Well, that was nice, wasn’t it? For about 12 hours, people on the internet were happy.
The election of Joe Biden (or perhaps more accurately, the ousting of Donald Trump) created a sort of internet snow day, where we were all able to enjoy a little break from the cynicism and infighting while we shared videos of New York echoing with cheers and jokes about the Four Seasons Garden Centre. But of course, it wasn’t to last.
Yesterday, the UK’s Telegraph ran a piece titled “Why Kamala Harris is the modern beauty icon the world needs”. It’s a perfectly pleasant read, looking into how her relationship with makeup is different from Hillary Clinton’s and Theresa May’s, and noting that she favours a glossier lip which is traditionally regarded as less “professional” than a matte one.
This morning the Women’s Equality Party – a party I’ve previously voted for – shared said article writing: “First woman of colour to make Vice President and the Telegraph gives the story to its beauty editor. Go figure.”
To start with, let’s be very clear. The Telegraph didn’t “give” the story to their beauty editor. They did not decide that the singular way they would be reporting the appointment of the first woman of colour (or woman full stop) to the Vice Presidency, was going to be a piece about her lipstick.
They ran multiple other stories about her career, her ethnicity, her background and her talent. And alongside all those other pieces, they ran a piece about her makeup. Which, if you believe the critics, was sexist.
I am a card carrying, professional feminist. I get cross about the patriarchy at least three times a day. But I am sick to the back teeth of this poisonous myth that fashion and beauty are sexist, when in reality they are forms of self-expression as valid as any other.
Back in 2016, I cried over a deep dive into the outfit Hillary Clinton wore to accept the Democratic nomination for president. I learned that she, like Shirley Chisholm (the first African American woman ever to be elected to Congress) had chosen white, the traditional colour of suffrage.
Geraldine Ferraro, a previous unsuccessful female candidate for presidency, had done the same. Through her sartorial choices, Clinton was carving a link with the women who came before her. For these women, clothing and makeup were a form of language – semiotics. It’s the only form of expression where, for once, women have a better variety of choices.
And yet still, writing about a woman’s makeup and fashion choices is regarded as frivolous and silly. Why? Because they are forms of artistry traditionally associated with women.
Just as embroidery has traditionally been a less valued form of art because it was predominantly practiced by women, fashion and beauty have long been regarded as fluffy and meaningless, because they largely belong to women.
Makeup and fashion are two industries where female talent shines, where women are able to thrive and to create. And on a smaller level, it’s a form of artistry that we can enjoy every day. For those of us who love makeup, taking 15 minutes to apply a glittery eyeshadow to our lids, or perfectly line our lips, is an act of meditation. It’s a snatched window in a day where we can do something creative for our own enjoyment.
“You’re not a lesser woman, or a lesser feminist, if you see power in a perfect liquid eye liner.”
When I see people complaining that anyone would take notice of a politician’s clothes or makeup, I can’t help thinking they’re displaying internalised misogyny.
Of course it would be sexist to conflate Harris’s worth with her physical appearance. It would be wildly inappropriate to criticise her for looking “tired” in photographs, or wearing an “unflattering” outfit. If a journalist were suggesting that she needed to wear “more” makeup, or “better” makeup in order to do her job, I would be right there with the flaming torch and the pitchfork.
But there is absolutely nothing wrong with a person whose focus is beauty, writing about the makeup choices of the woman we’re most interested in right now.
You’re not a lesser woman, or a lesser feminist, if you see power in a perfect liquid eye liner, or you punched the air when Harris delivered the good news to Joe Biden wearing what I’m pretty sure were Lululemon yoga pants.
Pretending that fashion and beauty doesn’t exist doesn’t do anything to improve the expectation for a woman to look a certain way – it just penalises us for caring about one of the few industries where we have historically been able to take the helm.
Kamala Harris’s appointment is a great and glorious day for women. And noticing that she’s got really nice eyeshadow does absolutely nothing to degrade that fact.
Rebecca Reid is an author and freelance journalist.
Correction: This article has been amended to clarify that Clinton wore white for her acceptance speech for the presidential nomination in 2016, not for her concession speech as initially stated. Clinton wore purple at her concession speech to indicate bipartisanship.
This article was originally published on HuffPost UK.