If you’ve watched HBO’s “Veep,” whose great third season is now available on iTunes, you may have noticed that the show’s main character, vice-president Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), is not like real-world politicians. Sure, she’s a manipulative backstabber who’s more familiar with her polling numbers than the issues of the day, a spineless careerist with no convictions to speak of: That’s all familiar enough. But she’s also — how shall I put this? — kind of hot.
As a rule, professional actors are better-looking than we normals, but what we might call the Attractiveness Gap is more pronounced when it comes to politics, a profession where physical attractiveness — and, worse, any sign that the female politician in question might give too much thought to her appearance — can be a distinct drawback. As the saying goes, politics is show business for ugly people, and they apparently don’t like the good-looking intruding on their turf.
Sure, it’s vaguely ludicrous seeing “Scandal’s” hunky President Fitz without his shirt on, but can you imagine a female commander-in-chief, fictional or otherwise, stripped to her skivvies? In one memorable episode from “Veep’s” third season, the president’s political maneuvering forces Selina to clarify her position on reproductive rights, and her staff quotes a talking point that begins, “As a woman….” Her response was sheer panic: “I can’t identify myself as a woman! People can’t know that. Men hate that. And women who hate women hate that… which, I believe, is most women.”
In the Guardian, Anna Hart details the ways in which “Veep’s” costume department plays up Selina Meyer’s feminine charms, and the prices real-life politicians have paid for showing even an inkling of her fashion sense:
In real life, it doesn’t always pay for politicians to be seen to care about their wardrobes. Last year, for example, former secretary of state for Wales Cheryl Gillan was mocked for wearing a mildly interesting leopard print outfit during prime minister’s questions last summer, with senior Tory MPs making roaring noises behind her back. Labour’s Stella Creasy, too, was criticised by the Sun’s political editor for debating Page 3 while wearing a PVC skirt. In the US, the 2008 revelation that Sarah Palin had a $150,000 fashion-and-beauty budget for her vice-presidential campaign was greeted with widespread disgust. Meyer, on the other hand, is fictional, and can get away with dressing as extravagantly as she likes.
As “Veep’s” costume designer, Ernesto Martinez, told the New York Times, Selina differs from most real-life politicians in that she’s not afraid to flaunt her personal wealth, right down to her Louboutins. The show frequently makes sport of her visceral disgust for the common people whom politicians must ceaselessly pretend they relate to, and her pricey wardrobe is a great way of underlining that disdain.
It would be really interesting if, in a future season, “Veep” tackled the Attractiveness Gap head-on, especially as Selina faces the added pressure of ascending to the highest office in the land. Perhaps she’ll squirm in unflattering power suits calculated to portray her newfound gravitas, or maybe she’ll follow the suggestion of Hart’s Guardian colleague, who tore through the reams of public commentary about Hillary Clinton’s appearance with a simple suggestion: “Maybe 2014 doesn’t have to be the year of the strong female politician. Maybe it can just be the year of the strong female politician who doesn’t give a fuck if you think she’s pretty. Who are you, anyway?”