On Saturday evening, once it was announced that Joe Biden had crossed the 270-mark to elect him the next President, I wrote a celebratory piece on Kamala Harris. It was about why it was so brilliant to see a woman on the world stage that represented a different form of beauty than we have been used to for many decades. However, my article was at the centre of a Twitter storm on Sunday. I was accused of having a 1950s housewife mindset, told that I should be ashamed of myself for writing an apparent 'reductive' piece about Kamala’s beauty choices on such a monumental day for American politics.
Firstly, what many of the Twitter commentators didn’t realise is that my story from Saturday was one of seven articles that evening produced on Kamala Harris by the Telegraph. Our excellent lifestyle desk covered the hugely important moment of a woman being appointed Vice President, as well as various news stories across the politics and news desk. My story existed in the style section, and as the head of the beauty team I am very much within my right to write a beauty story on a huge political moment.
Part of my job is to analyse public image and the way politicians present themselves. Yes, my piece was in part about the make-up choices that Kamala makes, but it’s the analysis of this that was the real crux of the story; the subliminal messages that wearing a glossy lipstick sends over wearing a matte lipstick, why she wears her blush a certain way and how her make-up approach gives off a sense of a person who is confident, self-assured and doesn’t hide behind a mask of make-up. I analyse the very careful decisions made by a politician to reinforce their message. We all know politicians - at every level but most crucially in those top jobs - have style teams that very carefully select their wardrobe choices and make-up approach. How a politician chooses to present their image is worthy of discussion, and I won’t apologise for engaging in that discussion.
Sonia's statement on Twitter on Sunday evening
I think of Kamala as a self-assured politician who, brilliantly, has secured the second most important job in the world. Another commentator was outraged at how the Telegraph could give this breaking news story to the beauty desk. Completely incorrect (see above), but rude nonetheless. But it leads me onto my next point.
Why do people get so uncomfortable when beauty or fashion is brought into the political sphere? As a journalist whose speciality is in beauty and image-making, am I not allowed to have a valid interest or commentary on political moments? And before I get attacked for merely reducing Harris to some lipstick and a good blow-dry because she’s a woman (which did happen on Sunday on Twitter), I have written many pieces on Boris Johnson’s hair, and how it gets more scruffy based on his perceived stress-levels, with input from a behavioural psychologist on how his appearance shapes his public image. We’ve also covered Donald Trump’s middle-age man tan plus several style articles on Joe Biden and what his carefully crafted image says about him.
By writing a feature based on the very valid argument that a politician has a well-thought out public image doesn’t mean that myself and my colleagues on the beauty and fashion desk are naive to think it is the most important aspect. It isn’t. But it is an important aspect, and something that should be given the space to discuss, without fears of being labeled an anti-feminist or being accused of just writing the story based on what my ‘white, male bosses’ may want me to write (as one tweet so incorrectly suggested).
As seasoned journalists - on a beauty desk or otherwise - we need to break down the assumption that you can’t have an interest in beauty or fashion as well as politics and news. On the beauty desk we campaigned heavily this year on raising the reputation of the beauty industry in the UK, holding the government to question and helped to get 200,000 women back into work in August. I also follow the news obsessively, and as a journalism and politics graduate, I thrive on knowing the inner workings and behind-the-scenes of people in these top jobs. But you know what? I also love writing about the mood-boosting effects of a red lipstick and how nothing else cheers me up quite like it. It certainly doesn’t make me any less of a feminist or my work any less valid.