The excitement was warranted—AOC has outstanding skin. And this isn’t the first time the 29-year-old Democratic congresswoman has shared beauty tips on social media. (She once gave an impromptu press-on nails tutorial while on a late-night Amtrak back to Congress.)
Ocasio-Cortez’s deft use of Twitter and Instagram is legendary. Case-in-point: an Instagram live stream in which she cooked soup and fielded questions about jobs guarantees and marijuana legalization was viewed in real time by thousands of people before going viral online. Activist Wardah Khalid described the videos as a “2018 version of fireside chats,” a reference to the informal format pioneered by president Franklin D. Roosevelt:
Despite the flattering comparison, what AOC is doing is very different from what FDR did in the 1940s. Not only is she allowing for a two-way conversation, but she juxtaposes topics weighty and collective with those that are personal or domestic in a way that is largely unprecedented. To connect directly with her nearly 5 million combined followers, and to engage on important policy topics, she moves between subjects in a way that we haven’t seen politicians do before. That means she’ll discuss high fashion in one breath, and tax policy in the next. She’ll talk AI bias and liquid lipstick, displaying a substantive understanding of both.
Yesterday’s Instagram story was yet another example of this: A slide about her makeup routine was followed by another with a formidable reading list ranging from Shakespeare to the labor leader Dolores Huerta. Tips on double face-cleansing sat alongside advice on oration.
When a follower with a question about running a successful campaign noted they didn’t care about her skincare routines, Ocasio-Cortez didn’t flinch or apologize. Instead she gracefully noted, “we all have different interests” and went on to offer her advice on public speaking.
While Ocasio-Cortez is certainly not the first politician to contain multitudes, acknowledging them is something that many women in public life have studiously avoided. And no wonder, when they were generally portrayed in the media either as happy homemakers or shrill “career women.”
As first lady, Hillary Clinton famously responded to a question about her legal career by saying “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession.” That comment was in 1992, and as the New York Times described it, “The blowback was intense and she spent weeks apologizing, saying that she respected women who chose to stay at home and raise children.”
In today’s have-it-all, do-it-all world, there would probably have been a different kind of blowback: The expectation is that women fulfill themselves professionally and have the best (and most Instagrammable) cookie recipe. Still, the notion Clinton was bucking back then—that cultivating traditionally feminine interests makes you a less serious or professional person—persists.
The backlash to Ocasio-Cortez is evidence of this. Much of it—from both the right and the establishment left—has little to do with her political platform. Her critics have denigrated everything from her clothing to her personal finances. The emergence of a video of her dancing as a college student appears to have been an attempt at a political smear. (It backfired spectacularly.) Recently, outgoing senator Claire McCaskill dismissed the newcomer as “a bright shiny new object.”
In spite of all this, Ocasio-Cortez has steadfastly refused to apologize for being who she is. So far her mascara-rimmed eyes have remained open, her Manolo Blahniks have effectively conveyed her to her seat in Congress, and her Stila red lipstick has not prevented her from opening her mouth to speak on the House floor. Her critics should probably get used to it.