Hair truthers: the people obsessed with female politicians' haircuts

As hairdressers become a major political battleground across the globe, new conspiracy theories have been popping up about the hair of women in the public eye. 

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On the evening of 29 May, crossbench peer Sir Digby Jones had a burning question in his heart. He opened Twitter to ask what no doubt others had also been thinking. 

“Something that’s concerning me,” he started, “how come with enforced social distancing, Nicola Sturgeon’s hair is immaculate? All done herself? Always?” He continued: “I think we should be told! C’mon Nicola! All your own work? Surely not! One rule for the rulers…”

This tweet came just days after it was revealed Dominic Cummings had broken lockdown by driving to Durham. Scrutiny of the politicians and public figures involved in the decision-making behind the Covid-19 restrictions was on the rise. But Sturgeon’s own at-home hair trials had been widely documented for the public on social media and in broadcast media appearances long before that. On 11 April, Sturgeon’s husband, Peter Murrell, tweeted a thread detailing how Sturgeon was giving herself an at-home dye job with the help of a virtual stylist; 12 days later, Sturgeon appeared on Heart Radio Scotland to discuss how she’d screwed up her colour despite the help over video chat. 

Sturgeon responded to Jones two days later, quote tweeting him on her own personal account saying, “The number of men, like his Lordship here, who are obsessed with my hair is a bit weird tbh.” And while this tweet from Jones may look like one oddball making a strange comment, Sturgeon is right: her hair has become the obsession of hundreds of conspiracy theorists online who have, for months, been suggesting she’d secretly been getting a professional haircut. A cursory Twitter search shows that she’s receiving these messages near hourly, alongside accusations that she staged trips to purchase hair dye and arguments over whether she’s wearing a wig. 

While the Scottish First Minister may be the poster girl of the hair-truther movement, female politicians all over the world have become the target of a haircut obsession. From “truthers” arguing they’ve broken lockdown to get a professional cut or posting unrelenting comments on their at-home colour,hair has become a distraction and a target for conspiracies, attempting to undermine female politicians. 

Hairdressers have become a political battleground during Covid-19 as a benchmark for lockdown easing, on par with questions such as “when should schools reopen?” and whether or not “support bubbles” are safe. In the US, anti-lockdown protestors in May were seen holding placards and speaking to television crews about their undyed roots and split-ends, providing these as a reason for why, after just a few weeks of staying indoors, lockdown should end. In the UK, debate continues over whether hairdressers will safely be able to reopen after 4 July. 

Hairdressers have equally become a part of infection-stemming success stories. In Missouri last week it was reported that two infected hair stylists didn't spread coronavirus to any of the 140 clients they saw, likely thanks to the wearing of masks. The story triggered conversations about instating the mandatory use of face coverings and considering whether, with such rules in place, more services like hairdressers could reopen. Among young people, memes like “don’t cut your fringe” or the “quarantine mullet” are so common that they have almost become clichéd. Hair salons, and the impacts of them closing, have become one of the biggest cultural and political talking points of the pandemic.

Alongside Sturgeon, other female politicians in the UK have become the subject of widespread comment and conspiracy. After former MP Anna Soubry appeared on television with dyed hair, questions arose on Twitter as to whether she’d had it professionally coloured (alongside criticism of how it looked). When the Labour MP Diane Abbott posted a video on Twitter celebrating the anniversary of becoming the first ever black woman MP, she was subjected to a torrent of abuse suggesting she’d broken lockdown for a haircut. 

The problem is not just a British one. While not so vociferously attacked by the public, Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, is another female politician whose hair has become the subject of commentary. In the space of just a few days, she responded to two separate criticisms from male public figures, both mocking her for colouring her hair, with one specifically commenting on her grey streaks and how the role of prime minister “age[s] people”. 

Despite more than two weeks passing since Sturgeon acknowledged the bizarre obsession around her hair – and disputed the unfounded claims – the conspiracy theory rages on. “I was prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt in relation to her hair colour and cut,” Joan, a hairdresser in Glasgow, tells me. “Young lads who were wanting a fade up the sides are walking around with heads that look like they have been shaved for mange. Meanwhile Nicola turns up at her daily briefings wearing a brand new designer outfit. This is reprehensible to me.”

Even after seeing the copious evidence that Sturgeon is doing her own hair at home, Joan, like hundreds of other truthers, continues to believe that the First Minister has been secretly seeing a hairdresser.

“We are all in this together, allegedly,” she says. “Her hair makes no difference to me outside of the fact that it shows her for who she really is... [She] has used lockdown as a chance to showcase her new outfits and her fresh haircuts.”  

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer. Sign up to her free weekly newsletter the Dress Down for the latest film, TV, art, theatre and book reviews.

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