Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Memories Writ in Red: Speaking Up for Lipstick Stains

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Memories Writ in Red: Speaking Up for Lipstick Stains

Article excerpt

BACK IN the 1960s I knew a young man who wanted to go to Australia to see the Great Barrier Reef before it succumbed to the environmental depredations of the 20th century. He spoke of the possible extinction of this natural wonder with great emotion - which at the time I identified as premature nostalgia. (The reef, after all, was still very much alive.)

Which is pretty much how I feel about the imminent demise of lipstick stains. They're still here, but now that modern science has come up with smearproof lipstick, they're an endangered species.

Sure, lipstick that doesn't rub off represents a marvelous advance in makeup technology - right up there, I would say, with hair gels that don't draw weevils (the way Marie Antoinette's probably did), and mascara you can apply in places with no running water. And, OK, I can see it's an advantage to be able to put on lipstick when you leave the house and still have it be there when you get to the office.

But the gain for cosmetics is a loss for semiotics: A major icon is passing out of our culture's vocabulary of signs and symbols.

There's a point in Maria Luisa Bemberg's movie "I Don't Want to Talk About It," about a mother who refuses to notice that her beloved only daughter is a dwarf, when the daughter, having accepted a proposal of marriage from a besotted Marcello Mastroianni - not bad, huh? - tells her mother she is happy.

The mother, who has devoted her life to protecting the girl from any sense of disadvantage, understands that she has succeeded, and kisses her. The camera lingers on the lipstick stain, imprinted on the daughter's cheek like a blessing: She's literally marked by her mother's love, which has saved her from (one supposes) the curse of low self-esteem.

Next time something like that happens, you'll sit there and think, "Awwww, c'mon, gimme a break - nobody wears that old-fashioned stuff that smears anymore."

Graduation pictures will no longer show the glowing grad marked by the Fire-and-Ice, Love-that-Pink and Cherries-in-the-Snow kiss prints of his proud mama, aunts and grandma.

Miss Congeniality and all the other Misses will kiss the teary-eyed, deliriously happy new Miss America, and she'll walk down the runway without the traditional rash of kiss prints that have crowned so many of our triumphs like laurel wreaths on Roman heroes. …

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