#internationalwomensday Red Lipsticks

Wednesday was #internationalwomensday, I can’t say my day of gender equality went particularly well (I was cat called six times whilst on my run) but my day was nothing compared to the gender inequality some girls and women have to experience all over the world. This got me thinking, rather than carry on running, pissed off at the lurchy men in white vans who need to keep their traps shut, I thought I’d channel this energy and frustration into something more positive. Let’s have a look just how far we’ve come, all accompanied by a women’s best beauty companion; the humble red lipstick.

Dita Von Teese famously said “Heels and red lipstick will put the fear of God into people”, seen as a product to empower women the red lipstick has had 5000 year long history. We’ll start at the beginning with Cleopatra, even during 51 BC, Cleopatra was a women doing is for herself. Famed for her beauty, seduction and named as perhaps Egypt’s Greatest Queen. This gal was flirting, ruling and reigning is the most kick-ass of ways. The Egyptian’s are well-known for their early use of kohl around their eyes to protect themselves from waterborne diseases, but they were also frequent users of red stains to indicate aristocracy. Cleopatra alleged had have slaves crush up a concoction of flowers, fish scales, lead and beetles to create a crimson paste to be applied to the lips. She notoriously had love affairs with Julius Cesar and Mark Anthony for political gain and was clearly a woman who knew how to get what she wanted.

Red lipstick had a bit of a hard time from the Greeks and Romans. It was used to indicate whether one’s profession was prostitution. Considering the industry of changing one’s appearance is the second oldest industry, after the oldest industry of sex, it’s no surprise that the two’s histories are intertwined.

Jump forward a few centuries and red lipstick had a new high profile fan, Queen Elizabeth. The production of red lipstick had become slightly more safe than the Egyptians, although it’s widely believed that ingredients from her facial products ultimately poisoned and killed Queen Elizabeth. For those who could not afford rouge or lipstick, it was common place to pinch your cheeks and vigorously rub at your lips in order to cause a natural flush of red. This is a classic example of women using lippie as the universal pick me up. Rouge and face makeup was often used to cover or hide marks and scars caused by illness and disease.

The Age of Elegance saw the rise to power of perhaps one of the beauty industry’s most influential historical ambassadors, Marie-Antoinette. The creamy pale complexion, synonymous with the 18th Century was a complimentary background to the rosebud lips and rouged cheeks associated with the era. Antoinette’s legacy has sadly come to represent all that was wrong with the French Monarchy and she has become powerfully symbolic of the French Revolution.

How times have changed….

Elizabeth Arden was a huge advocate for women’s rights. In 1912, Arden alongside 15,000 other suffragettes marched past her Red Door Salon in New York, all wearing red lipstick. Red lipstick became a symbol of unity and power among women’s rights activists.

The work of the suffragettes was long and progress was slow. They were prepared to go to prison, starve themselves and go on hunger strike. In June 1913, Emily Wilding Davison threw herself in front of the King’s horse and the suffragettes had their first martyr. As WW1 began, Emmeline Pankhurst called off the campaign to support their government and its war effort. The work done by Britain’s women was vital towards the war campaign. In 1918, the Representation of the People Act was passed and in 1928 women won the right to vote.

Rosie the Riveter, the iconic war-time poster girl, posing in ‘masculine’ overalls doing a typically ‘manly’ job but with a flash of red across her lips. Wartime meant that women had to leave their homes and enter the work place whilst their husbands were shipped off to help with the war effort. This new found freedom gave women a sense of purpose in the war. Lipstick was also seen as a way to give women as sense of ‘femininity’ and normalcy during the war years and boost moral amongst co workers. Cosmetics companies began to repackage lipsticks with new names such as ‘Grenadier Red’ and ‘Fighting Red’, all to unite women and boost moral during the tough war years. Hitler hated red lipstick, so you bet that women wore it. Red lipstick became so much more than just a vanity product but a part of the fight against the enemy.

According to Madeleine Marsh, beauty historian and author, by late 1940s, 90% of American women were wearing lipstick in one shade or another. The 40s and 50s are commonly associated with ‘Hollywood Glamour’, actresses such as Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth were frequent wearers of a red lip, it became a symbol of sensuality and power.

Nowadays, there is less of an image attached to a wearer of a red lip. I know for me, a red lip is an instant way of brightening up my complexion and putting my best face forward. Some people may find the beauty industry degrading and inhibitive to women and the progression of gender equality. But we are more frequently seeing the universal use of makeup, cosmetics should no longer be about ‘attracting men’ or changing the way you look. Make up should be used for you, to make you feel like you. We are living in uncertain times as women, among many members of other minorities, use your makeup to kick ass today and not for anyone else. I know many people who view the beauty industry on preying on women’s insecurities, which may be true, but look at the beauty industry’s front runners; Millie Kendall MBE, Sali Hughes, Anna-Marie Solowij, Lisa Eldridge, Alessandra Steinherr, Mary Greenwell, Charlotte Tilbury, Pat McGrath and Wendy Rowe among many. These are all strong, powerful women united by one thing. Let cosmetics enhance you, not define you, it is possible to be a lipstick feminist. And when you slap on your lipstick tomorrow morning, remember this little gem’s story and all those women before us. The women who got us to the point where we are now and wear their legacy with pride.


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