Why All The Attention On Palin's Lipstick?

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks during a rally in Fredericksburg, Va. i

News flash: People on camera wear make up, commentator Charlotte Stoudt says. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speaks during a rally in Fredericksburg, Va.

News flash: People on camera wear make up, commentator Charlotte Stoudt says.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

You know America is suffering from free-floating anxiety when Sarah Palin's face gets more play than the latest lurch in the global economic crisis. "McCain highest paid staffer for First Half of October: Make Up Artist" screams the Huffington Post. Yes, the Emmy-nominated make up artist Amy Strozzi was paid $22,000-plus to get Sarah ready for her close ups. This supposed outrage is held up as further proof that that Republicans are nefarious hypocrites who preach heartland values but sell sex via Caribou Barbie.

News flash. People on camera wear make up. Katie Couric, Heidi Klum, and George Will all take powder. I think Amy Strozzi did a great job. She should ask for more money.

The secret handshake between make-up and power is as old as civilization. Roman ladies whitened their skin to look more patrician. In eighteenth-century England, women glued on false eyebrows made of mouse skin. The British government was so unnerved by the impact of cosmetics, it passed a law in 1770 that any female who seduced a man into marriage by means of make-up could be tried as a witch.

But as photography proliferated in the late nineteenth century, so did make-up's acceptability. It was Polish immigrant Max Factor who set the modern standard. When he arrived in California in 1908, screen actors were wearing everything from lard to paprika to brick dust on their faces to achieve a polished appearance on film. After Factor invented Pan Cake, a formula that gave actors' skin an even matte finish, women working on set stole the make-up for personal use. Polish equaled power. If it worked for Garbo, why not a wardrobe assistant?

Whatever you think of Sarah Palin, or Hillary Clinton, or any other public figure with ovaries, clucking over their cosmetics is like faulting a NASCAR driver for wearing a helmet. You may consider make-up an insidious weapon of female mass destruction, creating visual standards impossible for most of us to achieve after the age of 22. Or you may see your favorite lipstick as personal war paint. But please, let's go after Palin or Nancy Pelosi—who, by the way, has her hair done every morning before whipping the House into shape—for something other than their deployment of beauty products.

This campaign, like some endless purgatorial reality show, has worn everyone down to a nub. The presidency looks more and more like a gig in Hollywood. The hardest part is getting the job. If I were auditioning for standby leader of the not-so-free world, I'd want my blush applied by an award-winning professional, too. Who wouldn't want all the special effects you can get? Like political clout, make-up's power is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. By definition, Cosmetics are always making up for something missing.

Charlotte Stoudt is a writer in Los Angeles.

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