#MakeupMonday: “Dressing Like a Congresswoman”

Twitter lost it when AOC and all the other magnificent women of color were sworn in to the House last week.

This Tweet in particular:

It prompted so much wonderful commentary.

Here is Maiysha Kai in The Root:

“Indeed, as we’ve previously reported (and endlessly experienced), women in general, and particularly women of color, are regularly policed for their appearances. Our hair, our nails, our wardrobes…all are considered criteria for our ability to do our jobs and be taken seriously. And while a hoop and a strong lip may not seem an act of rebellion worth remarking on, one need only look at the old white men’s club Ocasio-Cortez is entering to understand its impact.

Better yet, consider the cries of broken royal protocol on the single occasion now-duchess Meghan Markle wore a dark nail to a public appearance (a personal preference of the Queen, but far from a law). Or Serena Williams’ French Open catsuit, which prompted major debate on how even a world-class player should be allowed to dress on the tennis court. Or the longstanding military ban on dreadlocks and braided styles, which has only recently begun to be lifted. Or Michelle Obama’s post-White House fashion, which she’s admitted is a demonstration of her new sense of freedom.

While it’s easy to point to the institutions in which these women have chosen to function as justification for regulating their appearances, the deeper implication is that they are somehow fundamentally inappropriate in their aesthetic choices. The message is that women must be controlled, corrected, and dimmed to be deemed acceptable.

So, yes, it may be a small thing, but it is both refreshing and an act of rebellion to rock a red lip on the congressional floor—or a red nail to the bench of the Supreme Court. It is its own declaration of independence, and an assertion of the fact that we have the right to occupy those spaces, just as we are.”

“Zabrinadel” tweeted: “As a Latina who works in a law firm environment, I sometimes, with trepidation, wear my thick gold hoops and some bright lipstick to work. Seeing you wear both to freaking CONGRESS was really affirming. Helps me realize I can wear both CONFIDENTLY, without second guessing myself.”

Many other women wrote things like this:

Adriana Catano on Remezcla explained further: “For women of color, wearing hoops – especially those of the shoulder-grazing variety – has come with plenty of criticism. With some calling the dangly earrings unprofessional and others labeling them “ghetto,” wearing these spherical baubles has become an act of resistance for some. That’s why it’s not surprising that many women of color were moved when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sported a sizable pair for her inauguration into Congress. Wearing her signature red lip and a white suit – which she chose to pay tribute to suffragettes and Shirley Chisholm – AOC made a statement on Thursday and channeled Sonia Sotomayor.”

And then there was this commenter on the North Star FB page :

All of this relates so much to why I started the #MakeupMonday series. And the last year of guest posts by women of color about their makeup and fashion choices just drives home the point: there is nothing frivolous about how any of us choose to look. And makeup and accessories are markers of identity and power, particularly for many women of color. The explosion of “color” in the photos above is the very opposite of random, or meaningless; all those colors – on lips, in clothes, on skin – are replete with history and cultural meaning. I’m delighted to see it celebrated, and getting ever more normalized with our wonderful new representatives.

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

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