How Ivanka Trump’s Aggressively Upbeat Lifestyle Brand Normalizes Donald’s Politics
There are at least two Ivanka Trumps. One is a woman; the other is a namesake brand. But what is Ivanka’s brand, exactly? The most familiar aspect of it is probably her clothes and shoes, but it also includes fine jewelry, a prominent role in her father’s company, and, in some difficult-to-sort-out mix of the official and the symbolic, a place in Donald Trump’s political career.
At the Republican National Convention, Ivanka spoke eloquently if generically about women in the workplace, and then tweeted an ad for the Ivanka-brand dress she’d worn. Her company recently tried something similar with a five-figure bracelet she’d worn on “60 Minutes.”
During the election campaign, Ivanka’s unique blend of Marine Le Pen and Martha Stewart was an unsettling curiosity. Now it’s a more serious potential conflict of interest, as Jane Eisner writes in these pages. A November 21 Fast Company post announces that Ivanka has opted to have two different Twitter accounts, in order “to separate her lifestyle brand from her personal brand.” To me, it’s a move that sounds about as persuasive as “retweets are not endorsements,” but hey, what do I know.
The connection between buying Ivanka and supporting Donald hasn’t been lost on all. In October, technology and media marketing specialist Shannon Coulter started a boycott of Ivanka-branded wares and of the companies that carry them, using the hashtag #GrabYourWallet. Has this been successful? Footwear News reports that Shoes.com has dropped Ivanka, which is, well, something. On the other hand, Donald was just elected president of the United States.
For what I think we may safely assume are business purposes, Ivanka has long cultivated an image of political and aesthetic neutrality, with the apparent goal of hanging onto customers who maybe don’t think her dad should be president. It’s an aggressive, fake-smile neutrality that will strike you as familiar if you’ve ever read a lifestyle blog.
In case you haven’t: Lifestyle blogs (now a multiplatform, multimedia phenomenon) are female-oriented websites on which a rich, beautiful young woman will showcase her aspirational life. These blogs may be about fashion, beauty, food, home décor or some combination of all these things. They range from posh-but-mildly-relatable to Gwyneth Paltrow’s notoriously out-of-touch Goop. Instagram-worthy bowls of wholesome-looking ingredients may feature prominently on the homepage. Oh, and there’s almost certainly merch of some kind: a cookbook, an eye cream, a blouse. The idea is that you fall for the proprietor’s life and pay up for a token of her style.
Ivanka’s lifestyle brand is as inoffensive as it gets, even by lifestyle-brand standards. Her website offers up not one but two vacuous hashtags: #WomenWhoWork and #CelebrateEachOther. An About page explains that the website is “a celebration of women working at all aspects of their lives.” The text continues, as does the vagueness: “Women who transition between their various roles in professional and personal capacities: building careers, raising children, nurturing relationships and pursuing passions.” So Ivanka thinks women are… human beings? Who clothe themselves? I know feminism has been called “the radical notion that women are people,” but I don’t think that’s what was meant. A 2015 Vogue profile is as meaning-devoid as its headline: “Ivanka Trump Knows What It Means to Be a Modern Millennial.”
The lifestyle world is incessantly upbeat, even more so, I think, than the world of women’s magazines. Everything — every outfit, every cupcake — is great! And criticism is not tolerated. For a sense of what responses to lifestyle posts look like, check out the comments to an “editorial” page on her website: “Love this! Go #TeamIvanka!,” reads one. Another: “I look forward to seeing the positive impact Ivanka has on so many women including myself. Way to go Ivanka and team!!”
It’s normal for lifestyle blogs to show only flattering comments. At times, it can even constitute the charm of such blogs, especially given the online abuse that women who write for the internet, on any topic, often have to face. And as far as readers are concerned, even the politically engaged sometimes need a respite from all that awareness.
But the enforced positivity becomes sinister opacity when you consider the broader political context of Ivanka’s perma-sales-pitch, such as her her father restricting access to the press and not releasing his tax records.
Ah, but that’s her father, you say. Ivanka’s her own woman! Perhaps so, but what was she doing there in that closed-to-press meeting with the prime minister of Japan? Why was she on a conference call with her father and the president of Argentina?
If Donald Trump has created a political atmosphere in which it’s considered elitist to call out his bigotry and secrecy, Ivanka Trump has set forth a cultural environment in which anyone with any sort of criticism of her is — as in the lifestyle-blog world — too cynical and negative. Lifestyle brands ignore the haters. But what if the haters are political protesters? Outlandish notion, I realize, but: What if their motivation isn’t catty jealousy, but Ivanka’s role in normalizing her father’s political approach?
Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at email@example.com. Her book “The Perils of ‘Privilege’” will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017.