Courage that comes in a compact

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 10, 2001

During America's Great Depression of the 1930s, two industries were said to be depression-proof.

One was cigarettes. Think of the man who stood in long unemployment lines day after day, who spent long hours doing back-breaking work for miniscule wages when he did get a job. That poor fellow couldn't very well afford a juicy Porterhouse steak with all the trimmings.

But he might just manage a pack of smokes to soothe his nerves and ease his troubles.

Email newsletter signup

The other economic survivor of those devastating hard times? The cosmetics companies.

A woman might not be able to afford a smart new frock or stylish hat

but she could manage to come up with a dime for that tube of Woolworth's lipstick in peony pink' or valentine red.'

The very act of rouging a pair of tired cheeks or painting a slack mouth could bring a smile and a bit of a glow to an overworked secretary or harried housewife. She felt pretty, she felt good. She discovered a refreshing bit of courage in a compact, an encouraging lift from that lipstick tube.

Then, along came World War II and its own set of difficulties, fears and sacrifices. Dress material was in short supply and the wonderful nylon stockings that women adored disappeared from the shelves in order to provide parachute material for the war effort.

So women gamely applied leg makeup and drew "seams" down their legs. It's said that female war correspondents like Lee Miller wore a helmet in the trenches, along with fresh lipstick and neatly combed hair.

The many women who worked in factories may have donned masculine overalls and work boots, but their hair was generally neatly and femininely coiffed. A touch of powder and lipstick kept them feeling like attractive females.

A woman who was pulled from the smoking rubble of a bombed-out London building was seen rummaging in her pocket. The disheveled Brit pulled out a tube of lipstick and applied it as she was carried to safety.

For this woman and many like her, the horrors of war were simply no excuse to get slouchy and slovenly.

It still isn't. While we learned a long time ago that the smoking habit was dangerous and would and could do us in prematurely, no one has apparently yet perished from long-term use of blusher or frequent applications of mascara. (After all, Tammy Faye Bakker with her tube-a-day habit is still with us.)

It turns out that the frivolous' art of cosmetics has real therapeutic and psychological value.

Ancient warriors painted their faces before going into battle

to seem more frightening and invincible to their opponents. Today, women who are battling serious illnesses or overcoming addictive behaviors often experience a marked upswing in their mood after a makeover. They say it gives them the extra edge of confidence to face another tough day.

In sports terminology, we talk about players putting on their game faces' in preparation for the big showdown on the field.

This war against terrorism we are now embroiled in may take a long, long time. There will be many moments of fear, frustration and anger. We may find ourselves cutting back, cutting down and doing without in certain areas of our lives.

But, ladies, let's not give up our game faces. Let's color, blush, shade and pencil to our heart's content and thumb our noses at the very ones who think all women should place their lights (and heads and whole bodies) under a bushel basket', never to be seen or heard.

Writer Francine Du Plessix Gray recently remarked, "In times of crisis and risk, we need beauty… more than ever."

She's absolutely right. So ladies, if you will, slick on that lipstick, sweep on that mascara and make those cheekbones bloom.

You'll make our world a little more beautiful and courageous.