Marina Banister: On Women in Politics, Style & Personal Branding

Marina Banister via Pink Pencil SkirtMarina Banister via Pink Pencil Skirt

The first Pink Pencil Skirt interview

If there’s one type of writing assignment I love, it’s the interview. From interviewing people for Lazy Faire and The Gateway, I’ve learned about the tech scene in Silicone Valley talking to Lucas Matheson of Pinshape, about the challenges of putting out a first album after a super-successful EP from Wake Owl, or simply what it takes to succeed in a BCom degree from prominent business students. The overwhelming feeling I get after interviewing people doing incredible things with their lives is a boost of inspiration in my personal endeavors. It’s almost as if their success is a contagious feeling, and that they impart a little onto the interviewer.

And now, in pursuit of inspiration and stories from wonderful people, I’ve decided it’s time to interview people on Pink Pencil Skirt. I’ve always believed that in order to achieve great things you need to surround yourself with incredible people, and what better way to do that than by having an excuse to ask all the questions you want from people you admire?

So when I decided to start featuring incredible individuals on Pink Pencil Skirt, the first person I thought of was Marina Banister. Marina and I have known each other since high school, when we worked with each other on the Strathcona High School’s SU. She went on to become President of Scona’s SU, and since then has continued her political career into university. The reason Marina was an obvious choice for a feature was her vast array of achievements in her 4 years at university. The timing for this feature couldn’t be better as Marina begins her race for VP Academic in the University SU Elections. Before the calm of the storm (AKA the SU Elections), we found the time to sit down and talk about her style, personal branding, women in politics, and how to become politically involved.

Why she’s kind of a big deal: 4th year Political Science major at the University of Alberta, Chair of the City of Edmonton Youth Council, President of the Political Science Undergraduate Association and a Senator for the UAlberta SU. Phew, I’m out of breath. Marina has also sat on all levels of governance at the U of A and is now running for VP Academic in the current UAlberta SU Elections.

Marina Banister via Pink Pencil Skirt

Photo provided

The girl with the HBC Jacket – a case study on personal branding

Back in her second year, Marina was running for Arts Councilor and branded her campaign with the iconic Hudson’s Bay Company colors because she was so recognizable in her HBC jacket (featured above). “The girl with the Hudson’s Bay Jacket” campaign is still one of the best examples of effective personal branding I can think of. Now in her fourth year, Marina continues to be spotted around campus with this distinct jacket.

“People always say to me ‘I saw you walking across Quad three days ago because I saw your jacket’. That’s what I like, I like being easily identifiable and I think that’s helpful in an elected official, I want you to be able to pick me out in a crowd, know that’s who’s representing you, you can go ask me questions,” Marina explains. At this point, her jacket has transcended its jacket-ness: it’s become a way of distinguishing herself from other candidates and representing her approachability.

But as far as jackets go, it doesn’t just stop at HBC, Marina laughs as she explains, “I love outerwear, I love a good coat, I have a green coat for spring, a white coat for winter… I have a lot of jackets.” Underneath her jacket, Marina describes her style as “girly and professional”. “I wear a lot of peplums, polka dots, patterns, high heels. I always say I’m like a Texan because I have a big head, I like my hair bigger and my lashes even bigger than that. Sometimes more is more.

Marina Banister via Pink Pencil Skirt

Is being a girly-girl possible in politics?

“I wear a lot of makeup, I love makeup, I have too much make up, I watch YouTube videos before I go to bed, Jaclyn Hill like yaaaaas” she jokes around. But for a young woman that is so serious about politics, this love for style and girly-ness may come as a surprise to some. When I ask her about this, Marina explains “there’s this ideal female candidate that’s just pretty enough but not too pretty” but that “because people in student politics take themselves so seriously it’s important to do things you enjoy”, which for her is getting all dolled up. Although she plans to go into politics after graduating, Marina tells me “I’m not going to do that at the expense of giving up who I am.” She describes most political candidates as trying to “fit cookie cutter A, B, or C” but that her positioning comes from “being relatable [which] ultimately means being [herself]”.

So this reminiscence pretty much sums it up: “Ever since my mom drove me to school in elementary school, every single day – this is illegal now – but she would paint her nails at the red lights, and every single day she would curl her hair and put on her drastically contrasting red lip liner on. And my mom is a super successful businesswoman and a great mom. I like getting ready and I have since I was little and I’m not going to tone down my look or wear a pantsuit – although all hail Hillary Clinton – because I think that’s what’s going to get me ahead.”

The question of personal appearance is a tough issue for many women in politics. Marina brings up health minister Sarah Hoffman, pointing out the fact that “people are constantly commenting on her appearance, her weight specifically, even though that’s not relevant to her job at all. Previous Health Ministers have been overweight, but they’re men, and people don’t notice as much.” In her political career, Marina has also experienced the challenges women face with appearances. She’s the kind of girl that looks perfect every day, so I ask her if that’s necessary to be taken seriously. “I do think that you need to look somewhat put together to be taken seriously, but it’s interesting, I think I cross a line that I’m not taken seriously because it looks like I spend a lot of time getting ready,” she tells me. Though we didn’t discuss this when we met up, a case in point is this past summer, when Marina made international news (and the front page of Buzzfeed) pitching for Edmonton’s city council to switch to vegetarian snacking options. Some of the comments on social media were personal attacks on Marina’s physical appearance, and not at all related to the ideas she was presenting. These types of reactions are likely why female candidates are told to tone it down when it comes to physical appearances, but kudos to Marina for rocking her big hair, fabulous makeup, and distinct style.

Marina Banister via Pink Pencil Skirt

Politics for non-politicians

We finished our meeting talking about political involvement. I told Marina that it feels like many people, myself included, want to be involved in the political process but feel powerless to do so. So get ready for Marina’s 3-points of advice on political activism, because these certainly were revelations for me.

#1: “In Canada we’re taught to be polite and keep our opinions to ourselves, and while that has its time and place, that won’t get you very far in terms of [having your voice heard]. Claire Edwards, she was in Avenue Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40, she’s one of my best friends, and she has a very active Twitter and Facebook and is constantly sharing her opinion and that’s one reason why she gets taken seriously. Ultimately regardless of whether people agree with her or don’t agree with her, they respect the fact that she has a voice. And it’s interesting because once you start sharing your views on social media, political parties and candidates will start following you, and that’s a really good way to get on the radar.”

#2: “A different way to get involved is through volunteerism. Specifically in this city, I’m the Chair of the City of Edmonton Youth Council right now, and I have a big heart for this organization. I think it does a lot of great things and I wish more people knew about it, because if you’re in between the ages of 13-23 this is an excellent way to get involved. You apply to the council, there are 20 people on it but there are also committees that anyone in the entire city between the ages of 13-23 can drop into. We have a committee for mental health, city planning, arts, engagement, and social equity. These committees meet with city council and tell them their ideas, and ultimately these councillors are very supportive and want us to be involved in the process. It’s hard to find these things, you kind of have to search for them, but if you go to the CEYC website and click on all the different committees, there are ways to get involved.

#3: “I say this a lot to my politically active friends: don’t die on every hill. One way to start getting taken seriously in politics is choosing 2 or 3 issues that you care about and want to make a difference on. One of my biggest passions is the animal agriculture industry, so over this summer I made a big fuss about it and it was ultimately international news. It was on the cover of BuzzFeed, National Post, on the CBC. People respect an expert, so if you can research 1-2 issues, and it could be anything, it could be youth homelessness or the Palm Oil Crisis or the Syrian Refugee Crisis, if you read a lot about that, it becomes clearer what the pitfalls and successes of those movements are. I think politicians get cynical that citizens don’t care, and citizens get cynical that politicians don’t care. It’s this hugely evolving cycle and I think the way to break out of that is to ask questions, throw something out there.”

I never have high hopes when I ask people what are good ways to get involved. Usually people will mumble something about writing a letter to your local MP, yadi-yadi-yada, but here Marina gave 3 very practical, concrete suggestions for being heard. I walked away from this first interview feeling pretty damn inspired.

Twitter: @ban_marina

Nicole Hammond

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