Is Lip Gloss a Feminist Issue?

Posted October 30, 2012 by Katherine Toll in Building Your Brand

Some women love it and others loathe it. For the former, it represents an adult candy land, a veritable potpourri of powder, paint, and perfume. For the latter, it represents a dreaded chore undertaken with gritted teeth and a “let-me-get-this-over-with” attitude reserved for dealing with their income taxes.

Indeed, at the border of entry, I’ve seen gal pals come to blows about whether to continue the journey or not:

“Come on! We can play with the colors!”

“No. I’m not dressed for it, and I’m breaking out.”

“Duh?? We’re in the perfect place to remedy the breakout!”

“NO! Look at them – standing there ready to pounce on us like rabid animals.”

This exchange is followed with a series of eye rolls, quasi tug-a-wars, and clumsy lurch steps between the two, until they stumble across the border into the dreaded ZONE: The cosmetic department of Macy’s (or Saks, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, etc.).

Lovers of the ZONE fall into a consumer segment I once heard termed the “playful enthusiast.” The enthusiast adores the beautiful, airbrushed world of the cosmetic realm, the possibility offered from the newest, hottest lip gloss and blush combinations, and the playground of skincare technologies promising better skin with the first application.

The other consumer segment, coined the “pragmatic loyalist,” endures the experience of beauty purchases much like she endures a root canal appointment: with resolve, stoicism, and a budget. This appointment is a necessary evil of life, no more, no less. “Let’s not belabor the issue, just give me my Definicils mascara and I’ll be on my way,” is the typical pronouncement of a pragmatic loyalist.

Recognize yourself in either description, or perhaps a blend of both, depending on your mood? Do you love the beauty industry, or hate it? Do you view it as a welcome break from reality, or a reprehensible machine that reinforces our unrealistic image of beauty? Not sure?  PERFECT – me, neither.


I know – it is a bit confusing, but think of it as one of life’s divine paradoxes. I managed to parlay my early “enthusiast” roots into a career in the beauty industry that took me from behind the counter of a department store to an executive role for a major luxury brand (with several positions in between, and two rounds of education “breaks”).

Over the past few decades, I’ve turned this industry inside-out, upside-down, and round and round (to use the songwriters’ lyrics) in an effort to study its elusive hold on women. I surveyed it from a training, sales management, and operations role within the industry. I examined it from a psychological, communication, and marketing perspective in my education. To this day, I grapple with my childlike giddiness over the latest issue of Allure and the industry’s propensity to prey on women’s insecurities. I struggle with myself when I duck into a Sephora with the eagerness of junkie in need of a fix. Logically, I know this is irrational behavior.

I mean, seriously, will the new miracle anti-age cream really change my somewhat snarky attitude? Make me forget life’s irritants? Smooth over my edgy mood? Umm, in a word… YES! (There, I admit it.)

Evidently, I’m not alone in this belief. In fact, GCI reported,

New trends  . . . significantly bolstered sales in the 2011 U.S. personal care market, which exceeded $38 billion (author’s emphasis) at the manufacturers’ level, surpassing pre-recession levels and representing robust growth of 4.2% . . .

Whether you’re a playful enthusiast, or a pragmatic loyalist, whether you love it, hate it, or feign indifference to the beauty industry, one thing is certain: It’s not going anywhere. It holds too much of our gross domestic product and its too deeply woven into our appearance-driven, mass-mediated culture. So, let’s have some fun with it!

In the upcoming weeks, I intend to navigate Career Girls through the wacky world of powder and paint with candor and humor. Why? Because, I passionately believe the learning curve for Career Girls demands some light-hearted collaboration — this maturing thing is DAMN HARD WORK and sometimes we take ourselves a wee bit too seriously. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING enhances a woman’s beauty faster than her own self-acceptance. And, if a fabulous lip color aids in the process, so be it! CGN is here to help on all fronts.


About the Author

Katherine Toll

Katherine (Kathi) Toll possesses more than 20 years of management and consulting experience within the retail and beauty industry. Her industry experience combined with her special brand of irreverence fuels her mission to find the ‘must-have’ beauty products for Career Girls of all ages. She aspires to remind women the airbrushed perfection of the beauty industry must be tempered with a healthy dose of humor. Kathi holds a general management certification from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, along with an undergraduate degree from Northwestern’s School of Communications.