Lipstick - Not Just a Trivial Cosmetic

Wearing lipstick as a woman, similarly to makeup as a whole, serves as a method of self-declaration. Whether it be the transition into adulthood, a demonstration of creativity, protesting, a show of political beliefs, building sex appeal, and most importantly, self-definition. A way of stamping your place in the world. A way of saying, this is how i choose to show up. 

I will never forget the first time I wore red lipstick. I was a young adult, a fresh 20 years old. I picked out an outfit that I thought was going to establish myself as the adult I felt like I was; a red blazer matched with black high waisted jeans, and a pair of black statement booties. I remember putting my blazer on and thinking to myself, "something is missing". I honestly don't even know where I got this brand new tube of lipstick from, but I went rummaging through my things looking for the "missing piece" and there is was. I applied this bright red lipstick and was ready for whatever the evening's event would bring. Or so I thought. As soon as I ran into older women from my family, randomly in passing, etc., I was met with remarks such as; "what are you doing with that red lipstick" "you know what they say about red lipstick" "you shouldn't wear red lipstick" and Lord some other comments that I won't even dare to repeat.

Lipstick is often considered a trivial cosmetic, as if it holds no true purpose, but the history of lipstick has symbolized everything from sexuality, prostitution, witchcraft, women's defiance and strength, and so much more. These varied meaning are the very reason that lipstick has stood out as far back as ancient civilizations - going from one extreme of controversy to the other of celebration.

A Colorful History

Lipstick can be dated back to 3,500 B.C. First used by Queen Schub-ad of ancient Ur (an ancient civilization of Mesopotamia). She used a lip color made from a base of white lead and crushed red gems. From there in its truest fashion, it spread to neighboring Egyptians. Cleopatra is known to to have made her own red lipppie (lip paint) out of carmine beetles and ants.

During the early Greek empires, prostitution was strongly associated with painted lips and forbidden by the law. During the middle ages in Europe, lipstick was highly criticized from a religious standpoint. Women wearing painted lips were labeled as satanic for "altering God and his workmanship". In America in the early 1900's red lipstick was meant for bold, 'new' women only. Women fighting for their right to vote wore bright red lipstick as a show of defiance and protest.

When World War II began, women in Britain and later in the United States were encouraged and applauded for wearing bright red lips to boost the morale of the country and soldiers. This became a symbol of resilient femininity in the face of danger. Even nurses and volunteers wore lipstick during this time as a standard protocol.

According to Debra Merskin, professor of media studies at University of Oregon, lipstick sales in the United States have always shred an inverse relationship with economic downturns.

Bottom line, no matter how bad things get, women are going to buy lipstick.