The secret inside the tube: Lipstick uncovered

Rebecca Johnson

Fashion statement, conformity or asserting your sexual prowess?

When it comes to wearing lipstick many feminist have differing views on its purpose in a woman’s life. To some it is just a tool to brighten up your wardrobe, but to others it is a mask of societal bonds that imprison us in a world that thinks natural is not good enough.

The surprising truth behind the stick is its original purpose as a tool of camouflage for male hunters back in the caveman era. That’s right, and even after their evolution into a more civilized society, lipstick continued to be worn predominately by men of stature: clergymen, nobility, royalty and the wealthy.  It wouldn’t be until the 20th century that men wearing lipstick became less proper and more bizarre, or something to be done only by rock stars.

First introduction to women

Despite the meager beginnings of our ancestors, embellishments have always added to the human “wardrobe” defining a social hierarchy.

It is believed, according to lipstick history, that the Mesopotamian women were the  first females to use lipstick, which was made from ground precious gems that were scattered around their mouths. Sounds like suffering for fashion, perhaps comparable to the modern day high heel. This was seen as more of a statement of wealth and beauty, rather than as a tool for survival.

The experiments to create a lipstick effect that would take place in the next generations were failures. The members of the clergy and high class would wear lipstick that was often made from poisonous material and would cause serious illnesses.

It would be in Egypt that the modernization of lipstick would take place, creating methods that are used even today. The Egyptians would extract the color for lipsticks using a material that is highly controversial today, as you may recall this was also used by Starbucks to color their products, which got them in a great deal of trouble with the FDA; the use of cochineal insects. Yes, we do still use it today.

Lipstick is seen decorating the lips of nobility in paintings; men and women alike would wear it to show health and virtue. In the 16th century is it said that Queen Elizabeth I wore a white face and red lips to ward off the dead.

xl_800x1200_q_e Elle 

In the 1770s, the British Parliament passed a law that a marriage would be annulled if make-up was worn by the woman before her wedding, as it was seen only fit for prostitutes. While in France, upper class women were expected to wear make-up, heavily reflecting our beliefs of make-up today as something expected when one is to look nice.

It wouldn’t be until the late 1800’s that the name “lipstick” became the nomenclature, thanks to the French cosmetic company Guerian, who manufactured the very first commercial product. The original product was made from “deer tallow, castor oil, and beeswax,”  according to ruemag.

Flash forward to the future 20th century, where lipstick finally landed its reputation as a beauty product. The trend finally caught on to more than just the young actresses wearing bright red lips, to the entirety of the age demographic.

Feminist views on the tube

Today lipstick can be seen as a form of conformity or power according to differing views of feminists. One side argues, ironically called lipstick feminists, that femininity is power. Flaunting your sexuality by wearing form-fitting, sexually suggestive clothing and make-up are part of being a woman, and to do otherwise is to deny being a fully free female. You do not dress up or do anything for anyone but yourself; it’s a form of liberation. Dressing as a woman differentiates us from men, so we should embrace it.

tumblr_lsz5ccHZRM1r3cyeno1_500_large Lipstick Feminist

Traditional Feminism

In contrast, another view brought forward by feminists from a different perspective is that wearing make-up is conformity, it establishes a principle that views women as “ugly,” and that we need make-up to be acceptable. The original feminist were women fighting for women’s rights. It hadn’t evolved into expressing sexuality yet, because during the time of the feminist movements, this was still viewed as taboo. These feminists believe that women are exploited heavily by media industries in a way that is destructive to a person’s feelings of self.

And some feminist have mixed views entirely.

In conclusion

The evolution of lipstick is a fascinating thing. Seeing how much damage a small tube of paint can do, or what power it can bring, shows the feelings people had toward expression throughout most of history.

Although perhaps not socially acceptable, lipstick has been seen on famous men and other people following popular trends today. We don’t blink twice if a rock star throws on lipstick and heavy eye-liner, but if your boyfriend did? That might be a different story.

The lines are crossed on these issues, I believe, when someone feels forced to comply with societal norms. If you ever do something you don’t want to, just to please another person, then you are not being true to yourself. I will wear lipstick only once in a while because, honestly, I get bored with my regular make-up routine. But when I find a tube of lipstick that really works with me, then putting it on does make me feel empowered, as strange as it feels to admit. There is something ominous about this little tube of color that does just that, it adds color to your life, and I am always happy to have more color. I would never wear something that made me feel uncomfortable, like bright red lipstick, but give me a light pink and I am feeling on top of the world.

My conclusion. There is no right or wrong to doing what you do, so long as you do it for yourself and are happy. That is all.


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