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Sanna Marin: Is It Okay For a World Leader To Be Sexy?

The young prime minister of Finland has received a mix of backlash and support for her Trendi photoshoot.

Sanna Marin is a beautiful, 34-year-old woman with striking blue eyes, flowing hair, and a charming smile.

As of last December, she also happens to be the prime minister of Finland, and as one of the youngest national leaders in the world. But are those two aspects of her identity even compatible? Is it possible for her to be a serious political figure while still embracing her youth and beauty?


That seems to be the question that arose from a photoshoot that Marin did for the cover story of the October issue of Finnish magazine Trendi. Among other images, the story features a shot of Marin wearing a blazer with no shirt underneath, exposing bare skin down to her midriff, and offering just a hint of cleavage.

The image would undoubtedly be considered tame if Sanna Marin had risen to prominence as an entertainer, an artist, a writer—basically any other profession. But the profession she chose is politics, and there was bound to be some backlash.

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Conservative commentators in the EU nation were quick to label both the outfit and the interview with a women's lifestyle and fashion magazine as inappropriate and a waste of the prime minister's time. But, much like efforts to criticize Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for having some solid dance moves and seeming like she knows how to have fun, the criticism seems to have backfired.

Hecklers were soon drowned out by an overwhelming show of support online, with Finnish citizens and admirers from abroad voicing their support. On Twitter the hashtag #ImWithSanna began trending, with many posting images of themselves in similar outfits.

Others pointed out that their seems to be a double standard at play. Finland's neighbor, Russia, has a president who is fond of posing shirtless on horseback, and that the nation's far-right EU representative has shared bared a lot more skin in images that many consider far more tasteless...

So what is it that makes Sanna Marin different than these other politicians, and more subject to scrutiny for her wardrobe choices? In case the answer is less than 100% obvious, it's worth spelling out: it's the fact that she's a woman.

Worse still, Sanna Marin is a young woman who represents an ascendant progressive political movement that young people across national lines are increasingly drawn to. As a young member of Finland Social Democratic party, it's tempting for older commentators on the other side of the political spectrum to try to use her youth and good looks against her.

They question her seriousness and accuse her of being too young or too naïve—just a pretty face with no real ideas or understanding of politics. But it's easy to expose this tactic as baseless and desperate.

Their complaints are just proxies for attacking her for being young, female, and progressive—she'll never be "serious" enough for her critics, because what they really want is an old man to hold back progress. Meanwhile, bystanders watching the scandal unfold from the US can't help but wish we had someone as compelling as Sanna Marin to vote for, instead of two old men...

To lay out Marin's credentials and her appeal, it's worth starting with the fact that she is far from a political novice.

Sanna Marin got involved in politics at a young age, and was first elected to political office as a member of the city council of Tampere in 2012. She became a member of Finnish parliament in 2015, and served as the Minister of Transport and Communications in 2019 before being selected as prime minister.

During her tenure in office, Finland has had one of the lowest COVID-19 infection rates in the EU, and the Social Democratic Party has overtaken the far-right Finns to become the most popular political party in the country. Clearly Sanna Marin is more than just a pretty face, and if her critics had bothered to read the story in Trendi—rather than leaping at an opportunity to shame a woman for "inappropriate" attire—they would have found Marin discussing the seriousness and stresses of her job in a way that makes the work of politics more approachable to the public.

Nothing about a barely-risqué photoshoot or an interview with a popular magazine detracts from Sanna Marin's work. She can be young, beautiful, and even sexy, and continue to be a dedicated servant of the Finnish people.

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