menswear designer and author of "Man in Charge" ("my good-natured joust with executive vanity"), thinks Gephardt has made a mistake:
"I would fire anyone who said I looked all washed out. A candidate must be more than a creature of his media advisers. People may have complained he looks colorless, but you don't get to be colorful with makeup. If Gephardt has enough to say, I don't think it matters how he looks.
"Television has become a terrible chore for the candidates," he complains. "They see themselves as performers." This time around, however, Weitz is confident "there isn't any single visual thing that will win the election."
In Weitz's view, Dukakis has "an earnest face," but the two best-looking men in the race are former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV and Tennessee's Sen. Albert Gore Jr.
Illinois Sen. Paul Simon is "the most appealing, a dear man who harms his chances by wearing bow ties, which appear too professorial."
And the fact that Kansas Sen. Bob Dole wears his purple heart "is wonderful. He's a man who points out how badly wounded he was in the war and gives the impression he doesn't want to see others suffer the way he did."
Nance Mitchell, author and Beverly Hills skin-care specialist (her celebrity clientele includes Tom Selleck and Barry Goldwater Jr.), thinks Gephardt needs to change his technique.
"He should tint his brows, then he wouldn't have to fool around with a pencil all the time. And if he tinted his lashes, his eyes would show more," she says.
Rev. Jesse Jackson should consider tinting his brows too, according to Mitchell, but Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, on the other hand, is to be envied. "His are thick," marvels Mitchell, gazing at a page torn from a supermarket tabloid. "That's a look today. Thick is equated with youth."
Male politicians who frequent the Georgette Klinger salon in New York often request tinting and brow shaping (by tweezing, waxing or both), according to company President Katherine Klinger. She believes the specialized grooming brings an ego boost: "Well-defined brows give a man more confidence."
Chip Tolbert, the fair-haired, fair-skinned fashion director of the Men's Fashion Assn., sympathizes with Gephardt's plight. "I'm all in favor of darkening the brows and lashes. I've been doing it for 20 years. If I didn't, I'd look like a rabbit when I go on television."
At Ole Henriksen's Sunset Plaza salon, "50% of the men who come in have their eyebrows and lashes tinted," he calculates. The trend, growing steadily over the past five years, owes a debt to rock stars, "who, although extreme, have made it acceptable for men to do little things like that."
Henriksen uses vegetable dyes for clients, often lawyers and corporate chiefs, who share something in common with Gephardt: "They don't want to look washed out. They're in positions where they have to look strong, confident."
But it's doubtful the 1988 election will be won by brow alone.
"Height is extremely important," says Sheldon Kamieniecki, associate professor of political science at USC. "Americans as a population tend to admire height in both men and women. If you look at the record, many of our presidents have been tall. The best have been very tall."