Tara Aghdashloo on Power and Hair Dye

Power is a human obsession, whether we want to have it, destroy it, or divide it amongst us. I learned about my country’s last king (the Shah of Iran) and his overthrow well before I learned how to write. By the time I was in a grade 11 philosophy class in Canada, I was curious to know why we continue to get stuck with stubborn dictators, unpopular rulers, and corrupt democracies. After all, whether saints or sinners, heroes or villains, they have remarkable similarities. Here are five current rulers who have something very simple, yet telling, in common: hair dye. An image-obsessed world doesn’t just breed eating disorders and plastic surgeries, it also shifts the focus from the king’s speech to his hair.

Tara Aghdashloo’s first and last love is writing, from poetry to short stories to non-fiction. She now flirts with broadcast reporting and freelances for BBC Persian. She’s into politics, painting, and playing dress-up. Follow her @le_tout

1. Kim Jong Il

Recently, I came across this hilariously tragic Tumblr; a collection of images capturing North Korea’s totalitarian ruler “looking at things”—such as canned tomatoes at a factory, or a fish tank. Although he generally wears a fur hat (his son and soon-to-be successor has a similar but smaller one), Jong Il does dye his hair. And he definitely knows how to pose for the camera, reminding his people that from buttons to bottles to buildings, there isn’t an inch of their lives left unsupervised.

2. Robert Mugabe

Last month, Robert Mugabe celebrated his 87th birthday. The Zimbabwean president ate cake, and enjoyed colourful congratulatory messages and advertisements that circulated in the state media. The lavish birthday bash came at a time when his ailing health has stirred much debate about his successor and the fate of the country. Mugabe dresses well (English suits, preferably), dyes his hair, has a timely sense of humour, and easily kills millions of his own people to hold on to power. Heidi Holland’s profile of him in The Telegraph can give you a better idea of what this tyrant’s all about.

3. Silvio Berlusconi

The Italian Prime Minister is the coverboy for plastic surgery. “It is a way of showing respect to those who expect you to represent them on an international and national stage,” he explains. In his third term in office, Berlusconi is in the midst of a sex scandal involving prostitution and charges of abuse of office. In this article, Rachel Donadio writes about the soap opera that is Italian politics, which involves money, sex, and the media.

4. Hugo Chavez

Trained in the military, this Venezuelan president recites poetry, quotes Karl Marx and calls George W. Bush the devil. When it comes to his image, he outshines the most charismatic leaders: He regularly tweets and has hosted his own radio and television programs where he answered calls, discussed policy, and sang. Here’s a PBS report on the bizarre Face to Face with the President.

5. Muammar el-Qaddafi

As I write this piece, there are major uprisings in Libya against the 42-year rule of Colonel Qaddafi. He has ordered the army to open fire on all opposition (whom he accuses of being high on Western-supplied drugs), and said he would resign his post only as a “martyr.” That being said, Qaddafi is also known for his eccentric style. His accessories include eyeliner, shades, colourful collages of military ribbons, and virgin female bodyguards. Here’s a Vanity Fair article deciphering the Qaddafi image.