A presidential look to dye for

10 Sep 2017

The London Evening Post of July 18th 2011 captured President Lt Gen Ian Khama peering from beneath a salt and peppery bush of afrobefitting a man of his bearing and vintage.  To his credit, the more salt than pepper thatch says “authoritative” more than it says “old.”

Six years later Khama’s hair is all brown without a single hint of grey. The president seems to have turned back the clock, denying those gray follicles the light of day.

A dye job? Possibly.

Khama an ardent fitness buff may be looking for the fountain of youth not only in his gym room but also in his hair dye bottle. But only hishairdressers know for sure, and, as with most of his personal kinks, the secret is safe.

For men it is one of those great taboos, a practice shrouded in such secrecy that it can only be carried out furtively and in the privacy of one's own bathroom.

The humiliation for a male admitting to hiding those grey streaks with dye or being exposed as a vanity junkie who sits on a hairdresser’s chair once a month with silver foil in his hair means that the habit is a closely guarded secret, infrequently aired even with most trusted confidants for fear of mockery and ridicule.

Khama turned 64 in February this year with a full head of impossibly dark hair. The London Evening Post picture however suggests that the president momentarily decided to step off his hair-coloring track for a more age-appropriate, natural look and that he has been hiding his age behind a hair dye for many years. This sets up an uncomplimentary narrative about vanity.  That the first citizen is so narcissistic to want youth restored through artificial coloration and pitiably lacks the self-awareness that liver brown is cringe-making.

But then the president grew up in the army where the grand illusion of permanent physical youthfulness is widespread and almost obligatory.

If Khama does dye his hair he wouldn’t be the only president doing it. That is, of course, if what former US President Barack Obama said is anything to go by. 

"I don't dye my hair and a lot of world leaders do ....I won't say who. But their barbers know, their hairdressers,” he was quoted by US media.

Manie, a hair specialist at The Boys Salon, says depending on the porosity of the hair and type of dye used, black hair tends to turn brownish red when the die wears off. He says although there are various options for hair dye, no hair color will look the same as the first day it was done. This therefore means one has to keep coloring their hair regularly to achieve the desired results. It may explain the various shades of Khama’s hair over the years.

Studies have shown that as people grow older, the pigment cells on their hair follicles slowly begin to die. A follicle which contains fewer pigment cells will produce less melanin, the chemical responsible for giving hair its color. With a gradual decrease in the amount of melanin, the strand eventually becomes transparent and look silver, white or gray. According to studies, the average man’s hair starts to go grey from as early as 30 years old.  At the age of 64, one would not expect president Khama to spot a natural jet black hair. Even Obama, who is eight years younger, left the oval office a silver fox. Obama’s change in hair color has also been attributed to the stress of holding office, something Khama would not be immune too. "You can see it in the greying of the hair; you can see it in the wrinkling of the skin. That may well be accelerated because of the stress associated with being president,” the US media said of Obama.

While the jury is still out on Khama’s natural hair color, one may also wonder if the president is also pulling a Donald Trump by going to extreme ends to maintain his hairline. At 64, while his 59 year old twin brothers Tshekedi and Anthony Khama (who are already spotting shades of grey) have gone bald, President Khama’s hair line remains intact. Although he was not completely bald by the time he passed on at the age of 59 (five years shy of Khama’s age), his father Sir Seretse Khama was already spotting a receding her line.

Studies have shown that balding is in most cases genetically inherited. Research has shown that men who have a bald father are more likely to develop male pattern baldness than those who do not. It has been reported that men spend more than US$1 billion annually to hang onto their hair. US president Trump has been reported to be taking propecia, a drug that prevents the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the body. The drug is used for the treatment of male pattern hair loss on the vertex and the anterior mid-scalp area. Male pattern hair loss is a common condition in which men experience thinning of the hair on the scalp. This often results in a receding hairline on top of the head.