To deconstruct the anthropological anatomy of a lipstick would be to ruin the beauty of its power.
Through the decades, the ages, actually the eons considering that the Sumerians were the first ones to invent it, lipstick has stood as the makeup that empowers a woman physically.
Whether it was Queen Elizabeth or Marilyn Monroe, the power of red lipstick resounds in the pages of history as the icon of the strong independent woman.
I am thrilled to see the movie Lipstick Under My Burkha use this tool.
Lipstick is such an overwhelming tool of sexual liberation and freedom; the darker it gets, the more dangerous assumptions are made about them. Take, for example, red lipstick. Red lipstick is often seen as a scandalous choice, to have a red mouth is to invite sexual attention.
Yet the painted red mouth was sported by Queen Elizabeth and Cleopatra as a status symbol; although they couldn’t avoid red lipstick from gaining notoriety as the ‘kiss of death’ owing to the slow poisoning caused by the heavy lead content.
In fact, middle-aged murals in Europe show the devil putting on red lipstick on women while churches infamously banned red lipstick whenever they got the chance to.
Sex workers since the times of Ancient Greece have been infamous for wearing dark lipstick to indicate their status- there was a law against them not wearing lipstick and posing as respectable women.
Who preferred pinker hues obviously.
Even in 20th century, look at Audrey Hepburn. She has quintessentially been more favored than Marilyn Monroe, much more acclaimed for her acting. And she made famous that trademark glossy pink lipstick since Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Coincidence? NO. Well, she was a gentleman’s sweetheart, she had to be all that lovely.
In a woman’s face, the mouth becomes the focus. Quoted from an article on Bustle.com, “the first and most famous public demonstration of red lipstick was performed by suffragettes as they poured into the New York streets in protest in 1912.
In fact, according to Mic, Elizabeth Arden herself was handing out lipstick to marching suffragettes.” Further, it goes on to say that lipstick took a patriotic spin during the World War II because Hitler hated it! “By the ’30s, Vogue declared that lipstick was “the most important cosmetic for women,” after all.
The rise and reign of Angelina Jolie or Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Amy Winehouse, even Taylor Swift justifies this till date. These powerhouses of women are inseparable from their lipstick game.
Or Rekha in Bollywood for that matter; with her dramatic dark mouth she rolled out a new identity for liberated women in India who were fearless.
In another well-poised article on The Independent about Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, subtitled ‘The Lipstick Revolution’, I found these lines interesting, “This section [her return to Iran for a few years] brilliantly dissects the reality of life in a modern totalitarian state, where individuals keep rebellion alive not through political debate so much as through lipstick and dancing.
“They looked like the heroines of American TV series,” runs the caption over an image of Marjane meeting her childhood friends in Tehran, all of whom have blossomed into glossy, flirtatious butterflies.”
Forget revolution, in a study conducted by Harvard in partnership with Procter and Gamble, too many successful working women admitted that their favourite lipsticks boosted their confidence at work. Walk into any office, team leaders and girl bosses can routinely be spotted keeping their lipstick and hair game strong.
Apparently, lipstick is a man magnet too. An article on PopSugar states this, “Lips make all of us think of kissing and since men are such visual creatures, sexy red lips can almost do as much for a man as the kiss itself. It also subconsciously sends the message that you are open to a romantic and passionate relationship.”
Romance. Passion. Sex. That’s what lipsticks make people think. It makes the mouth such a seat of attention that highlights the sensuality of a female. You see it is not Eyeshadow Under My Burkha or Rouge Under My Burkha, it is lipstick. The mouth that vocalises, expresses, speaks forth.
It is not the eyes that see or the cheeks that blush. The focus is on the mouth that can go full, “Halla Bol!”
This is the time for a change, and I am proud that women are back on the forefront demanding their bodies to be free.
The expression of sexual liberation in a patriarchal world can raise too many hairs on people’s necks; how can any society allow Ratna Pathak to have phone sex with a younger man?
But if has to happen within closed doors, so be it. If the lipstick has to be worn under a burkha, so be it.
Unlike the red of the sindoor that declares a woman as a man’s property in this Indian heritage, a red lipstick has been a muted middle finger over generations for women who like to have a bit of fun.
Thus, it is not simply a timeless signature of being fertile but also prefigures exercising that fertility in ways the women deem fit.