Look Sharp; Aesthetics and Leadership

Has Presidential hopeful John Kerry used Botox? That's the hottest question on the campaign trail this week. And while his wife admits to having had a few touch-ups, Kerry's staff scoffs at the recent theory about the Massachusetts senator. So what's with the media frenzy? Aside from gossipy blurbs online, the debate even made its way onto Sunday morning political shows this week. Does America really care? Do you?

The fact is, we do... kind of. We just don't want to think about it too much. Ever since Kennedy's smart looks topped a droopy Nixon in 1960, aesthetics have played an obvious, if not also pivotal, role in politics. LBJ's Stetsons, Gore's beard, Bush's cowboy boots... all are dubious badges of distinction, minor icons of political personality. Hell, Botox - all thirty minutes and one syringe of it - probably isn't that great a leap from the time each candidate spends in "hair and makeup" prior to a televised debate. As trite as it may seem, appearance is important in how we perceive all our leaders, from Commander-in-Chief to Chief Executive Officer. But is it important enough for Botox?

In January, I asked Houston cosmetic surgeon Dr. Franklin Rose for his take on several business world moguls ("Does the Boss Do Botox?"). I found the issue touched a nerve, both with our subjects (or, that is, their spokespeople) and FC staffers.

Essentially, the debate comes down to the question "Who cares?" As in "Who cares enough about looks to get cosmetic surgery, and is that a behavior I admire in a leader?" Would Lincoln have touched up his furrowed brow in hopes of wooing the South? Would Churchill have doctored his jaw line to steel his bombarded nation's confidence? How about Jack Welch or Sumner Redstone, can you picture them primping in front of the mirror, admiring a recent face-lift? Of course not.

When it comes to our leaders, the irony of Botox is that what's sought is actually lost. The superficial confidence and flawlessness an individual obtains through cosmetic surgery may be appealing to some, but are ultimately unnerving. It's the Kryptonite phenomenon; people respect flaws. Fallibility, to a degree, is precisely what makes an audience empathize, relate and admire a leader. Truth is, the unassuming confidence of an aged, weathered face is far more assuring and inspiring than the slick perfection of one that panders to some assumed ideal. Look sharp, fellas. Just... do it naturally.

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