Lipstick Jungle

Ohmygod, the economy is awful right now. It’s really, like, wretched. I was in Bloomie’s the other day, and I saw this super-cute Nanette Lepore top, and I was totally going to buy it…and then I remembered: the scare of the downturn. It took all my willpower—but I put the shirt back on the rack. It was tragic.

Indeed, times are tough right now. Rice rations at Wal-Mart, gourmands rethinking their increasingly expensive obsessions with prosciutto di Parma, recession diets. Bleak. Especially for women—who, on top of all the other Life Expenses, have Maintenance costs, as well. Beauty ain’t cheap.

Well, fear not, Doyennes of the Downturn! The answer to your economic woes might just be in your purse! Or, if not there, at home! Or, if not there, on sale for a mere $20 at your nearest Sephora store!

That’s right…lipstick! Sure, the economy may be tanking…but hey, Recessionistas, turn that frown upside-down—and then give it a thick swipe of “Merlot Memory”! You’ll feel better in no time!

Or so says The New York Times in its latest addition to its “Skin Deep” oeuvre, “Hard Times, but Your Lips Look Great”:

Lipsticks aren’t inferior goods, economists say, but they could be small indulgences, an inexpensive treat meant to substitute for a bigger-ticket item. Or lipsticks could also be morale boosters, like Charlie Chaplin films were during the Depression. A warm shade that perfectly matches your skin tone might make you forget how far your 401(k) has tanked.

A warm shade that perfectly matches your skin tone might make you forget how far your 401(k) has tanked. How does the Times see into my very soul? Why, just this morning, I was feeling a bit depressed after hearing yet another “recessing economy” story on the news…but then I slicked on some “Autumn Rose,” and all was forgotten. It was like I was magically transported to the relative economic stability of the mid-to-late ’90s! Wow, the shade must have matched my skin tone, like, really perfectly!

The point of the Times article is a fair one: in uncertain economic times, consumers are focusing on smaller, cheaper indulgences rather than bigger, costlier splurges. Where I get a bit lost, though, is in the piece’s underlying assumption, expressed through its glib treatment of its subject matter, that women are such silly, superficial creatures—that their conception of the world is so myopic—that they can be distracted from serious economic woes by a pretty shade of lipstick.

Which is, like, totally lame.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.