Mirror, Mirror: Palin: A political woman and 'every man's fantasy'

Despite Sarah Palin's tight French twist, rimless yet expensive eyewear, and drab straight skirts, both Democrats and Republicans agree the conservative vice-presidential candidate is a looker.

"I find her very attractive, bubbly, and with a definite sex appeal to her," said Marathon Grill owner and Democrat Cary Borish.

Palin may be downplaying her prettiness - a February article in Vogue said she once told a reporter that she was trying to be "as frumpy as I could by wearing my hair on top of my head and these schoolmarm glasses" - but it's not working.

Then again, in 2008, why should it have to?

"I think what happens with women in politics is their appearance becomes the story as opposed to the substance of what these women are saying," said Debbie Walsh, director for the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, on her way back from the Republican National Convention.

"And that diminishes or minimizes the power they have because it questions their political astuteness and ignores what it took for them to get there."

True. I can't begin to estimate the amount of column space, and cyberspace, dedicated to how first ladies and female politicos dress.

On one hand, it's frivolous. Who cares if Palin's $375 eyeglass frames were created by Japanese industrial designer Kazuo Kawasaki when she also wants to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?

But it can't be denied that a woman's choice of clothing, right down to her shade of lipstick, helps define who she is. Up until the 1900s, women's petticoats and ruffles were indicative of their roles as the weaker sex. Today, a woman's fashion choices are a window into her soul, reflecting beliefs she holds dear. Most important, her clothes communicate how she wants to be perceived.

Clearly Palin, a former beauty queen, embraces her femininity - and she's willing to use it when necessary. But the mother of five understands that she must look authoritative in the world of male-dominated politics to be taken seriously.

When John McCain announced Palin as his vice-presidential pick, the hair piled high on her head, paired with her red, round-toed Apepazza Musa pumps, gave off a mature yet sexy-secretary air. When a reporter asked Palin's publicist who designed her boxy bone jacket, he was told it wasn't important.

So much is left to the imagination.

But at any moment, Palin can spin around on those buckled heels, take the pins out of her hair - say, while delivering an acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention - and like Wonder Woman, become an amazon avenger pointedly defending her anti-abortion and gun-rights causes.

"She's every man's fantasy," said Nick Berardi, a stylist at Richard Nicholas Hair Studio in Center City. "That hairstyle is her look that's a part of her personality. It's so much a part of who she is."

This wholly feminine package is what Republicans are hoping will persuade undecided women and slightly annoyed Hillary Clinton supporters to vote for the McCain/Palin ticket in November.

The party is so sure of the Palin presentation that supporters wore buttons at the RNC that read "Hottest V.P. From the Coolest State."

If that didn't make Clinton quake in her bone flats, what would?

"She is so playing the sex card," said Karen O'Connor, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University. "But to be called the hottest vice-presidential candidate is appalling to me, and it denigrates women. . . . And if you look at her hair, it reminds me of Phyllis Schlafly" - the conservative political activist who opposes feminism and the equal rights amendment. (McCain and Palin say they support equal pay for women but don't want to change the 180-day limit women have to file a complaint.)

One thing is sure, Palin is being taken seriously even though she oozes sexuality. In fact, Palin is being lauded as the gutsy half of a ticket that will shove Barack Obama and Joe Biden into a corner. And that's a good thing for women who are tired of denying who they are in corporate and political arenas.

At the same time, if it weren't for courageous political women who swallowed their sexuality - or were ridiculed for lack of it - Palin wouldn't have had the opportunity last week to wow the crowd in Minneapolis.

Like all women if her position on abortion prevailed, she would be without a choice - on the politics she touted or the outfit she picked - whether or not she was a looker.

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
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