IN AMERICA, WE SHY AWAY FROM ELECTING HAIRLESS LEADERS BUT IN OTHER COUNTRIES, NO SUCH SHYNESS EXISTS.
During the 2008 U.S. presidential election, several articles discussed the fact that no bald man has been elected to this nation’s highest office since Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Gerald Ford was certainly balding, but he was appointed, not elected.)
One assumes that as hair loss becomes more and more accepted in the United States, the pendulum will start to swing in the opposite direction and a greater number of the bare-pated brethren will be represented among national leaders.
In the meantime, we can look to other lands and other times to find leaders of a more receding nature. For example, there are quite a few contemporary world leaders who have experienced some form of hair loss. A short, and by no means complete, list would include:
- Felipe Calderon (president of Mexico)
- Nader al-Dahabi (prime minister of Jordan)
- Hamid Karzai (president of Afghanistan)
- Giorgio Napolitano (president of Italy)
- Karolos Papoulias (president of Greece)
- Shimon Peres (president of Israel)
- Rene Preval (president of Haiti)
- Thein Sein (prime minister of Myanmar)
- Manmohan Singh (prime minister of India)
- Herman Achille Van Rompuy (prime minister of Belgium)
The Ruskies are on the forefront of electing bald leaders
The current president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev, has a receding hairline but could probably be considered “haired,” but Steve Jones, a professor at University College in London, has noted something interesting about the leaders of Russia since the Communist revolution. Discounting Georgy Malenkov, who was merely an interim figure, the Russian leaders seem to have maintained a strict pattern of following a hairy leader with a hair loss leader, and vice versa.
This starts with the famously bald Vladimir Lenin in 1917, who was followed by the distinctly hairy Joseph Stalin. Then after the aforementioned Malenkov, we find Cold War icon Nikita Khrushchev, whose scalp must have welcomed those big, furry Russian hats during the winter. Leonid Brezhnev, definitely with hair, came next, then the balding Yuri Andropov, followed by hairy Konstantin Chernenko. Mikhail Gorbachev’s bare head was accentuated by a distinctive birthmark; if successor Boris Yeltsin also had one, his full head of hair covered it. Vladimir Putin squeaks in on the hair loss side; he had a fair amount of hair, but the top was definitely thinning. And Putin made way for today’s Medvedev, who, as previously stated, squeaks in on the follicled team.
Hairless leaders are nothing new, of course. Busts of the legendary Julius Caesar indicate that he was amply domed, and the historian Suetonius informs us that Julius sported a variation on the comb-over that might be called the “comb-forward.” Similarly, Caligula, the third Roman emperor, had a bald spot, a fact that is less well known than his purported bloodthirstiness and sexual insatiability.
Charles the Bald served as Holy Roman Emperor from 875 to 877 and before that as King of West Francia; with his descriptive appellation, he would seem to be an ideal candidate for this piece. Instead, many sources suggest that the name was ironic and that Charles was actually overly hirsute. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, however, and let him join our historical pageant of bald leaders.
England: Land of bald royals and prime ministers
England has had its share of hairless historical leaders. Henry I, for example, was basically forced by his religious advisers to shave his head. Henry IV suffered a severe lice infestation that eventually wreaked havoc with his follicles. Both Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, belong in this category; the former certainly shaved part of her forehead and, through shaving or natural means, eventually became bald, while the latter was discovered to be near bald when her wig was displaced after she was beheaded. Edward VII, who ushered in the Edwardian era of the early 20th century, also was somewhat lacking in coiffure.
British baldness wasn’t restricted to the royal lineage, however. At least three of the country’s most notable and influential prime ministers – William Gladstone, Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee – were, as the local tongue has it, “slapheaded.”
Not to be outdone by its rival across the channel, France offers up such worthy candidates as Louis VII (who sported a peach-fuzz monk look), Henry III and Louis XIII (both of whom lost their hair by trying remedies that were supposed to prevent hair loss but instead hastened it), and Louis XIV, who took to a new height the trend of wearing outrageous wigs (a trend started by his father). And Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte modeled himself on the earlier Emperor Julius Caesar by sporting a comb-forward hairdo.
The list goes on and on, of course. What would World War II have been without the hairless Benito Mussolini or Hideki Tojo ? The 20th-century history of India would be completely different without the bald leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandas Gandhi. The Middle East can count King Hussein of Jordan, Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt and Menachem Begin of Israel, among other hairless decision makers.
Historically, there has been no shortage of leaders whose hair challenges had no impact on their ability to meet the challenges of leadership. Will the United States learn from history and become more accepting of our pate-proud candidates? Stay tuned in 2012 and beyond to see.