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Why is lipstick made?
Question Date: 2002-11-16
Answer 1:

Wow, gal, that was a hard question, but most assuredly a good one! At first, I thought you might mean "How is lipstick made?" Then, I thought a bit more about it, and decided that you may have meant, "Does lipstick possess a health value that make people wear it?" If this was true, I could write something about how lipstick could possibly keep us from getting sunburnt on the sensitive skin on our lips, or how good moisturizing lipsticks and chapsticks can be for skin that is repeatedly wet and dry (aka, near our mouths!). But really, I think you meant something more along the lines of, "Why do people, mostly women, want to wear lipstick?"

If this is the case, then your question opens us up for a whole realm of interesting discussion about human psychology and the notion of beauty...hang on!

What do you find beautiful? Do you find nature skin colors more beautiful than "unnatural" lipstick colors? Do you find people with makeup on more attractive than those without? Do you think you are influenced by those around you -other students at school, parents, teachers, your close friends, superstars and models, or the almost constant barrage of advertisements we are subjected to on a daily basis (How many advertisements do you see or hear per day? Try counting them even for half a day....you'll be surprised, I bet!) I bet if you did a survey of students at your school, you would get all kinds of answers to these questions, because each of us has our own sense of "what is beautiful" in humans and in life in general (hey, that is why we each have our own sense of "style" that is hopefully separate from what is in "fashion").

Artists have been trying to answer this question for thousands of years... I used to wear makeup everyday when I was in high school and college because I thought that was what I should do, and I wouldn't look as good if I didn't (and maybe the guys wouldn't notice me! Ah, ha, another clue as to why women might wear cosmetics...) Anytime we feel like we "have to" do something, then that particular behavior is probably ingrained in us. This means that we learned through example from those around us what is "expected and normal behavior". This is neither good nor bad by itself, because there are many things that a social species like humans have to pass on to their offspring in order for everyone to function as a society. For example, adults "have to" protect all children and provide for their safety in our society (in my opinion, that's a good ingrained behavior).

Another example-women "have to" wear makeup and look attractive, or men won't like them (in my opinion, a bad ingrained behavior). I have slightly walked out of my role as scientist here, because as a scientist, my job is to ask impartial questions to test hypotheses. There is no way to impartially test whether someone "should or should not" do certain actions because those actions (as long as they don't harm others) are part of our freewill behaviors -they make us individuals! The only thing that would be sad, is if someone went their whole life without questioning, as you just did, WHY? Why do I do this? What is my motivation? Why do I behave this way?

There is no denying that wearing makeup is very fun ( and I still do wear it at times), but I now realize my sense of beauty (and self-esteem) are not linked exclusively to how I appear physically to others. Ever heard the saying, "beauty is only skin-deep" What do you think that really means? Does it mean that people should or should not wear makeup? OR does it mean that regardless of makeup, people appear attractive to others not only physically but also mentally and emotionally?

Beauty is a complete package of all those realms really, although the media would have us believe is only about sex appeal and looking exactly like the latest fashions from New York and Paris, eh? Ah, now we get down to the human psychological issues of lipstick!

Answer 2:

The most immediate explanation for why lipstick is made is a simple matter of economics and the principle of supply-and-demand: because people want it to be made. As long as people are willing to pay money to paint their lips, there will be other people manufacturing lipstick so that they can sell it and make money for themselves!

However, getting at the reason why people are willing to pay money to paint their lips is more difficult. There may be many reasons people want to paint their lips, ranging from making the perfect Halloween costume to being able to leave kiss marks on a letter. For the most part, though, most people wear makeup and other cosmetics for the simple purpose of making themselves more attractive and appealing to society. For women, wearing lipstick is a particularly good way to get the notice of men-- because of biology!

The concept of beauty can vary significantly from culture to culture. For example, in countries where food is plentiful, being thin is usually considered attractive. However, in countries where food is scarce, having a more full body is often appreciated. Oftentimes rare traits are considered beautiful simply because they are exotic. A friend of mine from Brazil once told me that people there go crazy for blond hair and blue eyes, because most of the people have dark hair and eyes. However, in Scandinavia blond hair and blue eyes would hardly be considered anything special at all, and wouldn't draw a moment's notice!

Researchers who have studied the diverse concepts of beauty across cultures have discovered a startling unifying principle: in all societies, youth and health are considered beautiful. Therefore, features that make a person look young and healthy (such as smooth skin, thick hair, bright eyes, and full lips) are generally highly valued. Men in particular tend to be attracted to a youthful, healthy appearance. There appears to be a biological basis for this, although the idea is somewhat controversial. Some scientists have argued that it is very important for a man to marry a young woman, because a woman has a limited number of years during which she can have a baby, and thus men who marry younger, healthier women are likely to have more children. In contrast, marrying a young, healthy man is not something that is as important for women in this regard (can you think of why? What qualities do you think are more important to a woman for successfully having and raising children?). The end effect of this is that men have a stronger genetic predisposition to find young, healthy women attractive, and this predisposition is magnified by living in a society that further emphasizes these features through advertising, etc. A consequence of this is that women have learned to capitalize on this by making themselves look young and healthy-- which often means putting on some makeup, and especially lipstick!

What do you think of this idea that wearing lipstick is partly due to genetic programming? Do you agree or disagree with this idea? Could a similar biological theory also explain the behavior of men who are trying to attract a woman? Or do you think that the choices we make are too complex to be explained as just a matter of biology and instinct? And what does this make you think about wearing lipstick!?

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