"Hair has always provided a visual shorthand for something deeper," said hair historian Rachael Gibson in a 2019 interview with Vogue. This visual rings true for Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary, Najib Balala.
A politician of nine lives known for steadying the tourism docket in three successive governments, Balala’s hair, aside from his conventional dress code, mostly his choice of classic suiting and tuxedos, is a journey of colour that speaks of his longevity in national politics and a story of identity.
Speaking to The Standard five years ago, the CS, who has been in government since 1998, disclosed that he dyes his hair, shutting the door on ageist stereotypes at a time when former US President Barack Obama was also facing questions over his greying look.
“I just dyed my hair, the rest is just good diet and exercise," said Balala after his 49th birthday when opening up about the secret ingredient to his fountain of youth.
Let’s face it, looks matter in politics. For Obama, every grey hair is worth it.
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"The first thing I want from young people is to stop calling me old. Come on, you hurt my feelings," Obama, who entered office in 2009 with dark black hair, told a student during a tour of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2015. "I don’t dye my hair and a lot of my fellow leaders do. I won’t say who. But their barbers know, their hairdressers.”
Though distinct, the responses of the two beloved personalities embody the personalisation and refinement of what’s beautiful, acceptable, and powerful – whether dyed or natural, against ingrained traditional beauty standards for men, often, in a battle with silver roots, in the new millennium.
Below are just but a few of Balala’s icy silver hues, sun-streaked blacks, and auburn over time: