Let's not overstretch the meaning of a skincare routine...
The most substantive decision I made this morning was whether to jam the rubbish down in the bin again, or admit defeat and take it out. But then I’m a pretty regular person. I’m not, for example, a high-profile Democrat congresswoman in the midst of the most critical election campaign in recent American history: if I were, I’d probably have some weightier issues to attend to.
Or maybe not, because here’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in a video for Vogue, describing her beauty routine: “I actually think these are some of the most substantive decisions that we make and we make them every morning,” she says, smoothing moisturiser across her taut cheeks. And why are they substantive? Because (she’s onto the eyeliner now) “every time we make a decision, when you make a decision for you… I think it’s really amazing.” A substantive decision where it doesn’t actually matter what you decide. OK then.
It’s not like AOC is alone in this silliness. For years now, people have been grandly declaring that makeup, skincare and fashion are not merely completely fine things to take an interest in and spend your cash on, but actually activism. “Self-care” made the jump from the writing of Audre Lorde to consumer copywriting.
Buy this lipstick! Apply this essence! You’re not just shopping — you’re engaging in a radical act of self-care. The fact that all this self-care requires money and time (oh, the time: AOC’s routine takes up an 18-minute film, and my own twice-daily bathroom binges are not much shorter) which might be spent on other things — which men, in fact, are spending on other things — doesn’t get a mention.
“Femininity has power,” says AOC, slipping seamlessly into the lineage of the women who claim that high heels and hundred-dollar tooth-floss underwear are “empowering”. Because what could be more powerful than worrying about falling off my own shoes and spilling a nipple. Of course AOC is right that women are picked apart for their appearance, and the decisions made under that scrutiny are strategically interesting. This doesn’t mean the decisions magically become feminist simply because women are making them. Just ask Emma Watson.
Lipstick is great. Moisturiser is lovely. I wear heels to parties and some of my bras are more frill than function. I choose these things, and they give me pleasure, or at least stave off a bit of anxiety about being looked at and found wanting. But anyone pretending that their perfectly painted cupid’s bow is actually an up-yours to the patriarchy is overcompensating — because AOC must know, deep down, even deeper than the most expensive serum can penetrate, that there’s more to politics than choice.