'I decided to run for parliament. Then I started receiving "feedback" about my hair.'

I have always had long, beautiful red hair - luscious, thick, somewhat unruly, and so long that the ends drop below my waist. 

People on the street often stop me to compliment my hair. I do not style it; I do not use hair products; I just wash it with shampoo and dry it by air.

I love my hair; it's one of my best features. I know this may sound boastful, but I think everyone should love something about their body.

My hair has never been a barrier to professional success. In my professional life I am a qualified lawyer and journalist and most of the time, my hair does not identify my competency to complete a task.

So last month, when I decided to run for Parliament in Victoria, as an independent candidate for the seat of Caulfield, I was surprised about how my hair became an instant focal point in my campaign.

Watch: Short hairstyles we love. Story continues below.

Video via Mamamia

I am a highly qualified candidate: I hold three degrees, in liberal arts, in law as well as a masters of legal practice. I am a correspondent at a newspaper in the United States, Tablet Magazine, which is one of the largest Jewish newspapers in the world. And I am the Australian founder and inaugural president of a charity called the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

I care about how I look, but I wouldn't consider myself vain. I don't usually wear makeup. I prefer comfortable clothing over fancy dresses. And as part of this mantra, I usually wear my hair loose, held back by a headband or scarf. I would classify my dress as 'smart casual', which suits my life as a busy employee and mum with three children under the age of five.


As part of running for Parliament, I had some photos taken by a photographer who advised me to wear my hair the way I usually do, because that is how most people who will see my face on billboards will recognise me. 

My hair, bright red and long, is my most recognisable feature, so as normal, I left it down, pinned back from my face.

A few days later, the pictures came back, and I liked them. They felt like “me” and an authentic representation of how I look.

However, the reaction to the photos was anything but normal. 

People who I showed the photos to started reacting to my hair in an obsessive manner. 

Image: Supplied. 


One person told me I looked “too folksy” with my hair down. Another told me that I would have to get the photos taken again because people over a certain age would not take to my “unprofessional hair.” 

Another told me to tie my hair back and remove it from the focus of the picture. Some people provided this feedback in person. A few messaged me on WhatsApp. Other people started tweeting me memes of Merida from Brave.

Then the feedback took a darker turn. I have always been a proud Jewish woman. But when I met with a prominent feminist who had worked on previous political campaigns, and she reviewed my headshot, she told me that my hair looked like I came from a Kibbutz (which is a type of communal rural settlement in Israel). 

Seeing as I have lived in Australia all my life, I wasn't sure what that one meant. I have visited Kibbutzim before, the people there always look happy and like they're enjoying life, but the racial undertones to that comment struck me.

“No pressure,” said yet another person, “but the picture you pick for your political billboards is the most important picture you will have, so make sure you get it right." 

Ultimately, with the weight of feedback, I called the photographer back. I started to doubt myself and the “look” I had chosen, despite it being an authentic representation of me. 


We took new photos. We tried a variety of new hairstyles. Hair half up. Hair scraped back austere and in a ponytail. Hair to one side. Curls strategically laid on each side of my torso, with specific thought into how many curls were lying on each shoulder. 

The new pictures came back a few days later. Maybe I looked more professional, but ultimately, I wanted to cry. I did not like the way I looked. I did not feel like me. And at a certain point, I began to question: for what purpose am I changing this picture? To which audience am I pandering?

I wish men understood the casual sexism that women face for their looks. The world is changing, and people are beginning to focus less on external factors, but I want it to change faster. It is part of the reason I put my hat in to run for Parliament. I am young, I believe in climate action, integrity in politics and gender equality. I am part of the teal movement that seeks to do politics differently and add diverse voices, particularly those of women, to the national discourse. If we are not represented in the halls of power, how can we expect things to change?

In the end, after much deliberation, I reverted to my original picture, and I will be wearing my long red curls loud and proud while I campaign around my seat. 

So keep your eyes peeled: you won’t be able to miss the mane!

Nomi Kaltmann is an Australian lawyer, journalist, mum and recently announced her first run for Australian Parliament as an independent candidate in the seat of Caulfield.

Feature Image: Julian Meehan.

Do you often find you need a pick-me-up during the day? Take our survey now to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher.