Jezebel. One of the most infamous and alluring women of the Bible. Accused both as an idolatress and one who attempted to lead others down the same path, she “painted her face” before meeting her demise. This very act has led to controversy in some congregations regarding the appropriateness of cosmetics for many believers.
There is no denying that the application and presentation of cosmetics has practical, symbolic, and even spiritual implications. Sociology and psychology have confirmed that there are reasons beyond “it’s a pretty color” in terms of our choices concerning the adornment of lipsticks, blushes, mascara, etc. It is an ancient practice, and one that communicates volumes, beyond what we are even conscious of. It is my proposal, however, that there is a lot of misinterpretation by sociologists and psychologists that should be addressed, especially by women.
Let’s start with what sociology is often communicating through many “studies” and “theories”. Blush is said to mimic the flush that occurs with certain types of pleasure and excitement (that was the most pure way I could express that, you can fill in the blanks). Lipstick is said to resemble the womb, communicating fertility to men. Mascara, emphasizing the long lashes, is said to represent femininity, vulnerability, flirtation, and subjection to male dominance. Foundation is said to portray clear skin, which communicates health, and “advertises” that one can produce a healthy child.
Here is the thing: considering that a majority of cosmetics are purchased and worn by women, did they even bother to ask us what we are trying to convey? And what of the 85- year-old woman who sweetly wears red lipstick and pink blush and mascara? Do we really think she is trying to be seductive? If you ask me, this is all getting pretty Freudian.
Don’t get me wrong, we all owe a debt of gratitude to Freud. He taught us to scratch below the surface, to not always take things at face value, that there is more to a thing than meets the eye. Under his tutelage, we learned the importance and legitimacy of considering the power of the unconscious when analyzing human behavior. I hope that my colleagues in the psychiatric field will forgive me, however, when I emphasize that I feel he was more than a little bit sexist, and definitely hyper-focused on sexuality. My guess is, as well, that many of these “studies” and “theories” are based on male interpretation of female behavior. No offense guys, but there is a little more to it than that. Girlfriends, can I get an amen?
If you want to know the reason behind a behavior, go straight to the source. Because here is the thing: the other day, I wore red lipstick, pictured below. I was not interested in attracting a man: I already have one, I’m quite happy with him, and he likes me just fine without make-up. I was not at all trying to communicate anything about my womb. Quite honestly, there are days when I would rather forget that I have one! I am almost 46 years old, having a baby is the last thing on my mind, I am getting a little old for that (though one would always be welcome!). So, what exactly was I thinking, when I wore red lipstick, pink blush, foundation, and mascara?
I was thinking that red symbolizes agape love, and the world could use some more of that. I was feeling vibrant, and felt that red portrayed that. I was mimicking Marilyn Monroe, but not because I wanted to be a sex kitten or to appear vulnerable or naïve, but because I admire her confidence and cinemagraphic talent. She sang like a bird, danced, and could act. Norma Jean was born to a “schizophrenic” mother (probably more accurately Bipolar), then lost her as a result at a young age and entered the foster care system. She struggled. She purportedly had problems with fertility, though she wanted a child so. She was a teen bride and worked hard in a military factory where she labored in sweat as a Rosy the Riveter during WWII. She helped keep the country going, and supported our victory. In spite of her struggles, and decidedly unglamorous, painful upbringing, she transformed herself. Through the power of make-up, poise, and hair color, she metamorphasized into Marilyn Monroe, a vibrant, sassy, confident, and captivating presence. So no, it was not all just about sexuality. It was also about a personal transformation, and how she expressed her hope, pride, confidence, and strength.
I once counseled a woman in the depths of despair. She had been recently diagnosed with a terminal illness, was homeless, addicted, and had hit rock bottom. She was beyond depressed. She met with the psychiatrist and myself for an hour, and my heart ached for her. I wondered if she had any hope to hang onto. “Oh, she has hope”, Dr. Eisenberg said. “Really?”, I asked…”Oh yes, didn’t you notice the burgundy lipstick? It conveyed it…”
Indeed, she got better, thrived really….
So it is my theory that, for the most part, cosmetics are not at all about creating a mask, luring a man, or vanity, though they can be. Make-up is about confidence and hope. Make-up is a spiritual ritual, not that of vain self-love, but the kind that celebrates the sacred life and creation that God made you. Make-up is an art, and your face is the canvas. Most of all, make-up expresses mood.
Speaking of moods, of women, and of Marilyn Monroe: Marilyn also knew the grips of depression. Much evidence exists that she was self-medicating due to her painful moods, and perhaps suicidal. This led to her death. Women are at a high risk for Major Depression, just like Marilyn. No one is immune, even the most hopeful and strong. It is something that we all need to be aware of. We women need to stick together, and help each other out. Build each other up. Be there for one another. The kind and caring ear of a sister is a balm to the soul.
This one’s for you Marilyn, a “candle in the wind”.
I would have liked to have known you, though I feel I already do, my Sweet Soul Sister….when I cross over to the other side, maybe we can “make-up” for lost time….
“I’m not interested in money. I only want to be wonderful.” ~Marilyn Monroe