Unlucky lips

Updated: May 10, 2020, 08:57 IST | Shweta Shiware | Mumbai

With face masks becoming ubiquitous, will the lipstick lose power in favour of dramatic eyes?

A file photo of a model walking the ramp for accessory designer Little Shilpa's show at Mumbai Fashion Week. While the makeup industry is likely to be hit because of the fear of contact-based infection spread, lip colour in particular might face an existential crisis. Pic/ Getty Images
A file photo of a model walking the ramp for accessory designer Little Shilpa's show at Mumbai Fashion Week. While the makeup industry is likely to be hit because of the fear of contact-based infection spread, lip colour in particular might face an existential crisis. Pic/ Getty Images

In between rolling out of bed and leaving the door, most women and a few non-conformist men perform the daily act of coating their lips with a swish of colour. It's been considered the most basic makeup tool, but a powerful one. There's a theory that's long been reckoned about the use and colour of lipsticks being an indicator of economic health. The term, lipstick effect, according to The Guardian, was first used during The Great Depression of the 1930s. In the four years from 1929 to 1933, industrial production in the US halved, but lipstick sales bucked the trend. After the terrorist attacks of 2001 saw the US economy plummet, Leonard Lauder, chairman of beauty giant Estée Lauder, noticed that his company was selling more lipstick than usual, says The New York Times.

illustration/uday mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Perhaps for the first time in eons, our weapon of choice is under threat. While the Coronavirus pandemic is having a crucial impact on global finances and is certain to impact spending on fashion and beauty, the compulsory and widespread use of face masks could challenge the need for lipstick, which can make the experience uncomfortable, stain the inner lining of the mask and raise hygiene concerns.

The lockdown then is a good opportunity to revisit the age-old feminist question: do women wear lipstick to please themselves?

"Absolutely," stresses Srimoyi Bhattacharya, 47. "I own 50 tubes, but it could be more [laughs]. I love my lipstick; applying it is now a reflex action and the classic orange-based red is my favourite," says the founder of Peepul Consulting. "My mother [Dr Jharna Bose] has a lovely collection of lipsticks in deep, dark colours. I think I subconsciously followed her. She is 82, and continues to wear her lipsticks."

Bhattacharya agrees that mask-wearing is non-negotiable, but she wants to be seen doing it expressively. "Other than wearing kajal, my makeup singularly focuses on my lips. But that changed during the lockdown when I signed up for the MasterClass app with makeup guru Bobby Brown. I call it my best investment of the lockdown. I learned everything I now newly know about eye makeup. I am now an expert on smoky eyes, which, I am sure will come handy when wearing a mask," she says.

Spardha Malik, digital  editor at Ogaan India, loves her lipsticks as much as playing dress-up. Here, she interprets the Maharani look as part of  the #costumepartywithS  on social mediaSpardha Malik, digital editor at Ogaan India, loves her lipsticks as much as playing dress-up. Here, she interprets the Maharani look as part of the #costumepartywithS on social media

To make up for the loss, she indulges in the small pleasure of wearing lipstick during Zoom calls with colleagues and catch-up sessions with friends, and, in the evenings at her Panchsheel Park home in Delhi, before she pours herself a cocktail. "Everything is in a state of chaos. Wearing lipstick brings a bit of joy and normalcy, and allows me to express myself."

Spardha Malik, 33, actively sought out makeup products that freed her from the tyranny of having to take them off once she got home. "Lipstick is a lazy girl's quick fix; I live for bright colours and also own a black lipstick. I started wearing concealer only after I turned 30. Mascara smudges, my eyes water and it's quite a chore to remove," says Malik, digital editor at Ogaan India, in defense of the lipstick.

The lipstick is not only Malik's oldest friend, but also possibly her first friend. Born in Chandigarh, she was five when her family moved to Faridabad, in National Capital Region (NCR) bordering New Delhi. "That's when I discovered lipstick," Malik says. Her mother, Nidhi, was a schoolteacher, and Malik remembers watching her dress every morning in an ensemble of sarees, pearls and lipstick. "I got back home from school half an hour before she did, which allowed me a small window to rush to her room and try out her Revlon bubblegum lip colour. I also got my sister Amulya involved so that I wouldn't be singled out if my mother found out. It didn't take too long for her to figure though, but instead of scolding us, she taught us how to apply it the proper way," she remembers.

Malik admits that it's a weird feeling to not put on lipstick before stepping out of home. "It's not practical to wear lipstick inside a mask. I've never been an eye makeup person, perhaps because my eyes are tiny. It's time to learn some new skills, like how to use eye shadow, so that I look dressed-up with a mask," she says.

Srimoyi Bhattacharya, founder of Peepul Consulting, with her mother Dr Jharna Bose and daughter Dayani in Kolkata
Srimoyi Bhattacharya, founder of Peepul Consulting, with her mother Dr Jharna Bose and daughter Dayani in Kolkata

In the meantime, to cope with the lockdown, Malik orchestrates a virtual #costumepartywithS on Instagram every Saturday where everybody is invited. The guest-list for this event includes social media users, who doll up according to the theme of the week, and share their images on the platform clicked in the comfort of their homes. "We have held six parties with themes spanning from Madonna to Maharani. I'm surprised how the idea has taken off and turned into a beautiful community expression," says Malik. The Saturday night party, apart from Zoom calls and online chats, is also a sweet excuse for Malik to dress her lips up in rouge.

Srila Chatterjee, co-founder of Baro, prefers her face lipstick-free, and relies on standout jewellery, even with a mask
Srila Chatterjee, co-founder of Baro, prefers her face lipstick-free, and relies on standout jewellery, even with a mask

Srila Chatterjee has never cared for a tube of colour. If lipstick is a language most women use to convey their idea of self expression, for Chatterjee, it is her highly individualistic, eclectic-folksy taste in jewellery. Even during the #stayhome directive, she puts on her jewellery and surgical mask while going about the small chores. "If I am not in sloth mood which is sleep mode, I wear jewellery at home. It [jewellery] is part of my life; my mom wore it, and as kids, we did too," adds the co-founder and curator at Baro, a lifestyle store popular among the discerning lot for its collection of handcrafted furniture, local art, and accessories. Chatterjee's concerns about wearing a mask for longer durations are of a different nature: 'Would I be heard during a staff meeting; would I be able to breathe; and how would I manage mask-induced claustrophobia.'

Disclaimer: Do try this at home

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Jaime French, a full-time hairstylist dabbling in special occasion makeup is also a beauty blogger who serves her DIY makeup videos on YouTube with oodles of humour. If you're bored during #quarantine like French, why not accept the Tiny Face Challenge that's all the rage on social media? Or just watch French's video for a hoot as the makeup artist paints a tiny face on her nose, while a scarf masks her actual lips

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