The power of the pout throughout history
By Katy Newton
“Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick,” said actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who, arguably, does not need much to enhance her beauty. Paltrow is one of many celebrities who have advocated the use of the notorious cosmetic and its effect on men (Paltrow’s red lips were kick-ass enough to attract Coldplay’s frontman Chris Martin…not too shabby).
Modern red lipstick sirens include Gwen Stefani, Dita Von Teese and Scarlett Johansson. Red lipstick is undoubtedly the most referred to cosmetic in popular culture. From the sensual image of singing red lips in the opening sequence of 1975’s cult hit The Rocky Horror Picture Show to Sarah Palin’s well-known distinction between hockey moms and pit-bulls, lipstick has remained a prominent symbol of femininity and sexuality in pop culture.
But who was the first person to don the dashing shade and why? Every great pop culture icon has to have some sort of absurd historical context, and red lipstick is no exception. Time travel 5,000 years back and land in the ancient Babylonian city of Ur, and you’ll find women hard at work crushing colorful semi-precious stones. Once ground well, they would apply the stones with a paste and paint their lips using this mixture. The Babylonian trendsetters inspired Indus valley onlookers to tint their lips with a red color. However, it was the Egyptian women who took suffering for the sake of beauty to a whole new level. Yep, these daredevils went as far as squeezing out iodine and bromine in order to achieve a purple-red color. As expected, or unexpected at the time, serious diseases ensued yet the women continued to be red-lipped beauties as they experienced what came to be known as “the kiss of death.”
Perhaps the most famous of these women is the infamous Egyptian ruler Cleopatra. Her innovative concoction consisted of crushed carmine beetles to provide the red pigment, which was mixed with ant’s eggs for the base. For less risk-taking followers of the ruler’s beauty habits, henna was a popular substitute for the lip color, and fish scales were used to add shimmer.
These practices may have stained the wearer’s lips but actual lipstick, as in, molded pigment in a pot, did not come to be until around 900 A.D. Ironically, it was invented by the father of modern surgery: A Muslim Andalusian by the name of Abu al-Quasim al-Zahrwai created a wax base for the pigment, perfumed it, then pressed it into a mold. Lo and behold, the modern day lipstick was born.
The popularity of lipstick grew immensely under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I in 16th century England. Pale girls who rock red lipstick have the trendsetting Queen to thank for this look. Chalk-white faces with blood red lipstick made from beeswax and plants started appearing on women all over the country.
However, not everyone favored the striking look on women. In 1653, English pastor Thomas Hall led a movement against lipsticks, proclaiming that the painting of faces was the “Devil’s Work.” Pictures of devils putting lipstick on women appeared often and sinners would admit to wearing lipstick. At confession, Hall believed that women who put the brush to their mouth with color were trying to “ensnare others and to kindle a fire and flame of lust in the hearts of those who cast their eyes upon them.” In 1770, England’s parliament went as far as to enact a law that prohibited lipstick, stating that women who seduced men into marriage by means of makeup could be tried as witches.
In 1837, another queen had a very different view on lipstick, one that agreed more so with the English government than with the women of the country she was ruling. Queen Victoria banished lipstick, declaring that it was only fit for prostitutes and actors. She considered it “impolite” to wear lipstick or any make-up at all.
Luckily, the 20th century saw a new beginning for lipstick in the United States. While Kansas was still disfavoring the cosmetic (in 1915, any woman under 44 in Kansas would be given a misdemeanor if she wore lipstick, powder and rouge for the very evil purpose of creating a “false impression”), American women began to embrace lipstick as to appear more like the actresses they looked up to.
The movie industry played a great role in the growth of lipstick’s popularity. In silent films, lipstick needed to be dark in order to show up in the black and white film. Many women began to use dark lipsticks as well as seductive red shades to show empowerment and femininity, especially advocates and protesters in the women’s suffrage movement. When women began to enter the workforce during World War II, sales of red lipstick soared as they earned their own salaries. Women wanted to remain beautiful while working factory jobs. Red lipstick also became a symbol of patriotism.
These days, red lipstick can be seen as a sign of the times. The look of flawless skin paired with a dark, blood-red lip was all over the Fall/Winter 2010 runways and is a classic beauty look that will never go out of style.
However, in the eyes of Leonard Lauder, president of Estée Lauder, lipstick is a signifier of the current century’s cultural and economic plight. He developed a “Lipstick Index” after 9/11 when he noticed a massive rise in lipstick sales. The same phenomenon has been happening recently with the current economic crisis. Multiple factors can be attributed to the surge in women going out and buying a tube of red rouge.
The first is the fact that red is an attention-grabbing color and easily attracts the opposite sex to the female bold enough to wear the color. The psychology that men love women with full and red lips is an ancient notion that has been rooted in the male brain since the early civilizations of humans. In those early days, a woman with wide hips and a rosy lip was seen to be the most attractive woman in the bunch. This is because a plump woman with large breasts and wide hips meant that she could carry children better, so men often sought these women for reproduction. Rosy lips also signified good blood circulation, therefore showing that this woman was in better health than others.
Whether you are in an ‘80s mood and want to channel Madonna with her preferred lipstick, MAC Cosmetics’ “Russian Red,” or want to appear healthy and attract a mate with the aptly named pure blood red shade “Fire Down Below” by NARS Cosmetics, red lipstick is one trend you can safely surrender yourself to for any season.
Katy Kewton is a freshman journalism major who sealed this article with a kiss. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.