Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Credit: nrkbeta/Flickr

Hair toss, check my nails.” So begins Lizzo’s blockbuster song “Good as Hell,” which sells a dizzying idea of female empowerment. With its iconic rhythm and feel-good sentiment, “Good as Hell” has had tremendous success resonating with young girls, sorority sisters, and dance club frequenters, to even middle-aged white moms like me. But on Thursday, I heard the song scratch to a halt in the back of my mind upon reading a Washington Times story by Alex Swoyer entitled “EXCLUSIVE: Self-declared socialist AOC splurges on high-dollar hairdo.”

In her piece, Ms. Swoyer seeks to shine a light on the purported hypocrisy of a congresswoman who declares herself a socialist but spends hundreds of dollars on her hair. But in her rush for snarky liberal-bashing, Swoyer misses the real story about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s pricey haircut: the blatant and disparate “female tax” that women in power must pay to achieve and maintain their power.

Swoyer calculates that, in a Washington, D.C. hair salon, AOC likely spent, with gratuity, more than $300 to get her hair cut and colored. The math looks correct. (I say that as someone who got her hair cut and colored in D.C. Thursday for a similarly outrageous amount of money in a different hair salon.) Swoyer suggests that AOC could have spent a mere $100 for the “same hairstyle at the government-subsidized Capitol Hill barbershop” where men’s cuts cost about $20.

And that is where Swoyer misses the real story. AOC, like all powerful women, has to go through a rigorous beauty regimen simply to exist in the public eye. Picture Laura Ingraham, Kellyanne Conway, Andrea Mitchell, Nicole Wallace, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, Dana Bash, Susan Collins, and Jeanine Pirro.

The beauty routine for prominent women who work and live under the eye of a camera can include not just haircuts, but hair color, highlights, lowlights, Keratin treatments, blowouts, braids, manicures, pedicures, facials, eyebrow waxes, eyelash extensions. In some cases, it may include Botox and plastic surgery. Not to mention, women operating in the public eye often maintain one to two sets of makeup (one for home and one for the office) which consists of products like foundation, mascara, lipstick, all the brushes and utensils to apply makeup with, and much more. These costs add up to hundreds, in some cases thousands, of dollars a year.

On top of the enormous financial impact, these beauty regimens require these women to take the time out of their busy schedules to attend to their appearances in a way that men in power are spared. Women in power must pay a significant tax on their limited time to sit for manicures, blowouts, brow waxes, and braids, rather than meeting with constituents, reviewing legislation, conducting investigations, chasing a story, traveling to their districts, reviewing their notes, or spending time with their families.

The story about AOC’s haircut is the story about how women continue to face enormous—and often superficially imposed—obstacles to achieving power and influence. Women in power must be more than mentally prepared for work, knowledgeable of the issues, ready to defend themselves and their work on a moment’s notice, and braced to fend off sexism and harassment.

Twenty-dollar barbershop haircuts, a shower, and a shave simply won’t suffice—nor will a mere hair toss and checking your nails. That’s a very real cost for women in powerful positions. It is not, as Lizzo might say, “good as hell.” And that is the scandal behind haircut-gate.

Julie Rodin Zebrak

Follow Julie on Twitter @JulieZebrak. Julie Rodin Zebrak is the Washington Monthly's director of digital strategy and outreach. She is a veteran attorney with nearly 20 years of experience at the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Justice, and the founder and CEO of Yes Moms Can.