Forget democracy: let's talk Mexican hair, ladies

Mexico's president-elect Peña Nieto attracted as much attention for his lush locks as his politics. Did his glistening mane overshadow more serious talk on democracy?

Claudia Daut/Reuters
Mexico's President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto meets with the foreign press in Mexico City July 2.

Hardly an article can be written about the winner in Mexico's presidential election Sunday without discussion of ... the victor's hair.

Forget the race's impact on the democratic future of Mexico. More intriguing to Mexicans is winner Enrique Peña Nieto's glistening locks. They're hard to overlook. He's also got glistening teeth. And great bone structure, not to mention what appears to be a perma-tan, all of which has led reporters to liken him to JFK and Barbie's Ken.

His followers showed up to rallies wearing wigs styled in his emblematic coiffure, the best way they knew how to show their solidarity for the candidate of the PRI, which took back power after 12 years.

But really, were the wigs they sported even necessary? After all, Mexicans have great hair, plain and simple. Enrique Peña Nieto's do might be the most celebrated right now, but it's certainly not an anomaly south of the border.

As one irreverent columnist from the alternative weekly the Dallas Observer wrote in an “Ask a Mexican” column, “If there's one body feature that Mexicans can boast about,” he writes, with a few side notes edited out for the purpose of this family newspaper, “it's follicles, repositories of the world's hair DNA. Kinky, straight, curly or wavy, the Mexican head is pregnant with possibility, and Mexicans do everything possible to draw attention to what humans can do with a comb and three pounds of gel.”

I happen to be writing this as I look out my window in Mexico City, where I can see ... five heads that would be the envy of the world. I am also writing this as the wife of a bald man, as in shaved off, completely bald. In the six years that we've lived here, I have been painfully aware of the looks of pity from Mexican women. (Though, ladies, don't feel so bad, it serves an amazing pragmatic purpose here: I can spot my husband in a flash second in this vast megalopolis.)

I queried my former editor, a Monitor colleague, on the subject. Over the years working together, he'd often commented on the many shapes a mullet can take in Latin America. His first comment  backed my evolving thesis here that Mexicans might possibly have the best hair on earth. He was just in China with a group of MBA students, including a Mexican. He says the Chinese couldn't get over the man's well-gelled curls. “He was a hit at every stop in every city we visited,” said the colleague. “They are used to straight hair and never seen such a fantastic set of glistening male curls. Many wanted to touch and he was happy to oblige."

Of course, not all Mexican styles would be revered around the globe. The Dallas Observer column was in response to a query on why Mexican men would favor the mullet or deploy a vat of Vaseline per hairstyle.

All of this hair talk and Peña Nieto has peeved quite a few. Many women, like Anabel Gomez in our profile of Peña Nieto, have said that they were voting for the man simply on his looks. This has fed into the fear of critics that he is vacuous, just a pretty face hiding a corrupt past, in which the PRI is accused of rigging votes and having a free political rein in Mexico from 1929 to 2000. It's also part of a narrative of student protesters who say that the star-like treatment of Peña Nieto coverage by the major TV networks gave him an unfair advantage.

That might be true. But if we just isolate the hair from all the rest, I see a positive story here. Mexico gets a bad rap most days. And I am sure Peña Nieto will bear his share of it, garnering many foes along the way. This paper will be reporting about all of it. But for now, let's celebrate the indisputable fact that his slicked-back style has shined a light on one of the natural and not-so-natural wonders of the world: the Mexican 'do.

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