Socialist Alternative

Why Is AOC Lobbying For Sunscreen?

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The best time for the socialist left to decisively end its embarrassing association with AOC was in 2021 when she failed to vote against funding Israel’s Iron Dome. The second best time was when she and other members of the Squad voted to crush rail workers’ right to strike. The third best time was this past July when she endorsed Joe Biden’s 2024 presidential bid instead of the independent democratic socialist in the race, and the fourth best time is now.

The clock read 7:30 pm on Thursday, but it was high noon in the Twilight Zone when a video went up on social media in which Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez lobbies the public to help deregulate the cosmetics industry.

You’d think there must be more to the story, but there really isn’t much. “I was in South Korea earlier this year,” AOC says. “And it is so clear how far advanced the rest of the world is on sunscreen. And we deserve better here in the US.” She explains how the FDA’s approval process for new UV filters adds “bureaucratic and costs [sic]” to the process of introducing new products to the US market, and urges viewers to call their members of Congress to bring attention to the issue.

She appeared alongside Charlotte Palermino, a beauty guru who, in addition to selling $69 serums under her own brand, makes her living by promoting luxury skincare products to her social media followers. 

Palermino’s page on ShopMy, where she actually wants us to believe she uses 45 sunscreens. 

The beauty industry is fundamentally sexist, racist, and anti-worker. Ever-evolving methods of psychological warfare via advertising convince us to buy an endless stream of products that promise freedom from the insecurities the CEOs and strategists planted and exacerbated. The skincare industry alone will net $110 billion this year, and as one of the fastest-growing sectors of the cosmetics industry, is expected to further balloon to $167 billion by 2030. Any millennial woman can recall how in the mid-2010s, just as we’d mastered the #FullGlam procedure of highlight, contour, and false lashes, the corporate trend manufacturers turned on us and decided we have to be beautiful under our makeup, too. That means serums, eye creams, retinols, acid exfoliants, and sunscreen – but that’s not all! You need the right kind of each of them. 

What’s the right kind? It’s always changing. Maybe Bemotrizinol – the UV filter they’re probably talking about but for some reason don’t mention – is the real “Holy Grail” after all that will put the dozens and dozens of sunscreens already on US shelves to shame. However, it seems more likely there is a push for deregulation because there are profits to be made off the new thing you need in your 10-step skincare routine, and it’s expensive for companies to get FDA approval. Why AOC of all people is coming to their rescue, we can never know. But we do know that when these products hit the market, they’ll be advertised not as safe and effective measures against skin-related health conditions, but as “anti-aging” measures you need to prevent developing horrible, disgusting wrinkles. (Or, as Palermino’s brand creatively euphemizes:  “plumping fine lines.”)

Many ordinary people enjoy skincare and makeup as hobbies, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. With the myriad ways this miserable system wears us down in our daily lives, we often come to appreciate the small ways we can feel better about ourselves. But the profiteers like Palermino whose thinly-veiled marketing strategy relies on planting the seeds of self-hatred in millions of young women are absolutely despicable, and any socialist should be ashamed to associate with them. 

All of that aside – remember when it seemed like AOC wanted to fight the system? Of course, it’s true that the FDA is corrupt and doesn’t have the interests of public health in mind. But so is the rotten industry that people like Palermino profit from, and so is the Democratic Party. From food to cosmetics, to the air we breathe and the water we drink, just about everything on offer to working people is disastrous for our health. But what has she, or any of her fellow “democratic socialists” in office, done about it recently? 

It’s not so much that AOC should be “canceled” for this one truly stupid bit of PR, but that this episode is an important marker for those of us on the left who do still want to fight for a better world. There was a time when AOC and Bernie Sanders were advancing, and even spearheading, the fight for socialist politics in the US. But that was then and this is now. Now, it feels like it’s been years since either talked about Medicare for All, which would be the single most useful reform to protect against and treat skin conditions in the US. Hawaii is on fire and the Green New Deal aspirations have been all but swapped out for Biden’s profits-first climate agenda. AOC is too busy to launch any sort of real public campaign to engage ordinary people in fighting for these things – but she has time to dip her toes in the cosmetics affiliate economy?

Young people who can see through the messaging they’re fed by capitalism and who have had enough of this system deserve a model of socialism that genuinely fights the profiteers who control our lives and make us miserable. Socialism is one and the same struggle as fighting sexism, racism, all forms of oppression, and – critically – embodies a wholesale rejection of the ideological bunk peddled by the ruling class to sell products and shift the blame back on us. Anyone who’s comfortable working within this system is not on our side. It’s past time for the left to say, once and for all, no more sellouts! Because this is getting out of hand. 

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