Looking at Vanity Fair with a girlfriend recently we turned to a lipstick ad where half the face was obscured and juicy red lips sat provocatively apart.
“Why do these idiots think that putting a vagina on her face will make me buy the lipstick?” said my friend.
So I gave her the sad news that clever beauty ads seem to be an oxymoron.
And I explained how, when we look at those lips in the ad we know it’s not real but something about the red grabs our attention. It makes us pause for a moment and stare simply because red is a powerful colour, we are designed to find it attractive so we know which strawberries are ripe and when something is bleeding. Then we look at the skin around those lips and see that it is flawless, utterly perfect and the contrast to the juicy red, slightly parted lips makes us think of one thing. Sex. We can’t help it because there is a beautiful juicy red hole in front of us.
Then we touch our own lips and they feel dry. Plain. Not plump enough. So we go back to the ad, all moisty and wanting and imagine she has a beautiful boyfriend who kisses those lips because he’s right there in the photo. Looking at it, we think, I bet they have a beautiful time together like a marshmallow, milk chocolate and cherry sex sandwich, we think. Yum.
Then, sometime later probably looking in the car mirror at the lights, we apply our old lipstick and think it looks a little tired. Drab. Not enough juice and wanting in our lips. It’s time for a new one. We want lips like those amazing ones we saw somewhere recently, but can’t remember where… And usually we need it quite urgently.
My friend arched her eyebrows at me. “That’s ridiculous.”
I had to agree. It is ridiculous. We continue to see beauty ads like this because they do work on some base level. It’s no coincidence lipsticks, when turned up, look phallic. What’s even more ridiculous is that the same idea for selling lipsticks has been used since the 1950s.
Ads like this are designed to make us feel bad, they tap into our human wants: a desire for intimacy, friendship, success, perfection. So we buy things hoping to get them.
I’m all for lipstick, a slash of red on my lips can spruce up my whole mood but I would love a lipstick ad that tried to get my attention with something clever.
Because if bright lipstick attracts attention to your lips, then best they have something to say.
Like Tina Fey‘s lips: “If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important rule of beauty is: who cares?”
Or Mae West: “I’m no model lady. A model’s just an imitation of the real thing.”
Or Sarah Silverman: “He’s so sweet. Like, this afternoon I had the worse diarrhea and he acted like he didn’t hear anything.”
Or Marlene Dietrich: “Darling the legs aren’t so beautiful, I just know what to do with them,”
Or Julia Louis-Dreyfus: “My friends and my family think I should stop having imaginary relationships with unattainable men. I’d rather set fire to my own vulva.”
Or Michele A’Court lips: “It’s really only helpful for older women to know that we all still feel 18, and that we should get together on a regular basis to act like it.”
Or Amy Schumer: “Despite all the jokes I make about myself I am not really a slut. I’ve only had sex with four guys and that was a weird night.”
For anyone else who also gets annoyed with L’Oreal advertising (the worst culprits) here’s a handy list of all the nice ingredients that go into a L’Oreal lippy…