If critics call her a shape-shifter, this does not bother her. “I hope I’m not the same person, because I really do believe in this American sense that there’s value in learning and growing,” she tells me. “There’s a core that is the same, there is a kind of blueprint to our personality. But it’s almost like a honing process: There is like a sandpaper that happens. And not just because we’re being sandpapered by life. A conscious sandpaper, where I’m consciously working on my flaws, on not being as reactive, not being as impatient.”
The night before, Huffington had appeared at a slightly peculiar stop on her book tour: a Junior League gathering at All Souls Church on the Upper East Side, blocks away from the apartment she stayed at during her wild New York years, on 66th Street near Lexington. It was hard to tell if this would be her crowd. She began with a Bush joke and then noted that this would be the last political thing she said all evening. Then she proceeded to knock them dead. She shucked her cinnamon-colored sweater to reveal a creamy sleeveless top, and as she spoke—espousing fearlessness in sex, fearlessness in parenting, fearlessness in leadership—she extended her long arms and elegant tapered fingers for emphasis. She talked about women and power and the need to get past the anxiety of being ridiculed. “The reason I’m here tonight is because a man wouldn’t marry me,” she said to a burst of laughter.
At the book signing that followed, a leggy blonde came up to tell her, “I love a woman who can keep talking even when all the male pundits talk over her. You inspire me to keep talking when I have something to say.”
And maybe that’s the secret to Huffington’s charisma, her ability to walk through the most flaming wall of rhetoric with her smile intact. For some, her latest turn as a self-help guru may seem suspect: Can anyone so unsubtle, so unafraid of cliché, be for real? But the women who approach Huffington for her signature (“Sign it ‘to a Red State Republican!’ ”) seem truly inspired by her myth of personal transformation. This may be her most radicalizing influence as an opinion-maker and role model: the undeniable appeal of someone who is perpetually unafraid of being the tallest girl in the room.