Photogenics in Politics

*Lots of pictures in this one giving the subject matter

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Stephen Smith is probably the most photogenic man in parliament

Style shouldn’t matter in politics but it does, particularly when it comes to communication. Malcolm Turnbull can get an audience to empathise with whatever he’s saying, he just navigates the English language with such natural ease. Lindsay Tanner is also very good, his grumpy, no-nonsense style gives off the impression that he knows what he’s talking about and those who disagree with him often come off looking callow and silly by comparison. On some level physical appearance plays a role in contributing to a politicians success too, not a paramount one or we’d never have heard of Bob Carr or John Howard.

I reckon Stephen Smith is the most photogenic man in Australian parliament today, with his tall salt and pepper hair, his bronze completion, broad shoulders and square jaw, at fifty six years young he looks the model of modern statesman. Malcolm Turnbull is another man in his mid fifties who looks the part, bronze complexion, high forehead, high cheekbones and dignified grey hair (although not nearly as nice as Smith’s).  His recent weightloss regime didn’t hurt either although he was always someone who did well in front of a camera.

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Despite the aid of his recent weight loss, Malcolm Turnbull has always been photogenic.  

The member for Blaxland, Jason Clare, is similar but different. At the younger age of 40 he is handsome with thick black hair, a dazzling smile, high cheekbones, symmetrical and bereft of wrinkles. You’d probably describe him as more sexually attractive than Smith but isn’t nearly as impressive as a politician.  I’m sure there are some differences in style that could also account for it but the obvious difference here is age.

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Jason Clare is attractive, but his image is less suited to politics than Smith’s. 

The image of a distinguished, fifty something year old seems to play well not just from newsreaders but from politicians as well. With newsreaders an attractive young woman tends to be preferred (obviously  wrongly) to a more mature journalist and to a lesser degree this seems to be true of our politicians. Kate Ellis is frequently cited as the most attractive woman in Australian politics, and often criticised for it as well. It has raised her profile which I suppose is to her benefit but she’s also been accused of lacking substance, of being a sort of ditsy air head. It’s of course untrue, any discerning observer would know that Ellis tends to be articulate and across her portfolio but unfortunately it seems one of the prejudices of Australian politics is to perceive young, attractive women as intellectually poor.

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Kate Ellis’s youth and good lucks have at times seen her unfairly portrayed as lacking substance.

That being said good looks and youth don’t appear to be a complete curse in the game. A fortyish, skinny woman with straight teeth and high cheek bones seems to be welcomed, particularly in a senior ministry. See Tanya Plibersek, Kelly O’dwyer, Penny Wong and Kristina Kenneally. It cultivates a modern, professional, twenty first century look.

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Penny Wong and Tanya Plibersek with Sydney Lord Mayor Clove Moore

As they move into the fifties however female politicians are expetected to become more androgynous. Margaret Thatcher appears to have set the tone here and it has not become entrenched into the political psyche. They are expected to look aloof, grave with short or layered hair. Jenny Macklin is the oldest female minister in Australia at 58. She has short hair, she dresses conservatively and wears pearls. In shadow cabinet the oldest woman is Brownyn Bishop does much the same although her outfits tend to be more audacious.

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Jenny Macklin and Bronwyn Bishop are respectively the oldest women in Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet. 

Julie Bishop is surely the most photogenic woman in Australian politics over the age of fifty  with her tall blonde hair, blazing blue eyes and straight teeth. She is a famous power dresser, high shoulder pads and bright colours and looks a formidable person but she is an anomaly.

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Julie Bishop is probably the most photogenic woman in Australian politics older than fifty.

It seems the ideal mix is of fiftyish men with grey hair and fortyish women with high cheekbones. Perhaps this modern image was most strictly adhered to by Labor in 2007 where Kevin Rudd at 50 was constantly flanked by Julia Gillard, five years his junior, or a cluster of fortyish, female shadow ministers like Wong, Plibersek, Roxon, and Lundy.

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Kevin Rudd’s fashion in 2007 was to be forever flanked by forty something female shadow ministers. 

Except when talking about economics matters of course, economics is strictly men’s business.

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I suppose it’s just as well that in politics being articulate and confident seems to matter more than being prettybecause despite the Bishop, Thatcher, Redmond anomalies, the majority of women cease to “look” like politicians once they enter their mid to late fifties. By contrast men below the age of forty seem to be infants playing grownups.

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2 thoughts on “Photogenics in Politics

  1. “Penny Wong and Tanya Plibersek with NSW Governor Marie Bashir” should read “Penny Wong and Tanya Plibersek with Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore”. I only mention this because I am a great admirer of our Governor who I regard a great elder stateswoman.

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