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You don’t have to care about AOC’s skin care routine. But you should care about how she responded to critics.

It did not involve “clapping back.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez waves from behind a microphone at the Women’s March in New York City.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at the Women’s March in New York City on January 19.
Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

It’s possible it took this long for a politician to reveal their skin care regimen because no one would think to ask a 78-year-old white man about his daily skin care routine. We already know the answer: He, of course, does nothing and lets gravity do its work. (With one notable exception: the exquisitely moisturized hands of former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, which are protected by a $27 Ritz Carlton–branded lotion.)

But now that we have a record number of women serving in Congress, we know the exact skin care habits of at least one of the 535 members. On Sunday evening, when a follower of first-term New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked how she keeps her skin so clear, Ocasio-Cortez responded with a multi-page Instagram story.

“Skincare is a straight-up hobby of mine,” she wrote. “I’m a science nerd and I truly enjoy the science of it, reading about compounds and studies, etc.” As far as the actual step-by-step process goes, it’s pretty standard for a late-20-something woman who thinks and cares about skin care (cleanse, moisturize, wear sunscreen, use toners and actives like vitamin C and retinol, try your best not to sleep in your makeup, and avoid products that contain alcohol). She says her approach was “a blend between K-beauty and scientific consensus,” while also trying to cut down on dairy, which for some has been known to cause acne.

It’s another example of AOC’s famously colloquial social media presence that resonates with so many because of how much of a shift it is from that of traditional politicians. Before the post about her skin care routine, AOC’s Instagram story was a mix of her statements on representation in film at Sundance and the importance of having a loungewear uniform in addition to a work uniform.

It isn’t the first time Ocasio-Cortez has spoken frankly about her appearance. During New York’s primary campaign, she tweeted the exact shade of lipstick she wore at a debate after receiving questions about it, and at the opening day of Congress in January, she wore hoop earrings and explained later, “Next time someone tells Bronx girls to take off their hoops, they can just say they’re dressing like a congresswoman.” Nor is she the only new woman in Congress to talk about her fashion choices. During Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s victory speech, she asked the audience, “Can a congresswoman wear her hair in braids, rock a black leather jacket, and a bold red lip?”

The answer is, clearly, yes, but debates about whether it’s possible for women to be interested in traditionally feminine activities like caring about their appearance while also being interested in other things have somehow been raging for decades. While male politicians are often granted the right to be rabid fans of activities like, say, golf, when a woman politician expresses an interest in clothing, for example, it’s assumed that this interest comes at an expense to her intelligence.

It’s why women politicians have so often had to walk the line between looking appealing enough to avoid the taunts of frumpiness lobbed at Hillary Clinton but not so appealing that their attractiveness is used against them. One of the more famous of such examples: the way the media covered Sarah Palin’s “$150,000 shopping spree” as a vice presidential candidate (the money was actually spent by the Republican National Committee, and Palin herself balked at the price).

But AOC’s real genius, at least in regard to her skin care Insta story, is how graciously she responded to the predictable criticism that came with it. When one follower said, “I’m sorry but I don’t care about skincare routines. All I’m wondering is how do you run a successful campaign and how do you right [sic] your speeches?” she responded politely, “That’s okay, we all have different interests. You run a successful campaign by learning how to listen and put other people first,” while also explaining that she almost always improvises her speeches and writes all her social media posts herself.

She didn’t try to school the follower on how skin care isn’t anything to be ashamed of enjoying; instead, she used it as an opportunity to recommend the three works that she says helped her most with public speaking (Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the Gettysburg Address, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon).

Politicians already have a lot to learn from Ocasio-Cortez’s social media presence — and, for that matter, her platform. And because she’s one of the most beloved Democratic politicians of the moment, it’s likely that Insta-storied skin care and Beto O’Rourke’s constant cooking live streams will only be the beginning of an endless social media relatability race among politicians in the lead-up to the 2020 election.

For Ocasio-Cortez’s full skin care breakdown, here’s her original story:

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