Hot Lips or Horse Lips?
I came home from holiday with an unwanted souvenir: swollen lips. From causes I have been unable to identify – sunburn? an allergic reaction to bites from unseen insects? a disagreement with the local wine? – I ended up looking like a camel. Acute sense of humour failure prevents me from posting a picture of this curious phenomenon (or even allowing one to be taken).
Though the pharmacist took my condition seriously, asking questions that showed she was worried about anaphylactic shock, it occurred to me that some people may have thought that this affliction was the result of lip-enhancing injections that had gone wrong, which in turn got me to pondering on how fashion in lips has changed radically since the days of my youth. I remember Dame Louella and I laughing ourselves sick over Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s portraits of dreamy maidens with overblown vermilion trout pouts. For these were the days when women considered to be great beauties had thin lips: think Bo Derek and Vanessa Redgrave. This even extended to men: I give you James Caan and , er, . . . Lance Percival?
This change in aesthetic was confirmed when Eva Wiseman in the Observer last week described a ‘mirror face’ as being ‘the pony-like pout your lips stiffen into when they happen upon a reflective surface’.
I realise that I am treading on potentially un-damesnet territory here, as our manifesto proclaims that we are not about how you look. But I think my distress at my condition goes further than this. Most of us will, perhaps despite a long list of supposed flaws that we are well aware of, have come to some kind of accommodation with our looks – both the face we show the mirror and even the one we catch sight of unexpectedly while out and about. It’s the face we present to colleagues, friends and family, and we accept its incremental changes even if we don’t welcome them. We simply absorb these into the overall picture and move on. With a sudden dramatic change you can’t do that.
It seemed disfiguring, though I know it doesn’t even come close to the impact severe and permanent damage has on people. But a part of me (the vain, trivial and unworthy part) felt that this was of a different order: scarring, for example, while it might not be attractive, carries with it a hinterland of trauma, of suffering. My lips, however, signalled only ludicrousness.
I tried hard not to let my comedy kisser stand in the way of having a good time, but it wasn’t easy. The final indignity came on the way home. With the aim of being green and having fun, we were travelling by train. This meant that on our return we had four hours to spare in Paris, so decided to have lunch in a bistro to cushion our descent into the real world. We walked in, sat down, and found ourselves surrounded by mirrors – and an endlessly receding vista of grumpy camels.