Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Semiotic Analysis of Red Lipstick

A semiotic analysis is the study of meaning-making, the philosophical theory of signs and symbols. I will be doing a semiotic analysis of red lipstick, followed by a few questions of my own.

What different emotions do these images evoke?

It is a strange concept; to think that we paint on our faces differently than our natural selves. Whether it is elaborate or not, the makeup on a woman's face, or the lack thereof, says a lot about her and what she is aiming to achieve with the presentation of her appearance. It also makes a difference in the entirety of her day. If a woman is more confident in her appearance, it will reflect in her actions.

Why is it that we react differently to a woman wearing red lipstick than to a woman wearing none? We assume things about her and see her in a different way than if she was wearing a more neutral shade or no lipstick at all. 

Lipstick in particular, especially bright and dark shades, draws a lot of attention to the mouth and in turn gives the woman's overall appearance a sense of heightened sexuality and "promiscuity". Bright red lipstick is often associated with sexuality, but also with strength, which together can be very intimidating, to men and other women. A woman that is comfortable with her sexuality, but also confident that she is intelligent and strong, can be emotionally threatening to both genders.

Customarily, the color red is used to evoke sexual and erotic feelings simply because it goes back to our rudimentary physiological elements. We, as animals, see red as a symbol of health, blood, life, fertility, procreation, etc. The color demands attention. It is very active and stimulating to the eye. In literature and film, we know that it is the indicative color of things both negative and positive. Perhaps anger, sin, danger, violence, and murder, or differently love, bravery, passion, sacrifice etc. 

Makeup as a whole is not a new invention. Women have been decorating and painting their faces forever, but red lipstick used to be seen as a sign of sexual looseness or prostitution. The representation changed for the positive after the suffragettes took their stand and reclaimed the color as a symbol of strength. For me, and hopefully many other women, red lipstick is not about hyper-sexuality, but rather empowerment.

Rosie the Riveter, with her red lips and red polka dot headband, is a fantastic cultural icon exemplifying the drastic change in politics and economics and empowerment that came for women after the second World War. 

Men often see a woman who chooses not to wear makeup as "lazy" or "not feminine", but if she wears too much or wears it in the wrong way, she is unattractive or "trashy". Many feminists believe that make-up is a powerful, helpful luxury, but there are some that believe it to be a governing product of the patriarchal society that we live in. 

A woman wearing no make-up may feel differently than when she puts a little bit on, but why?

Do we identify ourselves differently when we wear it?

When we present ourselves as "made up" what does that do to other females perceptions of us as women? Does it increase or decrease our chances of becoming acquainted with them? At what point does jealousy take hold?

What is the effect on a man's gaze when he sees a woman wearing red lipstick?


  1. A great start! I could really see this turning into something cool, if you put ads/images up against each other: some where women had no lipstick, some with red lipstick that objectifies them, and some with red lipstick that empowers them...I wonder what revelations that would yield? Very cool idea here, and nice to overlay the feminist lens on top of your semiotic process.

  2. Thank you! I am glad you liked this. I wanted to choose something that I could do a feminist reading on as well, and I thought this would be perfect.

  3. I like how you contrasted the different ways in which red lipstick can be perceived. Personally, I see red lipstick as being a more empowering and strong statement for a woman to make, although I recognize why it has so many sexual connotations. Your post made me think about the differences between "daytime" makeup and "night" makeup. There is usually a difference, and many women tend to use more dramatic makeup when going out in the evening (I know I do!). What do you think that means or says about women or society? Why do we tend to put on more dramatic makeup when going out in the evening as opposed to the daytime?

  4. I all that much to like and concur with your perspective. Much thanks to you for sharing.
    Red lips