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The Lipstick Effect

There’s a feeling you get when you’re on the cusp of receiving bad news.

It’s not that you’re pessimistic. Sometimes, no matter how much you convince yourself to put a positive spin on something, you know you’re not going to get the outcome you desire. Your heart is going to get broken. During a scan when I was nine weeks pregnant, although I prayed my instincts were wrong, I wasn’t surprised when, after silence hung in the air, the doctor confirmed I had miscarried. Still, it was devastating, in that moment. My worst fear had barged into the room. Every time a close friend had told me not to worry, that it was normal “not to feel pregnant” or to relax because “spotting is very common,” I wanted them to be right. But I knew. I just knew. My husband and I went home and cried. The following day, we both went back to work, and life, as impossible as it felt, continued to move forwards around us. And during my lunch break, I bought a lipstick.

I didn’t need a new lipstick.

And I hadn’t planned on indulging myself.

I was wandering around Mall of the Emirates in a daze. I wanted to be pregnant. But I wasn’t. Yet, I just had been. And I was now constantly reminded of what I didn’t have, including physical pain and discomfort. I needed to eat, but I had no appetite. Somehow, the Mac shop beckoned. I picked out a pretty colour (aptly called, Angel) and felt this instant hit. I could wear it on a much needed date night with my husband. Actually, I could wear it now! The lipstick didn’t cure my sadness or turn events around. But it was a treat. Small enough to make the choice to purchase easy. Sure, it was an unnecessary act, but hey, it was fun.

So here’s the thing. It’s a thing. And it’s called, The Lipstick Effect. Beauty products, such as lipsticks, make us feel good and happy. Natalia Bambiza, beauty category analyst at NPD Market Research Group, says, “There are clearly strong emotional ties to the makeup category that stretch beyond physical appearance. 64% of consumers aged 13 to 25 say they wear makeup for a confidence boost and 30% of all makeup wearers say that makeup brings them joy.” Author Juliet Schor discovered that when money is tight, women would splurge on luxury brand lipsticks, because compared to childcare, gas and electrics, it’s an inexpensive item that you can excuse because of its power to make you feel better. She says, “The thrill of buying in a department store creates an escape from an otherwise drab everyday existence.” Following 9/11, lipstick sales rose by 11%.

Leonard Lauder coined the phrase following Estée Lauder’s announcement that its lipstick sales had skyrocketed in 2001, despite economic recession. When times are tough, lifestyle changes are inevitable. You might have to give up the flashy car. Move into a smaller home. Say goodbye to club memberships and cancel subscriptions. But there’s usually room to buy that lipstick. Even during the weekly food shop, browsing the aisles deciding on what is necessary and what can be left on the shelf, it’s common for the makeup stand to be popular, lifting the spirits within a realistically depressing situation.

Living in a post-Covid, war-torn world, we now face the biggest economic crisis of our lifetime. Is The Lipstick Effect on trend? Or has something else taken its place of instant gratification? According to Emma Fishwick, an analyst at the data firm NPD, she says fashions change and although lipstick shades are still popular, women want moisturising products such as a balm or oil, and specifically those that are environmentally friendly and could be refilled.

Another emerging trend is DIY manicures, with sales of nail makeup up by a fifth since the summer, for those struggling to make sense of splurging on a trip to the salon. Posh coffee that can be made at home is also a winner for instant, guilt-free luxury, plus chocolate. Since the pandemic, ethical chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely has experienced high demand for its bars, which dazzle the pallet with flavours such as milk pecan and caramel crunch. It’s the perfect treat to be enjoyed surrounded by home comforts and a recent poll confirmed 56% of consumers admitted that chocolate was “a good way to boost your mood.” Food and drink - in the grand scheme of things we need to fork out for - are still relatively cheap, so it’s no surprise that people are keen to indulge in order to get a nice little boost during the week.

It makes sense though, doesn’t it? Seeking comfort through bleak circumstances. Experts on consumer culture at Cardiff University say that the careful pursuit of moments of indulgence are common in tough times. Perhaps it’s personalised stationery, fan memorabilia or a new tattoo, wherever people can get their hands on a bit of luxury, they will. Getting a piercing won’t cost the earth, and it’s sure to make you feel rather awesome.

While we might crave a spa weekend, we shouldn’t feel under pressure for self-care to break the bank. If getting yourself a gingerbread spiced latte puts a spring into your hectic lunch hour, then go for it. This is a form of therapy, of managing your mental health and allowing joy into your life. You haven’t gone on a wild shopping spree. Instead, you must recognise this as an act of self-love rather than a negative selfish trait. The cost of living is soaring, but if you want the bath bomb, get the bath bomb.

Because, really, what’s the alternative? When we hit hard times, it can become increasingly difficult to motivate ourselves to get creative. Even changing the bedsheets can be (more of) a chore, with the mindset along the lines of, so what? So do we just doom-scroll? Overload on the news? Give ourselves dangerous bouts of comparisonitis? The fact is, whether we like it or not, we have to keep going. We get dressed, clean our teeth, go to work, keep our kids fed. And if throwing that ruby red lippy into your shopping basket is going to make it all just that bit easier, it’s a small luxury worth having. It’s never going to fix whatever bad situation you’re experiencing, but you are always deserving of something lovely.


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