Lipstick Under My Burkha is finally releasing today and we could not be more excited. While the controversial film was initially denied a Censor Board certificate, it won accolades at film fests the world over. The awards helped change the Censor Board’s perception of the film and now all of us can enjoy it in the theatres.

Directed by Alankrita Srivastava, the film explores the lives of four ordinary women and how they explore their sexuality. The trailer of the film shows the women sometimes surreptitiously applying lipstick. So why has lipstick, particularly red lipstick, become a trope for sexuality?

Konkona SenAnd when was the lipstick invented? Around 5,000 years ago, the ancient Sumerian men and women started applying a concoction of crushed gemstones and white lead to paint their lips.

Lipstick was a sign of social status in Egypt, and Queen Cleopatra apparently loved applying it. However, the Greeks thought that the lip stain should be attributed to the mark of a prostitute, and even instituted a rule: any prostitute without the lip stain would be punished.

In the Middle Ages, the Church decreed that painting one’s face was a challenge to God and banned its use.

Aahana KumraIn the 16th century, paying no attention to the church, Queen Elizabeth the Ist decided she loved lipstick, and even believed it had healing powers. But after her death, the Church decided once again that lipstick wasn’t morally condonable.

In the 1900s, lipstick was used by suffragettes while protesting in the streets for the vote. Bright lipstick represented a woman’s right to choose and to be free, according to historian Madeleine Marsh

The first sliding lipstick that we all now use was invented in 1915 by Maurice Levy, and by the 30s, Vogue declared the lipstick as the “defining item of the 20th century”. And in the 1950s, icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly made it popular. 

And as time went on, red lipstick grew in popularity. Now women the world over wear red lipstick. But still, it isn’t worn without trepidation. Red lipstick is associated with sex and sexuality. Why is that so? Red is associated with sex and romance in humans. In non-human primate species, a female who displays red, is giving out a sexual signal to her male counterparts. Red has been used as a symbol of sexuality from red light districts to folklore and literature. In the early 20th century women who wore red lipstick could be viewed as prostitutes. According to historian Madeleine Marsh, in the 1970s, modern feminism viewed cosmetics as a symbol of patriarchy, and red lipstick went out of fashion.

Diane Ackerman, author of A Natural History of the Senses says that anthropologists believe that red lips serve as a reminder of the labia.

So what do you think? Is the paradigm red lips equals sex, an cultural paradigm or an evolutionary one? And either way shouldn’t women be allowed to wear red lipstick unabashedly?

Also Read: Is the Indian Film Industry Gender Biased?

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