Today, Vogue blessed us with a video glimpse into Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s beauty routine, which includes NARS tinted moisturizer, SPF everywhere (don’t forget the ears, people!), and of course, her signature red lip. “I’m not going to waste my time. 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. It’s because I feel like it,” she explains. The whole thing is a balm for anyone who is tired of defending the fact that liking makeup and being smart aren’t mutually exclusive. But what I can’t stop thinking about isn’t the Congresswoman’s natural glow, or her soothing, ASMR-ready voice, or the fact that she contours with Fenty. It’s her towel rack.
Never, in all my years of watching Vogue videos, reading Coveteur bathroom tours, or Into The Gloss Top Shelf interviews, have I seen a towel rack as remarkably unremarkable as this one. It’s the kind of towel rack that comes pre-built into one’s rented apartment. In fact, I have one just like it in my bathroom — and in the bathroom of the apartment I used to rent before this one, and before that one, too. AOC’s plain towel rack is nickel-silver and bears two gray hand towels — the kind you might pick up at Bed Bath & Beyond or Target during one of those harried post-move sweeps when you suddenly realize you don’t own something as basic as hand towels and can’t figure out why. It sits atop an eggshell-beige wall, another choice that seems likely to have been made by a landlord. It is, and I cannot emphasize this enough, a perfectly average bathroom accessory. And in the context of a Vogue video, that is nothing short of revolutionary.
AOC is, of course, not the typical Vogue subject. While we’ve seen politicians like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi in its pages, the fashion and beauty departments are historically much more likely to showcase the multi-million dollar lifestyles of models, actresses, and influencers. These women inhabit the kind of bathrooms that have several sinks, deep-veined marble floors, and self-warming towel racks draped in plush, designer towels that probably cost more than most people’s outfits. Even the more regular-person bathrooms we often see in home tours and makeup-routine videos across the internet tend to have a certain aspirational quality: They’re “aesthetically” minded plant-filled homages to modern femininity. And that’s cool! But it still isn’t what most of us are working with.
Bathrooms are notoriously expensive and difficult to customize, and they’re often not the first thing that springs to mind when we think about decorating a new spot. Unless you own your home or have been there a long time, chances are your bathroom looks like mine and AOC’s: sparse, unexceptional, landlord-approved.
Recently, I filmed a video for Refinery29 at my apartment. My bathroom wasn’t even in the mix as a possible filming location, but I knew a small crew would be coming over and that they might need to use it. As I speed-cleaned the night before, I found myself feeling weirdly self-conscious about the space, even after washing out the toilet bowl and vacuuming all the loose hair off the floor. It was still just my shitty bathroom in my mediocre Brooklyn apartment, with ugly beige tile on the wall and dried glue drips running down the sides of the poorly-installed medicine cabinet. While I could place throw pillows atop my bed and cover up my ancient kitchen table with a patterned tablecloth, there wasn’t much I could do here to make it feel less like a bland rental bathroom I had never bothered to show any love.
So when I saw AOC walking us through her beauty and skincare routine — for a publication as high-brow as Vogue — atop a backdrop that includes a standard-issue towel rack and beige wall, I smiled with recognition. I have no idea how AOC feels about her bathroom. Something tells me that she probably has much bigger things on her mind. She may even have considered the small political statement she was making, as a leader of the people, in showcasing her normal-person bathroom on the website of a renowned luxury publication. But it made me realize that, just as we can love beauty products and still care about politics, we can be glamorous and aspirational and still not have a great-looking bathroom.
AOC makes people feel seen — especially women, people of color, and the working class. She does it in ways big and small. For me, today, it was knowing that a woman I look up to lives in an apartment with a bathroom like mine. And for that, I am grateful.