Seventy-eight glosses, one pair of lips


Last Friday, I bought myself my first red lipstick.

This might seem insignificant, and even downright frivolous, but it does have some significance here. You see, I have a bit of an addiction to lipstick’s baby sister, a little something called lip gloss.

And when I say a bit, I actually mean borderline serious. My current collection of lip glosses, neatly piled away in a trunk case, numbers 78.

That figure once prompted a MAC cosmetics employee to exclaim, “That’s nuts, I work here and I don’t even own that many lip glosses!”

Before you run the other way, or start wondering where I even managed to find 78 different kinds of lip gloss, allow me to at least describe my unhealthy obsession.

My first lip gloss purchase was, in typical preteen fashion, a strawberry-kiwi-flavoured Lip Smacker sponge-on sparkler.

I ended up more or less eating the saccharine liquid rather than actually applying it to my lips, but it was the start of a little cosmetic product fetish I would end up spending a fortune on.

Why lip gloss, you ask?

When my 12-year-old self was itching to experiment with this new fad called makeup, I was slightly terrified by the drastic changes cosmetic tools could inflict on my appearance.

The dark swaths of eyeliner freaked me out a little, eye shadows hid my pupils behind a dose of intense colour and grainy mascara seemed to hurt my eyes more than benefit them.

But lip gloss—just a nice shine with a hint of glitter and shimmer—was subtle enough for my overly conscious self, yet effective enough to reapply.

So I kept on buying. The fascination grew deeper as I discovered there were different types of applicators—sponge! brush! slanted tube! Naturally, I had to have them all.

Once I conquered the applicators, I moved onto the more elusive category of texture. There were the really sticky ones, the smooth-and-thick and the slippery, watery kinds.

Each had its own advantages and pitfalls—a sticky gloss could last me throughout the day, but attracted everything from dust to hair. The slippery gloss could “hug” my lips and make them feel divine, but mysteriously disappeared 10 minutes after application.

Again, I had to have them all.

Soon enough, I was buying lip gloss for all occasions—dinner outings, movies, parties, class, work—and all spectrums and variations of colour.

“This red has flecks of gold shimmer, which my other red gloss doesn’t have!” I would whine to myself, as a justification.

I caught myself following the new MAC campaigns like a hawk, and internet-shopping for the newest shades that weren’t in stores yet.

Yes, somebody or something had to stop me. And finally, it was my mother—who had been watching my compulsive habit silently but warily—who stepped in and said, “You only have one pair of lips, you know.” It was a simple comment, but enough to get inside my airy head. That’s when it hit me: getting addicted to beauty—or rather, the idea of beauty—was not only eating away my wallet, but my mind.

I found that if all the lipstick an average woman uses in a five-year period was stacked end-to-end, the pile would be as tall as she is. If I were to measure the amount of lip gloss I owned in the little black case, I could probably fill a sink.

Why did I have 70-odd tubes of lip glosses when I knew I would never be able to wear them all?

Was it that important to at least possess the idea of beauty, and believe I was beautiful, even if one extra tube of gloss wouldn’t make a difference?

Was this the emotional impetus for a mountain of other irrational beauty phenomena, like shoe-shopping addictions, plastic surgery and skin creams that cost more than the average treadmill?

InStyle magazine runs a section called “I want to, need to, have to have it”—summarizing the appearance-obsessive and possessive qualities of today’s women’s fashion market in a nutshell.

I inspected my mother’s medicine cabinet and found she, too, was guilty of possessing way too many bottles of skin care products, some of them still in their boxes. Ownership without usership: it runs in the family. And in genders too, it seems.

So I’ve been trying to censor myself when it comes to shopping, sometimes with more success than others.

The other day, having entered MAC after my two-month hiatus, I caved in to a sales girl who was convinced a red shade of their lipstick looked “like sex” on me.

But when she pressed a tube of red gloss into my palm, assuring me it would complement the lipstick perfectly, I uttered a “no thanks” and meant it this time.

Hey, there’s a first time for everything.

—With files from

What Price Beauty?

• Back in the 1400s, women took extreme measures in order to achieve a pale, “other-worldly” appearance. They would paint on a toxic mixture of vinegar and powdered lead, and even bleed themselves. The practices remained in fashion for the next 300 years, despite their obvious setbacks.

• The pale trend was reversed in 1923, when French fashionista Coco Chanel got too much sun during a holiday on the Duke of Westminister’s yacht. She stepped off the boat sporting a previously taboo tan, causing an enduring fashion sensation.

• The first long-lasting lipstick came on the market thanks to Hazel Bishop in the 1950s. Now housewives could look impeccable for their hardworking husbands, no matter when.

• Nail polish, a seemingly western trend and gadget, has a surprising eastern origin: China.

• The Wilkensen Sword razor blade company launched a fierce ad campaign in 1915 associating armpit hair with bad hygiene and lack of femininity. As razor-burned contemporary women will attest, the campaign was hugely successful.

• Even those living “au naturel” feel the need to primp: women in nudist camps use more makeup than any other group of women on Earth.

—Complied by Rosel Kim from,, and

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