The Un-Glamming of the White House Press Secretary: Jen Psaki’s Nude Matte Lip.

Sarah Graalman
The Shadow
Published in
8 min readJan 28, 2021

Emerging like a fresh-faced phoenix from the burning shards of an autocracy and perching herself on the lectern of the White House Press Room, there Jen Psaki was — subtly blushed and freshly mascara’d. A whisper of a shimmer-shadow brushed on her lid, as though an angel had blown it there.

Jen Psaki. Hello. Welcome to my exhausted, frightened, and desperate eyeballs. Four years of false eye-lashes blinking away at their reviled press core left me stunned and whip-lashed. Please don’t go anywhere. Stay forever. You look like you’re too busy fact-checking to sit and have your makeup done professionally, and I’m relieved to see you in your ginger glory.

I love your matte nude-brown lipstick. I know who loves matte nude-brown lipsticks, so you must be “from the 90’s”. I google her name and the truth appears. Yes, she is from the 90’s. She is exactly my age. The velvet chokered and Doc Marten’ed saints rejoice.

Since we both probably went to Lilith Fair and wore Rum Raisin lipstick in or around 1994, I feel I can address you directly. Hi, Jen. I’m no betting woman, but I’d wager the contents of your makeup bag are: Three eye-shadows (two you always wear, and one that’s for “special occasions”) a few lipsticks you go back and forth with, including an bright orangey-red you would totally look smoking in, a foundation that doubles as concealer, a mascara you replace every 6–8 months, the one blush color you LOVE, and a powder for shine.

There are also two eye-liners in that bag rarely used because you’re nervous you’ll use them wrong. A friend who is ‘good with makeup’ or an artist who did your makeup once told you what to buy and how to use it. You took notes. Afterwards, you went about your busy day or a broke open a new novel or went for a jog.

I do not mind that you’ve spared a makeup artist a pay check, and I doubt this administration has one on staff. There’s enough TV being made these days, so work has been fine. I imagine the makeup artists in DC have some client openings with the past administration leaving. But, I’m not here to fret about employment for makeup artists, and I’m not here to make sure the current Press Secretary has one.

I have other questions: Were you into Tori or Ani? PJ Harvey? Maybe Kim Deal? Next up, please just tell us some truths and answer the queries of the press. IT’S SO NICE WATCHING YOU ANSWER QUESTIONS. My wish is you spend your down-time in thoughtful conversation as opposed to ‘getting glam’. You look flushed, like you ran through a field on your way to work. You probably drink 8 glasses of water a day. You eat your veggies! I bet you don’t know or even care what Instagram filters are! Godspeed.

Definitely not according to modern makeup tutorials, it is actually possible to look great in front of cameras without literally (literally, y’all. I see it online every day) pouring or dumping foundation and concealer onto your face. One doesn’t ‘need’ fake lashes to look done. Looking ‘Fox-News-hot’ isn’t the only version of hot. In fact, some people don’t desire to look hot at all! It’s ok to not be a makeup vixen and completely acceptable to not wear makeup at all. ‘Fresh-faced’ is still a thing you’re allowed to be. It’s also ok to have no lewk or vibe. You know who doesn’t have a makeup vibe? Elizabeth Warren.

You know what her makeup routine is? It’s a non-style I call Hey y’all let’s just get things done with fresh n friendly kindness. She looks like true democracy! Her foundation color is ‘clean air’ and her blush is called ‘I walk a lot’. Her lipcolor is ‘exhilaration at life’. No one ever spoil her.

Back to Jen Psaki, who looks like a someone who looks in the mirror when she needs to — before leaving the house, while washing her hands, and the four to six minutes it takes to do her makeup before appearing in a briefing. Her face doesn’t own her.

*then why write about it? Because a face with a minimal makeup routine is as interesting to me and says as much as a face that has one. Neither is good nor bad — faces give information.

Makeup doesn’t always have to be *MAKEUP* and being female doesn’t ever mean one must be hyper-feminine. In fact, being a female doesn’t mean you have to look feminine at all! Any female can look masculine, just as any male should be able to embrace femininity. Rachel Maddow should be allowed look like Rachel Maddow — from her black rimmed glasses to her cropped brown hair. What any public figure chooses to look like, from zero makeup to high-glam, I’m here for it. I’ll be critical as an artist, because every decision says something. If a public figure wants to just rock clean skin and a smidge of cherry chap-stick, I’ll tip my cap to that as long, as the chapstick is applied right.

That’s all I have to say about our new Press Secretary’s makeup routine, aside from the artist-specific question of whether her most worn lip-color is Honey Love, Velvet Teddy, or Freckletone by MAC. I truly believe it’s one of those three. The end. I’d also like to know what she’s reading, and how she prepares for work, and if she watches old West Wing episodes, has she ever shrieked “Wait, am I real life C.J.?!?”

FOR CONTRAST, let’s compare the woman who stood (not too often, gurl) last where Jen Psaki does now. For she stood (and I mean rarely) there until January 19th, 2021, and she was always BEAT. Done. On point. Her makeup was profeshhhh. Those artists did good work!

I am bi-partisan when it comes to appreciating the fully-made-up. Her makeup was good! Her truest self kneels at the alter of full-out makeup, and she took time to have it done each of the (ver-very few) times she went on air. Perfectly blonde hair was always teased and mermaid-waved or professionally straightened yet was still somehow full. Lashes were on, the liner was wing-ed to perfection, with gradient shimmer-shadow blended towards heaven. Her make-up looked so nice that often I’d mutter ‘DAMN that make-up looks so nice!’ and then my heart would continue breaking for democracy.

Since she came from the world of television punditry, when the White House called her to work, she waltzed those hair and makeup stylists along with her to her (infinitesimal number of) press briefings in which she used her time to bathe her orange-boss in word glitter.

Her glammarama was on point until it wasn’t — the day the Trump’s political fortunes reversed on January 6th. I personally received 20 or so texts and messages, asking if I’d seen “the change” in Kayleigh McEnany while (for once) speaking to the press. Something had changed — her hair was simply normal-people hair, though she still had a full beat and lashes on. But the beat was different. ‘Twas not done as well. It looked… less polished.

News outlets jokingly suggested her team up and quit on Insurrection Day, which is likely not true, due to the nature of the articles suggesting it. I saw a lot of images of her before/after that day, and most were doctored to make her look worse, which — even if I’m not a fan of hers, I cry foul. You don’t need to alter images to make a point, if the point is already being made by the reality of the true image.

However, the idea of a hair and makeup team speed-running angrily away from the White House during an insurrection, dragging their kits in a tizzy full of political fury brought some real moments of levity. ‘What in the hell?!’ her imagined makeup artist shrieked, a split-seconds away from applying highlight to Kaleigh’s cheekbones ‘I was FINE with the infinite lies, the aggressively unhidden racism, the unraveling of American democracy, and the ever-worsening yet ignored pandemic, but as of TODAY I’m never contouring you again, McEnany!!’ Powder thrown in the air. Gloss thrown in the trash. Democracy defended.

Enough of that nonsense. Let’s jettison forward towards hope instead of dwelling in the past — unless it’s to study the past to not repeat it, like shoddily done over-drawn lipliner .

Let Trump history be like the beauty trends of the early 2000’s, when brows were plucked thin and shaped like sperm, chunky glitter was placed everywhere, and lilac planted itself on everyone’s lids: A tragic trend-history never to be repeated. Our waking-nightmare of orange bronzer is now over. Retreat, you feverish nightmare of heavy contour and mermaid hair! Any posse of that many shellacked political persons is a tribe to be feared. I want my leaders to care a little less about their appearances. I want an administration to care more about how they do their jobs. Give me your rumpled hair from worry. Give me your hastily applied single-coat of mascara. Give me the high-queen glam of caring about your job.

I’m over-joyed to see a fresh face at the lectern. Let us run through the proverbial fields and revel in the natural flush of our cheeks. Let’s drink water and apply ample moisturizer, and revel in facts instead of conspiracy theories. If anyone would like to pop on a bright lip, good heavens do it. No one will see it under your mask (I yearn for bright lips, too) but you’ll know it’s there and that matters. Jen Psaki will continue to sport her matte-nude lip, applied while peering into a hand-mirror before facing the press core, every damned day.