By Priyangwada Perera
A red lipstick was probably the only thing that my mother did not quite like to see me use. Yet, she tended to be a super understanding and fashionable mother. Hearing this, it was a colleague at work who gifted me my first red lipstick. I still use that one. While my beautician encouraged me to wear red lipstick, my beautiful mother’s face would still grow a little gloomy at the idea of a ‘red lipstick’.
But what is so outrageous about it anyway? “It might give people the wrong impression,” my mother feared. A ‘red lipstick’ was meant to make an impression. History of red lipstick runs centuries back. It is said that women used red rocks which were crushed into powder to tint their lips. According to many sources, it was none other than the ancient Egyptian elites that claim credit for the birth of this concoction.
Cleopatra’s lip paint was supposed to have been created using “crushed insects mixed into a vibrant paste of red waxes.” But wearing red lipstick was never considered neutral or simple. The mere concept of wearing such a bright and bold colour on the lips has always been a social signifier of many sorts and major notions at that. Afterall, the colour itself was loaded with a multitude of meanings. Take any random page out of the history book, check the century, check the location-place and a woman wearing red lipstick will tell a story.
A story worth reading in my opinion. My mother was not entirely wrong about her initial hesitation with regard to me wearing such a bold statement on my lips. The story of the red lipstick is a great deal more powerful than what it appears to be. It also reads as a ‘flirtatious signal of seduction’. Depending on the location and century, red lipsticks were a significant visual statement.
Then, a declaration of social status, a show of wealth and simply an indication of fearlessness- it had many readings. Todate there’s nothing simply about a red lipstick and the signs of the wearer can be read in different ways. It is no exaggeration to call it a bold and social signifier. That is the exact reason it is known as probably the only beauty product that has been adoringly used and scorned at the same time.
Accepted or not, it was scorned as a “feminist tactic for terrorizing men”. We can choose to laugh it off but it was not just ordinary and common men who were under this impression in the yesteryears. For whatever reason, the undeniably feminine colour bestowed women with a mysterious aura of power that came off as frightening, morally dubious, and highly intimidating to some people. “There is a shade of red for every woman.” – Audrey Hepburn