I like lipstick.
Maybe it's my southern upbringing. The South is still very much a region where image is a daily, conscious effort. And lipstick with its bright, playful shades plays a role.
But sometimes, I forget about the lipstick.
Once when I worked at the local paper, my boss, a very southern-belle features editor, was obsessed with image. I worked furiously on a story, trying to meet deadline. Suddenly, she clapped her hands at me. I looked up – her desk was across from mine – and she was staring at me.
"You need lipstick," she said.
"Lipstick?" I asked.
"Yes," she said.
Was she serious?
"Do you want lipstick or do you want me to meet deadline?" I asked.
"I really want you to put on some lipstick."
It was time for me to leave that job.
For women in the political limelight such as Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan or Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln
-- who faces Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and businessman DC Morrison in a primary this Tuesday -- image, however unfair, is an issue.
In Little Rock, rumors circulate in chic boutiques that fashionistas have offered Lincoln makeover after makeover, but she has balked. Her reasons for refusal are unclear.
Is it because she doesn't want to be perceived as the decked-out doctor's wife? (Her husband is an ob-gyn.) Is it a tactical political move to appear down-home in a mostly rural state? Or is it simply that Lincoln is true to herself and comfortable in her own skin?
Maybe she likes her minimum make-up and hair exactly the way they are. How refreshing. But don't think her looks and dull pant suits aren't the catty talk of small-town beauty shops and Junior League meetings. They are.
Lincoln's freshly scrubbed face is certainly a rarity in southern politics.
A candidate running for a local seat recently confessed to me that the first political advice she received was "do something about my short hair." She found a new consultant.
But the advice didn't stop. One veteran female politician told her that a certain number of accessories were required from head to toe. It's hard enough in politics to keep up with issues and policy, much less belts and bracelets.
Still, she says that she is very aware of her image in ways a male politician never has to consider. They simply put on a suit, or khakis and a polo, and start knocking on doors. She now wears jeans and a campaign T-shirt when canvassing, but always with make-up.
The South, even for its occasional progressiveness, is still a region where appearances matter.
In her best-selling book, "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)," Ronda Rich
writes, "We women of the South have what other women sometimes think is an obsession with our looks. It isn't necessarily our looks that concern us – it's our appearance."
As she wrote so truthfully, "We don't wear curlers or yard clothes to the grocery store. We do wear lipstick and mascara."
Dr. David Eigen
, author of "Women – The Goddesses of Wisdom," says that southern
voters, more so in the deep South than a state like Florida, expect "their female politicians to look refined" – a perception that has continued for decades.
"The South, as an image, bases itself on the belief that it's still a male-dominated society where the female should conform to what men think the woman should like," Eigen says.
Sure, we've come a long way down here in the land of moonlight and magnolias. But the southern-belle mantra of "look your best when you feel your worst" still rings true. It's hard to secede from a mentality that has been so ingrained into the psyche, regardless of how feminist we southern women think we are.
A recent pro-Lincoln mailer from the Coalition for Arkansas Jobs featured a smiling Lincoln with, gasp, lipstick. My initial – and yes, I admit it shallow thought: Is that shade Toast of New York?