Women and women-identifying individuals need better representation in the mental health realm. What better way than with a lipstick smile?
Liptember, a month-long campaign created by an Australian-based foundation gaining notoriety globally, was established in 2010. Within their first year they were able to raise awareness and $55,000 in funds for mental health organizations. Since 2014, Liptember has been able to fund over 80,000 crisis support requests1.
The group found that most mental health research conducted in our society examines men’s mental health but applies these findings to both men and women alike. The result was that several programs and prevention strategies could not assist the mental health needs of the female and female-identifying population. With participants sporting a colorful lip, Liptember hopes to spark conversation about mental health. The idea is to lessen the stigma of seeking and obtaining support, and to recognize that all benefit from this care at some point in their life. The courage to be vulnerable in this space could even save a life.
The early history of women’s mental health is a dark period indeed. From 1900 BC, the early Greeks and Egyptians attributed a “wandering womb” or “spontaneous uterus movement” as the culprit for all unrest a woman may be feeling. The solution was to get married, stay pregnant, or abstain. Talk about mixed messages! The Greek word “hystera,” for uterus, is the root for the detrimental term “hysteria,” bringing about a centuries-old catchall stereotype for women’s mental disorders. Even Hippocrates signed onto the hysteria theory, suggesting the solution for “uterine melancholy” was to simply get married and have more babies. It was not until 1980 that this term was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)2.
As time and medicine progressed, even the most sacred of female spaces were taken over by male professionals. Gynecological and childbirth care, which had largely been given by trained midwives, were pushed out and devalued. This specific thread of women’s health care suddenly became a man’s space.
A violent and disturbing time in our culture evolved into the burning and execution of women “witches,” who were individuals most likely dealing with undiagnosed mental health issues, epilepsy, or even just independent humans who wished to think for themselves3.
We are now in a better position to support our women and women-identifying population, but disparities still exist. Gender stereotypes persist in the health care industry with a woman being more likely to wait longer for a health diagnosis4, or even falling victim to sexist language of “it’s all in her head” or “she’s just crazy.” Additionally, racism continues to create obstructions in obtaining care. A Black woman in America is 20% more likely to experience mental health issues and is likely be exposed to both sexism and racism in our health care industry.
As a teenager who suffered from depression in the ‘90s, I, too, experience this disparity. I had multiple professionals attempt to diagnose and treat a plethora of mental health issues. I was prescribed medications reserved for only the most intense psychotic episodes—medications which certainly hadn’t been tested on young minds. I was off and running on a wild ride that did very little to quell an emotional human who was trying her best to fit in with all the other “normal people.”
So I used the power of makeup to express outwardly what I was experiencing inwardly. If I was having a bright and happy day, you could find me in a warm crimson lip that invited folks to come up and start a conversation! If I was dealing with depression and sadness, you might have found me in cocoa or merlot. If there were a fresh new day to be had, a feeling of optimism and a new beginning, lavender or a blush pastel might be the choice.
It was a painful time as a teen and, looking back, I note how my creativity and independence were not something that was celebrated or explored. It was no wonder I struggled to fit into society’s little box! It is my hope that those limitations I experienced lessen with each generation and that, perhaps, my own daughter will be able to access mental health care and treatment that I—and so many women before me—never knew.
Liptember is a movement that inspires me. Color, cause, and care. Lipstick can be more than makeup. It can transcend. It can reflect who we are and who we hope to be. It gives us control over ourselves in a world where many women feel powerless. Liptember gives us a chance to be celebrated and accepted just as we are, and I hope you will join me in celebrating every day!
To learn more and to become involved in raising funds check out liptemberfoundation.org.au/ for details!