Avon: Lipstick Equals Instant Self Esteem?

Okay, while I do think that makeup can make a person feel better about oneself – and I’m not denigrating the use of it at all – there is something about this commercial that just sets me on edge. Is it the idea that the implication is that the only reason this woman feel pretty is this particular red lipstick? Is it that the woman playing Karina is, in fact, actually quite conventionally attractive?

I don’t know, it just pings that old grarr feeling in me for some reason. What do you think, if anything at all?


  1. D. says

    Absolutely coincidentally (I swear) I’m playing the DVD of Catwoman, which has serious flaws (like the plot), but which also has the mixed messages of (1) a woman coming into great power after a death experience who (2) as Catwoman wears the reddest lipstick available and lots of eye makeup. It’s almost as though lipstick is being presented as an accoutrement of power and/or sexiness, rather than something that focuses attention on one’s lips.

    (I have the non-existent deleted scene in mind in which Catwoman has to spend twenty or so minutes on the make-up before she goes leaping around town.)

  2. sbg says

    Debi Linton,

    One of the two women on the sofa at the end was the Avon lady, alas. Otherwise, it might have redeemed it for me.

    If only red lipstick would make me realize I was pretty enough to deserve to wear it. Uhm. What?

  3. Maartje says

    What annoys me most is that it yet again reinforces the message that a woman must be beautiful/pretty/attractive to be allowed to take up space in the world. The only time you are allowed to feel good about yourself is when you are pretty.

    Pre-Lipstick she is supposedly not pretty, her body is hunched, her focus is inward, making herself small, Post-Lipstick she is pretty and her posture and focus open up, taking up space.

  4. says


    I was thinking more about the line “I said ‘I hope she has her dancing shoes,'” though I admit that is probably more me being confused at the use of a third person pronoun where I would use a first.

  5. Juliana says

    It rubbed me the wrong way, too. I mean, make-up helps improve my self-esteem, and I love putting it on, but the way that the lady talks made it sound like she was really pushing the thing on her, and I hate it when people try to really push things on me. (Like, originally Karina didn’t want to wear it, and then she gets her to try Avon Red). And at the end of the commercial, she says she sold a slow dance, like Karina wouldn’t have been able to dance on her aniversary w/o red lipstick? It definitely feels like Maartje said, that woman need to be conventionally pretty to take up space.

    There also that she’s conventionally attractive. Like, what if she was selling lipstick to a woman who just isn’t conventionally attractive? Would they still have had the “her lips aren’t the only thing that light up” or w/e? It seems like women are supposed to be conventionally attractive without trying, yet we’re not supposed to think that we’re attractive because then we’re arrogant.

  6. Nuri says

    And at the end of the commercial, she says she sold a slow dance, like Karina wouldn’t have been able to dance on her aniversary w/o red lipstick? It definitely feels like Maartje said, that woman need to be conventionally pretty to take up space.

    Yes! And not only that, it implies that a “slow dance” or whatever contrived romantic cliche is what you’re supposed to do in your anniversary.
    And yes, the fact that “Karina” is gorgeous pre-lipstick does not help. At all. Neither does the awful grammar of the script.

  7. says

    Another thing that got me: does anyone ever actually think they’re not pretty enough to wear red lipstick? I’ve never heard that said in real life. What I *have* heard is that they don’t think it goes with their coloring, which is an entirely different consideration. I mean, Angelina Jolie stopped wearing red lipstick because with lips that voluptuous, drawing more attention to them just makes the rest of her face disappear. It’s certainly not that she’s “not pretty enough” for anything.

  8. sbg says


    I think in that case, heavy makeup is a purported as either powerful or as a mask. Red is a “power color”, isn’t that what that old chestnut says? Before, she was a mouse, a victim, and plain-faced. After, she is a cat, a predator, and heavily masked. Goodness knows we wouldn’t want plain-faced women to think they’re powerful, and pretty-faced women to think it’s them that’s powerful rather than their mask giving them that strength.

    Or something. That made more sense in my head.

    Jennifer Kesler,

    I will say I don’t think I could pull off red lipstick, but that it’s got less to do with my looks or coloring and more to do with the fact I’ve never been much of a makeup wearer and pretty much any shade would make me feel self-conscious. Which is, I think, the exact opposite of what it’s meant to do.

  9. Cheryl says

    Every time I see this ad on Hulu, two things come to mind: this entry, and that the reason I didn’t wear red lipstick for years had almost everything to do, in my mind, with red lipstick=slut. I don’t know of anyone who ever avoided red lipstick because they didn’t think they were pretty enough.

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