Bernie Sanders’s Hair Is a Media Magnet

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks to the media about his agenda in running for president, Thursday, April 30, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Here is a picture of Sanders with his hair mostly hidden so you can focus on the important things without being distracted. Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/AP/Corbis

There are lots of words that unfailingly get appended to Senator Bernie Sanders’s name, some of which are very useful for summing up his character and policy preferences. He is cranky. He is grumpy. He is a socialist. 

However, these attributes are not the 2016 presidential candidate’s most compelling feature, according to the many stories that have been written about him over the years. The thing you must understand to truly understand Bernie Sanders is his hair. It has been described as a “shock,” a “wisp,” “flyaway,” and ” free-for-all frizz.” It is worshipped as a synecdoche for Bernie Sanders, and journalists have devoted pages of print to trying to perfectly capture its essence in mere words. 

It may sound strange, but the press definitely obsesses more about Sanders’s physical appearance than any other candidate currently in the race. (I, too, have fallen victim to the magical anti-gravity nature of Sanders’s mane in stories.) Does this mean that the senator who raised $3 million in the first few days of his campaign isn’t being taken seriously? Does having an iconic hairdo that is frequently mentioned in the press help one’s poll numbers? Who knows! 

Below, explore the findings of Daily Intelligencer’s fourth investigation into the words people unfailingly use to describe 2016 candidates, in an effort to retire them from campaign coverage forever — or at least inspire people to learn something new about the people eager to run the country.

Seven Days, May 2015

Forget for a moment the hair, the accent and the socialist inclinations — about which volumes have already been written.

WBUR, May 2015

And there in the middle of the room stands 73-year-old U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, with his usual rumpled white hair, delivering a 30 minute speech about progressive politics.

Daily Hampshire Gazette, May 2015

The 2016 election is a year and a half away and we shall carefully consider the range of candidates, Democrat, Republican and independent. There will be important discussions of health care, climate change, foreign policy, tax rates and who’s got the nicest hair. (Hint: It’s not Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.)

The Telegraph, April 2015

Bernie Sanders, a 73-year-old senator with a tangle of white hair, kicked off his long-shot presidential campaign with a promise to tackle the “obscene” gap between rich and poor in the US.

Vox, April 2015

Wearing a charcoal suit as disordered as the white hair encircling his head, and flanked by just two aides as he walked to the podium, Vermont independent Bernie Sanders laid out his motivation for seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination Thursday before an audience of about 100 reporters, camera operators, aides, and onlookers (including one man who wore a hemp ballcap).

U.S. News & World Report, April 2015

First, there’s the appearance … the wispy white hair split by a shiny cranium. And the trademark glasses, which do little to hide a face that usually looks either mildly irked or unimpressed.

Roll Call, April 2015

Just steps outside the Capitol, with a wisp of white hair atop his head waving in the wind, Sanders delivered brief remarks to the assembled crowd of reporters, cameramen and a few supporters or bystanders.

New York Magazine, April 2015

Three minutes after noon, he exited the Senate, his shaggy white hair blowing around in the wind, and made his way toward the assembled press.

The Washington Post, April 2015

Bernie Sanders has amazing hair.

The Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, April 2015

Meet Bernie Bear! He’s just announced his run fur president and is ready to hit the campaign trail. A passionate, blunt speaker; he’ll quickly tell you, “I am not a circus Bear, I am not a dancing Bear, I am not a toy Bear.” Arrives wearing a gray suit, white shirt, blue tie, glasses, campaign pin and iconic unruly hair.

The Huffington Post, April 2015

The major issue is how do we create an economy that works for all of our people rather than a small number of billionaires,” Sanders said in a press conference, as strands of his hair blew in the breeze.

CNN, April 2015

He has come to be known as much for his fly-away hair as his passionate speeches in the Senate – and has bluntly lamented the way political journalism in the United States focuses on personality

The Christian Science Monitor, February 2015

His shock of white hair and often-rumpled appearance contrast sharply with the trim and energetic put-togetherness of Senator Warren - but they certainly read from the same political page.

The Toronto Star, February 2015

White hair askew, suit jacket creased, Sanders, a 73-year-old whose Brooklyn accent occasionally turns Obama into “Obamer,” looks and sounds the part of doomsday prophet.

The Washington Post, January 2015

It’s just 9 a.m., but the socialist senator, contemplating a presidential run as a Democrat or as a populist independent, is red in the face and his white hair askew.

Time magazine, January 2015

So Sanders, his hair always mussed, his Brooklyn accent unfaded, faces a choice, to fight on with his hat in the ring or from the safety of the Senate floor. 

The Washington Post, August 2014 (full disclosure: I wrote this one)

Although reporters have always been enamored of his hair — which starts to resemble Charlton Heston parting a sea when Sanders begins passionately speaking about income inequality or Social Security — and his gruff unwillingness to tell anecdotes lest you write about his personality rather than his policies, his political ambitions are rarely taken seriously.

The Washington Post, November 2006

Bernie’s curly hair used to take off in semi-random directions, a perfect accompaniment to his rhetorical flights. Now the curls scallop around the base of a balding pate.

The Associated Press, September 2007

The shock of unruly snow-white hair? It seems … tamer.

The New York Times, January 2007

The newly elected senator whipped his head forward with a force that shifted his free-for-all frizz of white hair over his forehead. (Journalistic convention in Vermont mandates that every Sanders story remark on his unruly hair as early on as possible. It also stipulates that every piece of his clothing be described as “rumpled.”)