Hillary’s No-Makeup Face As Rorschach Test

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Hillary Clinton.Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images

We shouldn’t be talking about Hillary’s face. The act of mentioning her hair (yet again) is like adding insult to injury after all she’s been through. But we’ve been studying that face for so long, and this shift is so significant — like when she ditched her glasses and cut her hair and took her husband’s name back in the early ’80s. Now, with her bare-faced post-election look, Hillary Clinton is once again a perfect societal inkblot.

Do you see Hillary’s bare face as a grim admission that she’s been striving too hard on the trail, or do you see her choice to forsake hairspray as a cathartic fuck-you to the whole damn operation of being a woman in the public eye? Are her puffy under-eyes an exhibition of grief or, as one callous article suggested, a ploy to stoke our sympathies? Did she send her hair-and-makeup team home or just decide (like a few other celebrities) that she was done living a lie? Maybe she was worried about crying. I know I’ve been avoiding eye makeup since the election for that reason.

It’s impossible to know what Hillary has been thinking these last few times she’s stepped out the door seemingly with little primping, but how you interpret her no-makeup face likely says more about you than her. Where her supporters see liberation and resolve, her critics see depression and defeat. Some female voters are simply saddened to see Hillary like this.

“She’s mourning,” says Joan, a 56-year-old painter from Brooklyn. “But she needs to get it back together soon because it’s not good to let this go on for too long.”

“You can’t look at that face and not feel deeply moved by all of this. Whether you like her or you hate her. There’s beaten, and then there’s no-makeup beaten,” says Sharron, a woman of 68. “She’d been looking so terrific. It’s hard to see her just stop.”

She did look terrific during the campaign. She appeared fresh, stately, coifed. Her hair was dyed a blondish shade that could almost be gray but was better than that. Her clothes were serious, but not too matronly.

I happen to love HRC’s choice to let us see how tired she must be after months of trying to make America like and trust her. She looks like I feel: over trying to be presentable under the klieg lights of a world that didn’t value her. There is no shade of foundation that can cover the disappointment. Every one of her wrinkles feels like truth. As my friend Anna put it, “This has taken a toll — on her face. Why pretend otherwise?”

To me, her plain new look feels like the authentic version of her. She can finally stop pretending that she cares about what we think of her appearance. Because despite all the cheerful vintage photos we enjoyed posting on social media, Hillary as a “style icon” always felt like something that was forced on her. Her hair may have looked great parted in the middle with her ’60s flare pants, but that was never the point.

There was a previous era in which Clinton embraced the DGAF attitude of a woman with other things to worry about than makeup. “She never looked happier than in her muumuu years,” Rachel, a Hillary supporter in her 30s told me, referring to Hillary’s time as secretary of State. “I just want to see her return to that.” Indeed, in photos from those years she looks like she didn’t have time to exercise or worry about tailoring her pantsuits, because she was busy doing work that she loved.

Obviously, liking lipstick doesn’t disqualify us from participating in feminism or having a career — and it certainly doesn’t distract us from our work or the important issues of the day, as I’m sure some Breitbart columnist is preparing to suggest at any moment. But there is no denying the power and freedom in rejecting vanity.

Every day of the campaign, Hillary painted on a mask meant to obscure strain and effort, to give an appearance of unending, superhuman stamina. Now that’s been replaced by real stamina — the kind that makes you walk out the door and face the world without a lick of mascara.