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Lipstickory: The Colorful History of Lipstick

Extra glossy, bright reds, neutrals, mattes, sparkly – with the number of new spins that make up companies put on lipstick, you’d think that it was a relatively new invention. But upon investigating the origins of lipstick, I surprised to discover that women over the past millennia have gone to great (though sometimes a bit unsavory) lengths for ultra kissable lips.

Check out this Colorful History of Lipstick:

3500 BC: Lipstick, a blend of white lead and crushed red rocks, is used and popularized by the Sumarian Queen Schub-ad; it turns out to be fairly poisonous, but that apparently stops no one.

1000 BC: Grecian prostitutes are the only women in their Empire wearing lip paint, which is mandate so that citizens are able to distinguish them from ladies.

700 BC: Grecian women dye their lips bright colors with a crazy assortment of ingredients including: seaweed, flowers, crushed berries, red ochre, crocodile dung, and various resins.

51 BC: Cleopatra uses a lip pigment made from crushed carmine beetles and ants; Egyptian society has sophisticates applying lip paint from wet sticks of wood, and each taking two pots of lip coloring with her into the afterlife.

386 CE: The ancient Chinese perfume lip balms made from mineral wax, animal fat, and vermilion, in as many as 12 different scents, including ageratum and clove.

1000 CE: Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi invents solid lipsticks in modern-day Spain.

1100 CE: Medieval Europe deem dark lip stains as licentious and ban them; innocent-looking blends of reddish roots and sheep fat in lily- or rose-colored tints are considered acceptable, however, since they look more innocent.

1200 CE: No one in Italy at this time really understands the prohibition of lip colorings and they continue to use them as tools for social demarcation – women higher on the social ladder wear bright pinks and those hanging onto the lower rungs wear deep reds.

1300 CE: Ancient Aztecs crush conchineal beetles to dye their lips scarlet – two hundred centuries later and the prospect of using the dye as a commodity excites the Spanish when they consider Mexico for one of their conquests.

1600 CE: Queen Elizabeth I says, ‘the hell with the ban,’ and paints her lips bright red, using a lipstick fashioned out of beeswax and plant dyes; she claims that lipstick is health-promoting and wears nearly half and inch of it when she grows sickly.

1770 CE: Any woman caught wearing lipstick could be tried by the British Parliament for witchcraft.

1860 CE: In Japan, geishas dissolve small sticks of color in water and apply them with delicate brushes to their top lips, painting only a curved stripe on their bottom lips.

1890s CE: Victorian Europe and North America once again regard lipsticks as promiscuous – women start biting and/or applying tinted “healing” salves to their lips for color.

1930 CE: The motion pictures popularize lipstick in Europe and North America, making the cosmetic pretty much socially acceptable in Europe and North America from here on out.

Cause to Kiss the Ground

by Vic Shayne

A teenager of eighteen years goes off to war in 1941 and is sent to the Pacific Theatre. In 1945 he returns a man who had spent years in a dreadful Japanese POW camp, tortured and forced on a death march. He barely comes out alive and loses all of his closest friends. He never thought he’d survive the war. After liberation, he’s put on an army hospital ship and sent home to the United States. After a week at sea, with shaky legs and a broken body, the young man steps off the military ship with legs that can barely carry him and once off the gangplank, he falls to his knees crying and kisses the ground.

In the winter of 1944, a Lieutenant in the Army Air Force flies his P47 fighter plane in formation out across the English Channel over Nazi occupied France. His squadron comes under attack and all his buddies are shot out of the sky. With his own plane riddled with bullets and an engine on fire, somehow the young pilot, only twenty years old, lumbers back to England. With damaged landing gear, he manages to crash near the runway on a British base. With his plane on fire, the pilot pulls himself out of the cockpit and barely scrambles away to safety just as his plane explodes in the field behind him. With British ground crew trying to extinguish the blaze, the pilot lays down on his chest and kisses the ground.

Kissing the ground. Such is the visceral relationship between we humans and terra firma. In moments of high emotion, we are moved to show affection for the earth beneath our feet, recognizing the permanence of earth, holding steady and true as madness reigns on its surface. Home can be anywhere. If you’re in the sky, it can mean no more than the ground below you. Or if you’ve been away, it can mean your own country. Or even more thought-provoking, for many the ground to be worshiped belongs to the land of their ancestors.

Consider the man or woman who has faced death and suffering, found redemption then falls prostrate to kiss the ground.  The sentiment — usually impromptu — seems to be one of embracing life in a way that you never seemed to appreciate it before.

The famous Persian poet, Jalaluddin Rumi, nearly eight hundred years ago, said, “Let the beauty you love be what you do … there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

The Art of Kissing Comes Naturally

Photo from TimothyJ

I’d like to know who it was that first thought, “hey, wouldn’t it be a fabulous if, at the same time as I kiss what’s her face on the mouth, I just stick my tongue out?”

I mean, it doesn’t really sound like a brilliant idea on paper. Is that one of those romantic things that were blamed on the all too convenient excuse: “it just…happened”?

I was introduced to the concept of the French kiss in second grade by one of my classmates who had just engaged her teenage babysitter in a rapid-fire Q&A session.

Classmate: It’s when you and your boyfriend stick your tongues in each other’s mouths at the same time.

Me: Ew!… And then what do you do?

Classmate: Well, you both move yours around.

Me: Really? Why?

Classmate: You’ll understand what it means when you’re older.

Now that I’m officially “older, ” I have to admit that I still don’t get it; sharing my tongue with my significant other still seems like a pretty ridiculous thing to do, regardless of whether I do it or not. Not to mention that for a long time after that informative discussion in third grade, I remained pretty repulsed by the idea – probably because I thought about it much too vividly, picturing the act countless times from the vantage point of my uvula.

But then again, I’ve always had a sort of phobia about other people’s saliva; the idea of sharing a drinking glass with anyone used to nauseate me – that is, up until I became acquainted with the college party scene (which, coincidentally, was when I stopped trying to visualize things from my uvula’s perspective).

Anyway, back to my original query: Who was this kissing innovator? For obvious reasons, I first looked to France for an answer; it appears, though, that the French don’t have any claim to the so-called “French” kiss, just as that which Americans call “french fries” did not originate in France.

And, after combing through different internet resources, it appears as though there’s no well-documented history of the French kiss evolution.

So I’ve settled upon my own theory: Primitive man made it up.

According to Thierry Lodé, a French biologist and professor of evolutionary biology, humans “tongue kiss” (the technical name for a French Kiss) to test a potential mate’s immune defenses. Therefore, I’d guess humans took up the activity prior to sophisticated communication, or else they’d probably just ask one another something like, “Hey hot stuff. How’s your health?” Plus, as far as I know, humans don’t really tend to criticize someone’s kissing style based on how healthy they perceive their make out partners to be.

One Kiss, Good Knight

knight-kissesIn the Dark Ages, it was a common practice for knights to kiss one another before going into battle. The question arises: How dark were the dark ages if knights were going around kissing one another in a foreign land while their hot-to-go maidens were waiting alone back in the castle?

Thanks to Medieval scholar, Ernest Lee, PhD, Oxford, we have this artifact translated from the original early English between two knights on the battlefield of Turkey on the way to the Holy Land;

Sir Reginald: Ah, my good friend, Gwain, is it I see thee or but a shadow? War makes me weary thus.

Sir Gwain: My friend as well, Reginald, I see thee indeed. Tis no watery vision.

Sir Reginald: I see you have been to the Holy Land. What was it like?

Sir Gwain: I stabbed a bunch of people and have a saddlebag full of trophies. It was fun until my right arm was cut off.

Sir Reginald: Kiss me good luck, then, as I am on my way.

Sir Gwain: Okay, but if you tell anybody I’ll have to deny it.

Sir Reginald: Fair enough.

Sir Gwain: And no tongues!

cartoon by Josh Shayne

Origin of the New Year’s Kiss

new-year-kissWhere did the tradition of kissing on New Year’s come from? Historians date this practice back to the Ancient Romans who would throw a big party every New Year’s Eve called the Festival of Saturnalia where they would kiss and generally debauch one another as much as possible.

Later on, the English and Germans would celebrate by kissing the first person they met when the bells rang twelve o’clock. Europeans have also traditionally held masked balls on New Year’s Eve for hundreds of years. In these traditions, the mask symbolizes evil spirits from the old year and the kiss (after removing the mask) is an act of purification.

There is also a superstitious element to it — supposedly kissing those closest to you at the stroke of midnight will strengthen the bonds of your relationship in the year to come.

Tradition and superstition aside, don’t waste your New Year’s kiss. It is one of our most life-affirming pleasures and only comes around so many times. Tonight, use it as an excuse to grab hold of someone you love, someone you’ve had a crush on for ages, or someone who is standing by the drinks table with nice lips. Throw some confetti in the air, grab them round the waist, lean them back and kiss them with everything you’ve got.

Happy New Year!

photo: ekai

    Kiss Like an Egyptian

    The upper class of ancient Egyptian women wore lipstick. The Turin papyrus, a kind of Egyptian Kamasutra, shows a woman painting her lips with a brush. The famous bust of Nefertiti sports some luscious lips, painted a lusty red.

    Of course, along the Nile they were fresh out of L’Oreal, so Egyptian ladies painted their lips with a brush. Lipstick was made of substances that today we know are deadly poisonous. One of the main ingredients was a mercury compound.

    Did the Egyptians make up to make out? Four thousand years ago men and women were driven by the same desires as today. When they were in their youth they worked to seduce, and as they aged they wanted to look younger. It is probable that Egyptians wore makeup to attract the opposite sex, though the use of cosmetics was a privilege usually limited to the upper-classes and royalty.

    Mistletoe’s Scandalous Scandinavian Origins

    As the holidays approach, many of us look for every opportunity to maneuver ourselves under the mistletoe in the hopes of logging a little extra kissing time before the New Year . But while engaged in this noble pursuit, how often do we ponder where the tradition of locking lips under a sparse little plant hanging at parties actually began?

    The custom of kissing under the mistletoe originated in ancient Scandinavia. Originally, the mistletoe was a plant of peace – if enemies met by chance beneath it in a forest, they would cast aside their arms and hold a truce until the next day. This tradition, combined with one of the earliest Norse myths, evolved into our current practice of locking lips under the mistletoe.

    The myth that started it all is the story of Baldur and his resurrection.

    According to’s David Beaulieu:

    Baldur’s mother was the Norse goddess, Frigga. When Baldur was born, Frigga made each and every plant, animal and inanimate object promise not to harm Baldur. But Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant — and the mischievous god of the Norse myths, Loki, took advantage of this oversight. Ever the prankster, Loki tricked one of the other gods into killing Baldur with a spear fashioned from mistletoe.

    The demise of Baldur, a vegetation deity in the Norse myths, brought winter into the world, although the gods did eventually restore Baldur to life. After which Frigga pronounced the mistletoe sacred, ordering that from now on it should bring love rather than death into the world. Happily complying with Frigga’s wishes, any two people passing under the plant from now on would celebrate Baldur’s resurrection by kissing under the mistletoe.

    So the next time you find yourself making-out beneath a mistletoe, remember to give a silent high-five to Baldur as thanks for your romantic fortune.

    photo: Magalie L’Abbé