The first time the country got a good look at Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, it was in the wee hours of the morning on Nov. 8. Television viewers were bleary-eyed, and the realization that the election was spiraling into a Kabuki drama of chads, butterflies and boils hadn't sunk in. Harris sat hunched in a Shakespeare T-shirt. She looked tired and tousled and like a forty- something woman who hadn't gotten enough sleep. And viewers accepted that without comment because they recognized and could understand the image: honest human imperfection.
For her close-up, Harris did what any reasonable person would. Wisely recognizing that television lights wash out features, she looked in the mirror and began to apply makeup. And apply makeup. And apply makeup. Until she looked as if she were wearing a mask. Harris virtually created a character that she could present to the world. Would anyone even recognize her on the street? Has that been her plan all along?
University of Massachusetts history professor Kathy Peiss once noted that when women first gained easy access to makeup, it was used as a powerful tool to define and create a public face. Indeed, there is a genre of women who would never consider leaving their homes without putting on their face. (A sub-genre of them even wear makeup to the gym.) It was only after World War II that cosmetics were seen as suspect, as the enemy. Now, "cosmetics are like lightning rods for people's animus," Peiss said. The American public doesn't like falsehoods, and Harris is clearly presenting herself in a fake manner.
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