A Mac lipgloss is named after the official term for someone who is under the legal age to drink, smoke or have sex – and no one seems to notice how weird that is
I recently came across a tinted lipgloss by Mac, on sale in the US and UK, with a pretty shocking name. Can you help me make sense of this?
Zohra, by email
The above is a very condensed version of Zohra’s correspondence, and I’ll include most of the rest in a moment, but a bit of background first. We all know that cosmetic brands give their products ridiculous, desperately attention-seeking, Trade Descriptions Act-defying names. Heck, one of the most popular blushers from Nars is called Orgasm and, despite using it for years, it has never once given me the promised sensation. Maybe I’m using the brush wrong?
Indeed, these names have become so stupid that they’re almost impossible to satirise, although Will Ferrell and Tina Fey have given it a good go: Jenna’s favourite lipstick shade on Fey’s sitcom 30 Rock is, rather memorably, Tiger Orgasm. But it is, of course, the discussion of colognes in Anchorman that really wins the prize here, with Ferrell and Paul Rudd discussing the various merits of London Gentleman, Blackbeard’s Delight and Sex Panther by Odeon (“Made with bits of real panther, so you know it’s good … Sixty percent of the time, it works all the time.”)
But that film was made in 2004 – a veritable millennium in beauty world terms – and I’d assumed that, in an era in which perfumes are advertised by models depicted apparently having sex with the bottles and actors speaking cod philosophy, we’d reached a point that went beyond satire. But I was wrong. For the name of the lipgloss that so alarmed Zohra was, dear readers, Underage.
Perhaps even more than giving their products insane names, the beauty industry is infamous for its frankly deranged obsession with youth. Moisturisers routinely promise to give grown women “baby soft skin”, as though the problem with adults is that they’re just not enough like two-year-olds. But really, why focus on babies, when they’re practically geriatric already, what with all that exposure to the outside world and everything? Terribly ageing, you know. No, if I’m going to spend more than £20 on a moisturiser, I need it to promise that I will have the skin of a newly conceived foetus.
So we can all see what Mac is doing here. If moisturisers promise to make adults look like babies, then why shouldn’t a lipgloss suggest they should look “underage”? For Mac, it seems, labours under the belief that “underage” is merely a fancy word for “young”, as opposed to the official term for someone who is under the legal age to drink alcohol, smoke or have sex. I surely speak for us all when I say I am eagerly looking forward to their Statutory Rape collection.
Before contacting this column, Zohra complained to Mac directly. Rather sweetly, Mac reassured Zohra that she herself didn’t have to be underage to wear the pastel pink shade, but rather it was for “All Ages, All Races, All Sexes”. So that’s OK, then! And to be fair to Mac, none of the beauty writers or fans seem to have noticed how weird the name of this product is: “Underage is my go-to lipgloss,” coos one typical review.
So I took up the baton and called the press office directly, and I talked to a very sweet young lady. Initially, the only help she could give me was price and stockist advice, which wasn’t quite what Zohra and I were looking for. But she got back to me a few days later with this quote from Terry Barber, Mac’s director of makeup artistry (as you can see, Mac likes to have fun with language), to explain the nomenclature: “Mac Underage Tinted Lipglass [sic] is a gorgeous baby pink which looks really youthful (hence the name) if worn in the right way. It’s a white pink, so quite simply don’t put too much on. Go with a micro thin layer and tap it to the edge of the lips with the fingertip for a plump, juicy nude. It’s great with black kohl on the eyes. Think young Bardot,” Barber said.
You know, I spend a certain amount of my time defending fashion and beauty from accusations of misogyny and stupidity, both of which certainly exist in the industry but don’t, I honestly and truly believe, need to define it. Fashion and beauty should be about enabling women to enjoy themselves, to express themselves and to feel good about themselves; to gain confidence from trying out new looks and styles, and to also have the freedom to not bother with any of it at all. But then along comes something like this and, well, it’s hard to see what the point is any more. For the record, Bardot was 23 when she appeared in And God Created Woman, which is young but certainly not underage.
As I said, Mac is not alone in giving its products ridiculous names and it is definitely not unique in promoting the idea that women should look as young as possible. But despite spending a good few hours on the internet melting my brain, I have failed to find another product that uses an actual legal term to promote its wares, or to suggest that statutory rape is such a good look. So thank you, Mac, and thank you, Zohra, for reminding us all of a useful lesson today: language is a wonderful thing. But it is generally best to understand what the hell the words actually mean before you start using them.
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