TFMA: Lip Shape

Memoirs of a GeishaI read Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha at a formative moment. (I read F. Scott Fitzgerald at a formative moment too — interesting education.)

Anyway, there are a lot of tidbits I remember from Memoirs, but one in particular has to do with makeup. The title character of the book, Sayuri, comes to live in a geisha house, where the head geisha, Hatsumomo, takes an instant dislike to her (seeing her as a future rival).

Early in Sayuri’s education, Hatsumomo tells Sayuri to watch Hatsumomo putting on her makeup — so that Sayuri will see that there is no magic to the transformation, and realize that there is no hope that she (Sayuri) will ever be as beautiful as Hatsumomo.

I found the passage via Google Books, and it turned out I mis-remembered it slightly.  I’ll tell you what I learned from it, and then give you the actual passage.

I remembered Sayuri describing the way Western women applied their lipstick (covering the full width of the mouth) as looking like “two slabs of tuna.”  By contrast, she said, geisha painted their mouths to look like pansies, focusing on the center and ignoring the edges.

Somehow, I’ve never been able to get this image out of my head, so when I apply my lipstick (which is usually tube-directly-to-lips), I “cheat in.”  With a diagonal motion, I use my finger to wipe away the corners, de-emphasizing the wideness, making my lips look just slightly poutier.  I’m still imagining creating that pansy shape.

Here’s the actual passage:

White makeup causes all sorts of curious illusions; if a geisha were to paint the entire surface of her lips, her mouth would end up looking like two big slices of tuna. So most geisha prefer a poutier shape, more like the bloom of a violet. Unless a geisha has lips of this shape to begin with — and very few do — she nearly always paints on a more circle-shaped mouth than she actually has.

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6 Responses to “TFMA: Lip Shape”

  • I love that book, but now I’m scarred for life LOL. I wont be able to put on red lipstick without thinking ‘SLABS OF TUNAAAAAAAA’ D:

  • Rebelwithstyle says:

    I’ve always been self-conscious about my small mouth (my lips are a good shape and not thin, but my mouth is small and not wide). I like thinking of them as a natural pansy shape…

  • Virginia says:

    I think the point is that geisha wear white makeup, so the stark contrast to the red lips requires a smaller shape. I personally think it looks odd if you leave the corners of your mouth bare. I think it makes my face look wider, which I don’t like.

  • Nikki says:

    I’ve always been afraid of narrow, underdrawn lips. My mouth is already quite narrow, with a rather thin top lip and fuller bottom lip. I should probably try a geisha inspired shape out at some point, just so I know what it’s like, but I’ve always assumed that it would make my feautres look unbalanced. When I do play around with lip shapes, I usually try to make a more Monica Bellucci-like shape by slightly overdrawing my top lip.

  • Melissa says:

    How funny! I always do this when putting on lipstick. I read that book years ago but I didn’t remember that passage. :)

  • Shannon says:

    I’ve always done this because my lower lip is slightly wider than my upper lip and it aggravates me (I’ve very into symmetry, lol). I have naturally pouty lips and never knew this could be the “right” way to do this for anyone, but I love the pansy analogy!


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