The Cosmetic Procedures Political Candidates Can Get Away With — And One They Definitely Can't

I asked a Washington, DC, dermatologist about the standards of attractiveness U.S. politicians have to subtly live up to.
Publish date:
May 16, 2016
procedures, plastic surgery, dermatologists, politics

Ever since Nixon's mother called him after the televised U.S. presidential debate in 1960 against Kennedy and asked him if he was ill, image for presidential campaigns changed forever. Public opinion had a new form of media to gauge and determine presidential status: television.

Today we have TV, internet, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Periscope, Youtube, Facebook — the list of media platforms goes on and on and on, and no candidate ever wants to repeat Nixon's melted-face blunder.

So I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when a friend of mine told me she had stories about makeup classes she had to take for her a job she took in the political realm. But I was. Have beauty and politics really merged so much?

We tend to like leaders with symmetrical, conventionally attractive faces. There's biological and evolutionary factors to back this claim (which could be whole other article in itself). We also tend to favor authenticity and honest messaging, whether that be in communication or physical appearance. These two factors can occasionally be at odds, so appearance can become tricky territory for politicians to navigate.

"The idea is to help get the best version of oneself," Dr. Terrence Keaney explained. "For example, the best Hillary Hillary." I asked the board-certified Washington, DC, dermatologist about the cosmetic procedures politicians may undergo, what they have time for, and what probably will and won't effect votes.

Dr. Keaney, who has not treated any of the presidential candidates himself but has seen other government leaders at his practice, spoke about this balance between the appeal and leverage of being attractive for the public and contempt the public holds for fabricated attractiveness. He told me politicians go for cosmetic procedures that help them become a more polished version of themselves — not look like someone else — or procedures that simply help with skincare. Still, voters can be a tough crowd.

According to Dr. Keaney, there are four cosmetic procedures government officials can get away with on the down-low and find that voters probably wouldn't care or even consciously notice.

  1. Botox: Botox is number-one cosmetic procedure in the United States. Period. According to a survey done by RealSelf, if it was heard that a candidate had gotten Botox, most voters wouldn't be bothered. It was not a deal-breaker, and it most likely wouldn't change a voter's support for that candidate.
  2. Lunchtime lasers: There is little to no downtime for a politician. When they aren't in DC for session, they are out campaigning, so there's not a lot of time to ever get away from the public eye. It then becomes important to do procedures that require very little downtime. Lasers can help with diminishing age spots and tightening or resurfacing the skin without having to step away from work for a lengthy period.
  3. Kybella: This is a non-surgical treatment used to reduce the fat around the upper neck; in other words, this procedure is like a non-invasive way to eliminate a double chin. A strong jawline, specifically on men, is perceived to be more masculine and insinuates leadership capabilities. It's a quick procedure and reportedly has a reasonable recovery time.
  4. Hair transplants: The downtime for hair transplants can be four to ten days and aids in presenting a strong, youthful image. It helps paint a picture of vibrant candidate who seems to have many years left to live and... the energy to grow hair?

What you absolutely cannot get done or even have speculation about having done is a surgical lift — face or eye. According to the RealSelf poll, if a voter so much as hears a rumor that a candidate might have gotten this procedure, they are more likely to not vote for him or her. The accusation doesn't even have to be true and it would still affect the polls.

Ultimately, politicians may be in the most unique position of any of us —somewhere in-between Hollywood celebrities and the average person — when it comes to what we're expected to look like yet expected to not do about it.

  • Would you care if a political candidate had cosmetic surgery?
  • If so, would it compel you to change your vote?
  • Why haven't we moved passed plastic surgery stigma?