The Vagenda

There’s a Vagina on Your Face

I recently stumbled across a study that claims waitresses who wear red lipstick get more tips from men than those who don’t, due to red lips being associated with ‘heightened sexual arousal’. 
Aside from the health and safety implications of being served hot food by horny waitresses, it’s surprising that those clever science boffs couldn’t work out that there’s nothing that makes an overworked, underpaid waitress any less moist than being forced to smile coyly as a sweaty overweight businessman who smells like a Lynx factory pulls you on to his lap by your skirt (happened).
If you are able, cast your mind back a mere fortnight, before the ubiquitous cat-calls and and the “cheer up love it might never ‘appen”s reemerged like seasonal athlete’s foot, to a time that was both cold and wet. During that time i’d been using lipstick as a sabre of optimism, to try and bring some colour into everyone’s life, because i’m nice like that. I’d been wearing red lipstick most days. Even INTO THE OFFICE.
It’s a pigmented minefield, is red lipstick. There are certain RULES which must be adhered to if you expect to be taken seriously in life. Much like the Posh Spice rule of thumb (tits or legs, never both), it’s sheer and natural everywhere else, darling, you’re not in the Moulin Rouge. If you don’t know that then you haven’t read enough Cosmo. Sort your face out.
There are starers, when it comes to lipstick. Applying it on public transport, particularly red lipstick, can invite audible tuts. Well, what am I to expect if i’m walking about in broad daylight with an engorged vagina painted on my face? These starers are the canny folk that know the wanton colouring-in of my mouth is really a vulpine tool by which I entice men into thinking I want to have sex with them.These responses, I conclude, are less to do with the wearing and more to do with the application. Because red lipstick is an accepted fashion in these post-Nell Gwyn days of freedom. But there’s a taboo that lingers. The secret taboo about applying makeup in public. Applying makeup in front of other humans – particularly red lipstick, which is by definition a look that says ‘hey, i’m making an effort, here’ – is what one blogger describes as ‘exposing the shadow-puppetry that is womanhood‘.
If ‘womanhood’ is the constant covering up of the tricks of the trade, a blanket denial of imperfection, then I think i’m doing it wrong. That loveable shitpipe the Daily Mail recently reported that women check their appearance a grand total of EIGHT TIMES during the day. Is that news? If I eat eight fig rolls (could and would), that’s eight times I have to check i’ve not got crumbs in my beard. If that’s vanity then, bitch please, excuse me for existing.
This aforementioned blogger has got beef with seeing you apply makeup in public. What it boils down to is, you’ve blown her cover and therefore every other woman’s and there might be MEN present and they might realise that women actually have pubic hair and – oh god – an OILY T-ZONE.
Some of the comments make for interesting reading:”I apply makeup on the subway for all the same reasons [you describe]. Frankly, the people on the subway are not my intended audience. My workplace is.”
So it’s cool if you losers see her actual face; this finished article’s for the boys in the print room.
Look. If you’re lucky enough to have the time, and are arsed enough at whatever ungodly hour you get up in the morning, to apply slap, rather than trying to do flicky eyes on the central line at rush hour, then go you. But i’ll stick to annoying uptight commuters with it. Oh, and sometimes I wear red lipstick to disguise from the fact that i’ve dry shampooed my hair for the last 3 days. We cool?

16 thoughts on “There’s a Vagina on Your Face

  1. I think lipstick–specifically red lipstick–is actually one of the few items of makeup that has another connotation when applied in public. Because red lipstick is so obviously artificial, and because of the sort of orality of it, it’s often used as a suggestive stand-in for, ahem, other oral acts–think of how many times you see red lipstick being applied in films as a parallel to women’s sexuality. I think of it in a different category than applying, say, concealer.

    Also, for the record, I don’t *like* that my reaction is to feel as though women applying makeup in public are somehow “exposing” those of us doing it in private, and I think I made that clear in my post. I recognize that transparency should be the goal from an intellectual and feminist, but I’m conflicted about it on a personal level. Just want that to be clear, that I’m not tsk-tsking women who are more transparent about their beauty work. (And I was engaging in some contextual hyperbole by saying that makeup = womanhood. It’s really more about the feminine performance, which I think was clear in the context of the blog. Non-makeup-wearing women are just as womanly as those who slather on the stuff!)

  2. This Vagenda post comes across as being a bit dismissive of what red lipstick actually signifies. For whatever reason one decides to wear red lipstick, in our society it does have strong sexual connotations.

    In advertising, film, theatre, art, any cultural product in the West, red, slightly parted lips do signify feminine sexual arousal and tap into pornography (see this for example:,%20Sport%20and%20the%20Body%20Politic.pdf).

    I agree with Autumn on the artificiality and orality of red lipstick, and it being in a different category to concealer (i.e. attention-grabbing rather than camouflaging). The shape of the lipstick and its relationship with the mouth also has a Freudian connotation.

    I have not read the study mentioned in the article, but I looked at the press release. It’s overly simplistic to reduce red lips to biology. For example, here is another study which showed pictures of female genitalia of varying red pigmentation to men, and the men did not find the redder ones attractive ( But while the researchers said that this enables them to reject the hypothesis of red lips as proxy for red genitals, they do not deny the link between red (not only lipstick but and also shoes, skirts/dresses etc.) and sex(ual attractiveness). It is still consistent to link red lips with the *idea* of sex, but then actually be repulsed by an artificially red vagina. I’m not sure I buy the biological argument, but am pretty convinced by the culturally loaded meanings of red.

    Also the image of full, red, slightly parted, disembodied lips used in the post strongly signifies a vagina.

  3. Women who apply their make up on public transport make me tut for the same reason that seeing someone eat their dinner on public transport (or in the street, walking along etc) make me tut. Because it implies that person is too busy to sit down or take their time over eating/make up applying. I just think that’s a shame. My favourite time of the day is sitting down with a book and a bowl of cereal in the morning, and I always make time for it.

  4. I always used to apply makeup on the bus. If I’ve got a 40minute bus ride, why get up early? It’s just sensible time management. I mean, bloody hell, it’s only a bit of mascara. How offensive is mascara?

    Plus it means that I’m now *really* good at eyeliner flicks (if you can do ‘em on the number 61, you can do it in your bedroom).

  5. Women check their appearance eight times a day? Oh the horror! Funny thing is, I probably go to the loo at least eight times a day, and bathroom convention generally places the mirror above the handbasin. Thus, if I’m washing my hands, I’m likely to be checking my dial. Smudged eyeliner? Crusty eyes? Flakey lips? Rebellious hair? Food in teeth? Pre-sentient pimples? Gotta keep an eye on that shit.

  6. haha we have almost the same avatar.. i do my makeup on the tube ALL THE TIME because i don’t effing care what tourists and old business men think about me.

  7. Someone actually bothered to do a study to ‘understand how meaning is constructed through lipstick naming.’..really? Well if there is someone out there doing a study this pointless at least you can always rely on the Daily Fail to pick it up.

  8. If I’m wearing red lippy (or lipgloss of any kind) you better back off because- though we make this shit look good- I’m not wearing it for guys to touch, I’m wearing it because a friend and various movie stars wore it, it looks great on them, I’m hoping to look just as fierce or as cool!

    No, really, don’t kiss me! This shit stains my lips for hours after I’ve supposedly scrubbed it all off and neither of us need this stuff all smeared around both our chops- looking like contagious 2nd degree burns for the next two days.

  9. I’m confused. Why do you refer to your lips as vagina? As far as I’m informed, the vag is simply the opening and the inner tube of mucous membrane inside, and is not the complete female sexual organ! We have inner and outer labia, a clit – AND a vagina. I can see all that alluded to in the pic of the red mouth above (well, imagine a clit in the left or right corner of the mouth, and sans the teeth, unless you’re going for vagina dendata), but for heaven’s sake: It is called tha VULVA! My primary sexual organs are more than just a hole in my body, and I don’t think I am the only one who is build like this!

  10. I love my red lipstick and wouldn’t give it up for anything. I wear it for me and any guy who thinks I’m easy to give a blowjob because of it is severely mistaken

  11. I live an hour away from where I study and use that time to apply my makeup. I take way longer on it than if I was at home and it’s a way to spend the hour I would otherwise do very little in. I get what you’re saying and I think it is true of some people, but personally my morning is already long and early enough without trying to add makeup into the mix :)