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Lipstick: A Symbol of Hope

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Lipstick: A Symbol of Hope

We no longer have to comply with the rule of “No shoes, no service,” seeing as slippers and socks are perfectly normal footwear for Zoom calls during a pandemic. However, there are many links between wearing makeup and boosting motivation. One 2017 a study found that female college students who wore makeup to their exams performed better than those who didn’t. “Makeup can definitely boost confidence and mood,” says Rocco Palumbo, an assistant professor of psychology at the University G. d’Annunzio in Chieti, Italy, who was the lead researcher. “Our research shows that participants were able to improve their confidence and, therefore, improve their performance.”

Sure, a routine is an essential part of motivation, but what does makeup have to do with getting your work done from home, or in general motivation? There is a link between cosmetics and confidence, but some research suggests a further link between confidence and motivation.

One article defines self-confidence as “beliefs in one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” and notes that self-talk is the main way to improve confidence.1 When we get ready for the day, we are unconsciously telling ourselves we “deserve” that effort. A study published in 2014 concluded that people who use positive self-talk (specifically in the second person) reported higher levels of motivation and confidence.2 Enhancing lips with some lipstick or lengthening lashes with some mascara likely causes a person to look in the mirror and think to themselves “Okay, I look good. On to the next thing.” It is a subtle confidence booster even when done quickly.

The term “dress for success” doesn’t come from nowhere. In a study with men role-playing a negotiation scene, the men dressed in suits versus the men dressed in sweatpants showed higher levels of dominance, job performance, and confidence. 3

In an article written for SELF, Talia Abbas found that combatting her more natural beauty preferences and wearing red lipstick every day for a week caused her to feel “invincible,” in addition to a perceived way strangers treated her. She writes “Although red lipstick made me feel acutely more aware of my own presence, it also made me feel more confident and mature, like the woman I wanted to be.” She said a coat or two of mascara combined with a red lip was an “easy way to feel more put together.”

Abbas found that on a particular day during the middle of her experiment, she caught herself “..smiling a little wider and walking a little taller.” She describes that this small change only noticed by herself was “powerfully comforting.”

Finally, Abbas said she noticed a potential correlation between her red lips and strangers being nicer to her. Whether people were more attracted to her confidence or her appearance, she doesn’t know, but she said, either way, people were more eager to help her and be kind.4

There is psychological evidence to back up something called “the lipstick theory.” William Cahan, a late cancer surgeon, coined this term. Dr. Cahan claimed he was able to tell if a patient was improving during cancer treatment if she wore lipstick. “When a woman who is battling cancer starts to put on lipstick, she is on the road to recovery,” Cahan said. He said this is because, in a way, the lipstick is a symbol of a “survivor frame of mind.” When the lipstick is on, she has adopted that frame of mind.5

“Look Good, Feel Better” is a program that “teaches beauty techniques to people with cancer to help them manage the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment.”6 Laurie Wertich, author of “I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy” shared her experience doing the program in an article for Women’s Health.

“I saw the magic of the theory myself,” Wertich said. “Patients entered weary, tired, and looking sick, but the transformation that followed was a miracle. Yes, lipstick [was] applied, but all the women in that room sparkled from within when they left. I saw them look at themselves in their mirrors and smile. There was hope.” As for her own experience wearing lipstick to her mastectomy, Wertich said “...the lipstick—by allowing me to feel somewhat glamorous while I was in a surgical smock and hairnet—somehow saved my life as much as the surgery that day in the operating room. The lipstick gave me hope I would wear it again—but on my own terms next time.”

Hope, it turns out, is the central takeaway from how something as simple as getting ready for the day can heavily improve a person’s perspective in a positive way. Hope is a trait many of us need in general, and probably even more during these times of worry, fear and loneliness.

Motivation from self-confidence comes from the hope of achieving one’s goals. Whether you are applying makeup in order to feel more confident and better complete your daily workout, or to do house chores and only be seen by your own reflection, it isn’t necessarily meeting beauty standards that invites motivation into your day. Rather, it is an action to support that inner hope for a better day ahead.

1. Believe Perform, The Relationship Between Motivation, Self-Confidence and Anxiety, https://believeperform.com/the-relationship-between-motivation-self-confidence-and-anxiety/


2. Wiley Online Library, The Inner Speech of Behavioral Regulation: Intentions and Task Performance Strengthen When You Talk to Yourself as You, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ejsp.2048


3. Calendar, 6 Quick Fixes for Boosting Your Confidence and Motivation, https://www.calendar.com/blog/boosting-your-confidence/


4. Self, 13 I learned When I Wore Red Lipstick Every Day for a Week, https://www.self.com/story/i-wore-red-lipstick-every-day-for-a-week


5. Women's Health, Look Good...Feel Better & the Lipstick Theory, https://mavendoctors.io/women/health-conditions/look-good-feel-better-and-the-lipstick-theory-uqpTB928H0Cp5GqHfUN7Fw


6. Look Good Feel Better, Program Description, https://lookgoodfeelbetter.org/about/about-the-program/ 

Add a Comment2 Comments


Hi, Emiliedeeann!

This is so true! Especially given our current situation. To me, lip color (lipgloss or lipstick) is a bit of self-confidence in a tube. I could be going to the grocery store wearing sweats with little or no makeup on, hair in a ponytail and the lip gloss will be on. Even having to wear a mask now, I know it's on under there and it gives me some sense of normalcy.


May 2, 2020 - 6:01am
HERWriter (reply to Helena)

Helena, I totally agree!! I dried my hair and put some waves in it the other day and felt so good and normal! I even put a tiny bit of makeup on. I was just going to the grocery store but it made my day. I felt more productive and in a better mood. 

Great article Emilee ! 

May 4, 2020 - 8:53am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.