US congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shares her make-up tips in a video filmed by American Vogue

“If waking up and doing your make-up gives you life . . . you should do it.” So pronounces New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as she smooths cosmetics on her eyes. Filmed by US Vogue on the subject of her daily beauty regimen, the 30-year-old politician makes no apology for her love of prettifying.

“I used to think that I would be taken less seriously,” she says as she debates the merits of a glitter eye. “As the youngest woman in Congress, and as a woman of colour, it’s so hard to be taken seriously . . . I used to think shimmery eyeshadow . . . isn’t going to help me out. People already try to diminish me . . . as young and frivolous and unintelligent. But, she says, admiring her reflection in the mirror: “The shimmer looks fire!”

Like many women, AOC wrestles with the politics of beauty. She detests a patriarchal system in which “women who wear a decent amount of make-up . . . make more money”, and how upholding traditional female beauty standards can lead to compensatory gain. But, on the other hand, she’s a proud Latina woman who loves to experiment with her appearance and has an epic make-up kit. It’s a mad irony that a woman with the translucent complexion of a newborn should blast through some 18 different products of a morning — including a Fenty contouring stick, colour corrector, brow pencils, an eyelash curler, as well as her signature Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick in “Beso”, a 24-hour battle armour in fiery tomato red. But, hey, she looks smoking hot thereafter. So who am I to judge?

“If I’m going to spend an hour in the morning doing my glam, it’s not because I’m afraid of what some Republican photo is going to look like,” she says in answer to those critics who think an interest in such matters is disempowering. “It’s because I feel like it . . . My body, my choice!”

It’s cheering to see an intelligent woman talking so freely about her love of make-up — one who is not ashamed to celebrate her looks. Women in politics tend to be cringingly bashful when talking about so-called girly subjects; it’s assumed a moral failure that any self-respecting feminist might want their lips to “pop”. Cosmetic maintenance is generally regarded as some kind of sexist cruelty. In her memoir What Happened, Hillary Clinton recalls being appalled to discover that she spent 600 hours (or 25 days) of her 2016 campaign trail being beautified before events. “I’m not jealous of my male colleagues often, but I am when it comes to how they can just shower, shave, put on a suit and be ready to go,” she explains. By contrast: “The few times I’ve gone out in public without make-up, it’s made the news.”

US First Lady Melania Trump walks along the White House colonnade on her way to address the Republican party’s convention © Getty

Going barefaced, Clinton argues, became a feminist issue in her bid for the US presidency because it shifted media attention to her “tired” appearance rather than focusing on the policies with which she hoped to win. It’s refreshing, then, to see a political firebrand like AOC, already well-versed in attracting media attention, deciding that instead of trying to hide her beauty rituals, she will share them with the world. Moreover, it’s a winning tactic. By using a non-threatening, user-friendly platform, she may present as merely blending contours, but in doing so she’s also sneaking in her social equality message as well.

Such an attitude would have served Donald Trump’s campaign team well this week at the Republican National Convention, instead of the showboating that found the president drawing on a shellacked parade of female affiliates and family members to pledge allegiance to his reign. It might have added a layer of humanity to Kimberly Guilfoyle’s terrifying performance had she peppered her six-minute exhortation to “Determine. Your. DESTINY!” with a smattering of friendly beauty tips as well. How much more compelling it would have been if, instead of watching wooden stalwarts read out an autocue of praise, we had seen Tiffany Trump chat about her father while discussing lipsticks in her favoured shade of pearl. I’d consider paying to watch Melania “walk us through her skincare”. Instead we found her marching through the White House like a lieutenant straight out of North Korea.

At a time when Trump is desperately courting young suburban women who are, according to the polls, less likely to vote for him, AOC and her brow brush delivered a stunning coup de grâce. Her tutorial has already swept up an impressive 1.4m views and sparked myriad articles on websites read by precisely the demographic that Trump is trying to woo. But that’s because AOC already understands. You can bang on all day about child care, health, education and how much you appreciate your husband. But if you really want to hold a gal’s attention, show them how to find their fire.

Follow Jo on Twitter @jellison or email her at jo.ellison@ft.com

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Letter in response to this column:

Rarely argued feminist view with a sting in the tail / From Jaideep Sengupta, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong

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