Shiny and groomed, with no hangnails in sight, these were the nails of a recently manicured man. “I allow myself an occasional manicure,” he says. “I had one yesterday, in the bowels of the Cannon Building.”
Politicians like Boehlert like to pass themselves off as too busy for such mundane things as manicures and haircuts and massages. But Boehlert’s manner is different from the typical brush-off (so to speak) when questions such as these are asked. His attitude is not, let me show you how much time I devote to pampering myself, or let me tell you about all the time I don’t have to take care of basic grooming. But it is the sense that he has broken out of the chaotically insane congressional schedule for 20 minutes to do something — anything — for himself.
Like many lawmakers interviewed for this article, Boehlert has no idea that the following day is World Beauty Day, an event in which rows and rows of beauty stations are set up in the Cannon Building for members and their staffs to be coiffed, shined and polished for free. This means free haircuts by top hairdressers such as Andre Chreky, manicures, flat-ironing treatments, eyebrow tweezing and facials. It also involves receiving star-like freebies such as miniature bottles of fancy shampoos, conditioners, hairsprays and nail polish.
“If we can make them look better, it’s nice,” Chreky says. “It can make a difference. It’s very rewarding to help people feel better.”
In a moment of brutal self honesty, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) leans over to reveal some dark roots in her otherwise blond hair. “I’m not participating, but God knows it’s not because I don’t need it,” she says. “I should do it more, but who’s got the time?
“I need some serious work in pampering myself, and I don’t do it enough. I do have a coloring appointment the week I am home.”
In the coming months, Washington, D.C., one of the most uptight cities in the nation, will have five new style magazines. Lawmakers’ admitting to manicures or any form of self-grooming is rare, but, with vanity taking a front seat in both Hollywood and Washington and more and more politicians going to greater lengths to make sure they look good, a new trend appears to be on the horizon — politicians and their aides’ pampering themselves with greater abandon, even pride.
Rep. Henry Brown (R-S.C.) shows up to World Beauty Day in Cannon, his longish white mane getting chopped while he answers a few questions. He says he came to the event to chat with small-business owners. He also admits that his own barber is only open Tuesday through Saturday.
“Could you take a little bit off the sides?” he asks his hairdresser of the day, a woman named Teresa, who was dispatched to the Cannon Building from a J.C. Penney salon in Culpeper, Va. Teresa has already cut some of Brown’s hair, but the lawmaker, looking in a hand mirror, is apparently not yet satisfied.
Brown, who has never had a manicure, says he receives shoulder massages on occasion and a haircut every three weeks. “I like to keep it trim,” he says. “Like I told this nice lady, I like to get a haircut that looks like I haven’t had a haircut.”
The South Carolina congressman says it’s important to look good: “I represent the coast of South Carolina. It’s good to look the best you can.”
Like Brown, Delores Dunn, an aide on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, also shows up to World Beauty Day with an unabashed desire to improve her appearance. In the throes of a midlife crisis, Dunn is getting her eyebrows waxed by Azi Niroo, a tweezing specialist at the Andre Chreky salon.
“I’ve never done my brows in my whole life,” Dunn says excitedly. “I’ve been looking for something to make me look younger and feel younger. It’s been something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”
“Brow sculpting is about precision and definition,” says Niroo, who does not believe in waxing. She has seen many congressional staffers in her chair who have no brow-grooming skills whatsoever, misplaced arches or brows that are simply overdone.
There was a time when politicians groomed themselves without shame, but Washington insiders know it sometimes comes with a price called ridicule.
Former Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.) was called “Mr. Blowdry” for his well-coiffed, thick head of brown hair flecked with gray. Not that it was a hard leap to imagine Condit spending extra time in front of the mirror each morning, but why begrudge the guy for having good hair, or, for that matter, hair at all?
The accusation behind the nickname was clear: It wasn’t so much that Condit spent too much time on his hair; rather, he spent too much time focused on how he looked. In the end, coupled with his romantic relationship with Chandra Levy, a Washington intern who was reported missing and later turned up dead in Rock Creek Park, forget his hair — the nickname made the married lawmaker appear vain and shallow.
There will always be lawmakers who play down the amount of pampering they do, regardless of how polished they look. When asked about his pampering routine, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) replies, “I don’t even know what that means. It sounds slightly erotic. Pampered? I’ve hardly eaten in a few days.”
Weiner admits that he gets a massage once a year and has his hair cut with great frequency — every two weeks. “It’s hardly a pampering experience,” he says of the haircut. “It’s a Russian guy in my neighborhood.”
The paradox of being a lawmaker is that voters want their politicians to look good, but not so good that their hair never moves or that their smiles are fake and frozen to their faces.
“You think we have to look good?” Weiner jokes. “Have you seen some of these people?”