Hair Watch: The Wussy Part

One of the best articles about hair politics I’ve read was a New Yorker Talk of the Town piece, “Al Gore’s Hair Problem,” which came out shortly after the 2000 election. In short, the article claimed that men who part their hair on the right are seen as wussies”right-brain, guy-sensitive, talkative, and soft.” A left sided part, on the other hand, makes a man appear “left-brain, guy-forceful, logical, and gruff.” In other words, “Right part, zero; left part, hero.” Therefore, the article posits, Gore lost the election because he parts his hair on the right, while Bush is a strong, alfa-male left-sider. Similarly, Clinton, a lefty, was widely popular, and Carter, a righty while in office, only began to rehabilitate his legacy when switched his part to the left in 1979.

So, what does this mean for the current election? Kerry and Bush both part on the lefta wash. Cheney also favors the left, in as much as he can part that tiny tuft of gray in the back. Edwards, alas, parts on the rightwhich may negate whatever advantage he has over Cue Ball Cheney. One possible solution, as mentioned in the article, is a True Mirror, which produces an actual, not a flipped, image of anyone who looks into it. If only these mirrors didn’t cost $200 a pop, I’d buy one for Edwards myself.

Come to think of it, I could use one, too. This wussy right-side part that I’ve been sportin’ for 20-odd years has always seemed so boss (in my misleading, un-true mirrors). But clearly, upon re-reading this story, I realize how much it’s been holding me back.

Click “continue reading” to see the New Yorker story, below.

by Liesl Schillinger

For two years, John Walter and his sister Catherine have owned an East Village boutique where they manufacture and sell True Mirrors-mirrors of their own invention that produce an actual, not a flipped, image of anyone who looks into them (if you have a dimple in your left cheek, it will appear on the left side of the True Mirror, not on the right, as it would in a normal mirror). The mirror store is only the latest manifestation of John’s twenty-year obsession with the question of how a man should part his hair. The Walters believe that, in most cases, a right part sends a gender-confused message and saps a man of his mojo. They like to point out that Clark Kent has a right part and Superman has a left part (at least in the 1978 movie). Right part, zero; left part, hero.

Several years ago, they communicated this information to Al Gore, who wears a right part. He failed to take action. Now the Walters believe that Gore was beaten by George W. Bush because of the way he parts his hair.

The Walter hair-part theory, embel- lished by years of research, first sprang out of John’s experience as a teen-ager. “In my home town, there used to be a group of popular people who would hang out and party,” John Walter said last week. “I remember thinking, God, I wish I could be part of that group!” Then, in college, he took a good look at himself in a photograph and saw how he appeared to the rest of the world: “kind of lame,” he recalled. He decided it was because he had a right part. He made the change. “The summer after I changed my part, I came home-and about two weeks later found myself in that group. I was completely astonished at how easy it was!”

Instantly, John realized that his discovery could have repercussions for other men who had been gulled by their mirrors into thinking they had sexy left parts when in fact they had wussyish right parts. One of those men was President Jimmy Carter. Walter fired off an urgent letter to the White House, informing the President that his part was a problem. If Carter cared for his legacy, Walter suggested, he should probably change his hair fast.

“I told him that I was like the little girl who told Abraham Lincoln he ought to grow a beard,” Walter recalled. He received a hand-typed response from a White House aide, and several weeks later Carter did in fact change his hairdo, bewildering media observers. The Washington Post ran an article headlined “A SHIFT AT THE TOP: PRESIDENT CHANGES HAIR STYLE, TRIGGERS SPECULATION.” John and Catherine waited breathlessly for an acknowledgment from the President, but it never came. Nonetheless, the Walters believe that Carter’s favorable post-Presidential reputation hinges on the alpha-male left part that he has maintained since 1979.

In the fall of 1998, the Walters worked up a formal version of their hair-part theory and sent it, along with a seventeen-page addendum of sociological data, to scores of scholars and journalists. Analyzing the hair styles of hundreds of male politicians and celebrities, they concluded that parting your hair on one side or the other emphasizes the brain activity on that side. So a right-parted guy comes across as a right-brain guy-sensitive, talkative, and soft. A left-parted guy comes across as a left-brain guy-forceful, logical, and gruff. The Walters also point out that only three elected American Presidents had right parts throughout their terms in office, and those three men (James Buchanan, Warren Harding, and Ronald Reagan) aren’t exactly Mt. Rushmore material.

As a courtesy to Al Gore, John and Catherine Walter sent him an advance copy of their theory, so that he could take their advice without looking as if he had. “It’s kind of sad,” Catherine said last week, just before the Bush Inauguration. (Bush, by the way, has a left part.) “Gore didn’t respond, and he lost. He is, like, so right-part according to our theory.” She and her brother even sent him and President Clinton complimentary True Mirrors (they sell for two hundred dollars). Clinton sent them a thank-you note; Gore ignored them.

From January 29, 2001 issue