Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) talks to fellow members of Congress during the first session of the 116th Congress at the U.S. Capitol January 3, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Photo: Win McNamee (Getty Images)

If freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is known for speaking her mind, she’s becoming just as well known for doing so while wearing a bright red lip—a decidedly bold and feminine touch in a sector which rarely rewards femininity or individuality. (See: the derision Ocasio-Cortez faced over a recently-surfaced video of her dancing during her college years.)

But like many of her fellow female freshmen, Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t backed down from challenging and changing the status quo, as evidenced when she was sworn into Congress on Thursday. Wearing her now-signature red lips and a pair of large gold hoops, Ocasio-Cortez was confirmed, crediting her styling choice to another political trailblazer and fellow Latina from the Bronx, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

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Aside from being a striking, silent tribute, the move garnered major praise in the process.

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Indeed, as we’ve previously reported (and endlessly experienced), women in general, and particularly women of color, are regularly policed for their appearances. Our hair, our nails, our wardrobes...all are considered criteria for our ability to do our jobs and be taken seriously. And while a hoop and a strong lip may not seem an act of rebellion worth remarking on, one need only look at the old white men’s club Ocasio-Cortez is entering to understand its impact.

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Better yet, consider the cries of broken royal protocol on the single occasion now-duchess Meghan Markle wore a dark nail to a public appearance (a personal preference of the Queen, but far from a law). Or Serena Williams’ French Open catsuit, which prompted major debate on how even a world-class player should be allowed to dress on the tennis court. Or the longstanding military ban on dreadlocks and braided styles, which has only recently begun to be lifted. Or Michelle Obama’s post-White House fashion, which she’s admitted is a demonstration of her new sense of freedom.

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While it’s easy to point to the institutions in which these women have chosen to function as justification for regulating their appearances, the deeper implication is that they are somehow fundamentally inappropriate in their aesthetic choices. The message is that women must be controlled, corrected, and dimmed to be deemed acceptable.

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So, yes, it may be a small thing, but it is both refreshing and an act of rebellion to rock a red lip on the congressional floor—or a red nail to the bench of the Supreme Court. It is its own declaration of independence, and an assertion of the fact that we have the right to occupy those spaces, just as we are.