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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Knows That Beauty Is Political

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) smiles during a press conference

When I first saw that Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had done a video with Vogue magazine discussing her beauty routine, I will admit that my immediate, knee-jerk reaction was “ugh, do we have to reduce women to their looks and skincare, even a rising star member of Congress?” But immediately the segment from Ocasio-Cortez made the important and often overlooked point that beauty is political and that being a woman in the public eye with a very demanding job means walking a fine line between confidence and objectification.

“Our culture is so predicated on diminishing women,” Ocasio-Cortez says as she expertly dabs on concealer for the undereye circles she’s earned from late nights working in Congress and constant trips back and forth from New York to DC. “It’s quite a radical act and it’s almost like a mini-protest to love yourself.”

And … yeah. She’s absolutely right. It is not easy to be a woman in any profession, let alone one where you are photographed daily. Our entire society is built on the idea that men get to define if a woman is pretty (read: sexually attractive) but that same prettiness means she can’t be taken seriously. If a woman cares about her looks, she’s high maintenance or vain or vapid. But if a woman doesn’t look pretty enough, she’s made fun of as ugly, dowdy, and pretty much not human.

So Ocasio-Cortez frankly discussing that she uses her beauty and her beauty routine as something that empowers her is incredibly refreshing. She doesn’t wear makeup to please anyone, she does it for herself and to make herself feel beautiful. And that’s powerful. “You cannot get your feelings of beauty and confidence from anyone but yourself.”

Spoiler alert, by the way, men really don’t like this idea. The patriarchy and sexist systems we live in pretty much hate it when women are confident and beautiful on their own terms. “The reason why I think it’s so important to share these things is that, first of all, femininity has power, and in politics, there is so much criticism and nitpicking about how women and femme people present ourselves,” Ocasio-Cortez says. And again, she’s completely right.

Ocasio-Cortez takes time to talk about “the pink tax” and how it applies to women in terms of paying more for products, but how it also applies to time. People who want to have to spend a long time doing makeup and other beauty routines and that can leave us with less time to do other stuff. This, personally, is why I usually don’t do makeup or elaborate hairstyles: I love the idea but … I would rather use the time for something else.

But if women don’t glam it up, we don’t get paid as much or respected, and so these personal decisions, as she says “stop being about choice and start being about patriarchy.” And that’s not what beauty should be about. It should be something we do because we want to and we deserve to feel beautiful and confident on our terms.

It’s just another thing that women have to deal with, and another choice we have to make. “Just being a woman is quite politicized here in Washington,” Ocasio-Cortez shares. “There’s this really false idea that if you care about makeup or if your interests are in beauty and fashion, that that’s somehow frivolous. But I actually think these are some of the most substantive decisions that we make—and we make them every morning.”

And I’ve gotta say, she makes good decisions. Ocasio-Cortez knows what she’s doing when it comes to her look and owning everything that’s already fabulous about her, like those great brows and great skin. (Also, wow I need to remember to use toner …).The piece de resistance however is that signature red lip, which is something the Representative says gives her confidence and puts her in touch with her Latina heritage.

I love hearing Ocasio-Cortez talk about make-up and marginalization at the same time, and the line she has to walk. The key to beauty is inside, and this Congresswoman is indeed beautiful outside and in.

(image: Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.