Paint your barns, ladies

Ringl + Pit “EckStein with Lipstick”
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

“You beautiful girls – don’t wander around looking like men. Put on a little lipstick now and then and look a little charming – it’s that simple. I don’t know why we make this whole process so hard.” -Elder M. Russell Ballard

This was the marriage advice Elder Ballard gave at a YSA devotional held in Provo, Utah on October 24, 2015. Interestingly enough, the devotional was recorded and published on, but within 24 hours it was taken down from the site. You can still find the clip on YouTube.

A group of women and I were recently discussing this quote from Elder Ballard. I had completely forgotten about this talk until it was brought up a few days ago. I remember when this devotional was given because the above quote made its way through the usual rounds of outrage in progressive and/or ex Mormon circles. However, the tone of this recent conversation with my friends was different than the ones I participated in almost four years ago. The women, most of whom no longer identify as active LDS members, discussed the conflicting messages of church leaders that focused on their appearance and not on their actions as followers of the Gospel.

Many of the women were flabbergasted that this quote was from not only this century, but this decade. Especially since it’s similar to what either President David O. McKay or Spencer W. Kimball supposedly once said about women wearing makeup – “Even an old barn looks better with a fresh coat of paint.”

 One woman discussed how she was taught to never wear bright lipstick because it was too ostentatious and would distract boys and men from their priesthood duties. I guess that doesn’t count when you’re actively pursuing marriage. That’s the time to break out the man-catching lipstick. Another shared that talks like this worsened her eating disorder as a young adult because it reinforced to her that her physical appearance was the most important aspect of finding a righteous mate.

I have typical feminine facial features. Thanks to the curves I inherited from my mother, no one has ever confused me for being a man. And yet, I hardly ever wear lipstick except for special occasions. I find it messy, sticky, and annoying. I have to constantly worry about whether it looks good or if I have any on my teeth. I certainly wasn’t wearing any lipstick when I met my husband. How is telling women to just wear some lipstick constructive dating advice?

I don’t want to be told to wear lipstick by men who are supposed to have direct access to the Bat phone to Jesus, er, I mean are mouthpieces of the Lord. I want my spiritual leaders to teach me how to become a better Disciple of Christ. I don’t need to be instructed on how to become more physically attractive to attract a mate. I need to know how to love my neighbor better. I want to be taught how to emulate my life after His. Does Jesus care if my hair is curled or does He care that I am compassionate and notice those who are hurting and seek to ease their pain?  Does He care if my foundation is blended if I am not also a loving person? Does Jesus care more about the man-catching shade of my lipstick more than He cares about if I’m forgiving, gentle, patient, humble, and kind?

I don’t think so. We know from 1 Samuel 16:7 that, “For the Lord sees not was man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Maybe its time our leaders taught us how to look at each other’s hearts, instead of worrying about lipstick.


Risa has a Masters and Bachelors degree in Social Work. She is an Associate Therapist who has worked in child abuse prevention, adoption, and volunteers as a CASA . She is a mother of 4 and in her spare time she is a voracious reader, snarker, and subversive cross-stitcher.

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10 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    “I want my spiritual leaders to teach me how to become a better Disciple of Christ. I don’t need to be instructed on how to become more physically attractive to attract a mate.”

    Exactly. Time to stop talking about women’s and girls’ appearance, church leaders and members. This includes modesty rhetoric, of course. The more we talk about females’ bodies and appearance, the more we objectify them.

    My daughter will enter YW in another year or two. I’m terrified of the messages she will be getting.

  2. Chiaroscuro says:

    i wish i had grown up with some aspect of my culture not emphasizing that my most important feature was how my body looked. i wish church was that kind of safe space where i could be a whole person.

  3. Trudy says:

    Great post. Thank you. It seems like in the church, men have bodies and women are bodies. That needs to change.

    Plus, the whole lipstick remark from Ballard shows that he has absolutely no idea what single women in the church are up against. Even if we all followed his advice, wore lipstick, and made ourselves sufficiently “pretty” whatever that means, we couldn’t all get a temple marriage. There aren’t enough active, temple-worthy single men in the church. If every single man got married, there would still be thousands of single women. Lipstick won’t fix demographics!

    So many of the married people who talk at the single people come across as “I did it. It was easy. If you’re single, it’s because you don’t really want to be married.”

    • Mike H. says:

      Groan. Back when I was a teen, I was at my Grandparents one summer, and a third cousin came to visit. Said cousin was not married, and, my Grandmother made it sound like cousin could just push a button & get married. I cringed, for anything romantic was a disaster for me, as a teen, so, I could feel for my cousin.

      Eventually, she did get married, but, was like in her 50’s, so no having children for here.

    • Ziff says:

      “Men have bodies and women are bodies.”

      Wow, Trudy, this is such a depressingly spot-on succinct summary of the foundational difference between how women and men are seen at church.

  4. Mike H. says:

    I understand that some Church Leaders have felt that teaching Lesbians to use makeup, would “cure” them.

    Then, push to use makeup, but, no cosmetic surgery allowed?

    Finally, Isaiah 53:2: For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

    Comeliness defined: Pleasing and wholesome in appearance; attractive. See Synonyms at beautiful. 2. Suitable; seemly: comely behavior.

    Go figure.

  5. Anon says:

    A double-whammy on elder Ballard here this week, and we’ll-deserved.

  6. It is bad when men make remarks about their expectations for women to please them by looking pretty. We are busy–doing quantum physics, writing epic novels, negotiating peace treaties, performing cardiac surgery, [fill in the blank with the important thing you do], and about the least important thing about us is the color of our lips. It is even worse when our ecclesiastical leaders talk about things like this from the pulpit, because if even they cannot see the many, many other qualities about us besides our looks, how can we expect the other men in our community to? Being superficial is not a virtue.

  7. Ana says:

    I was at the devotional when it happened and I was so shocked and uncomfortable. My boyfriend at the time was so confused about why I was uncomfortable. I never went to another devotional.

  8. Elizabeth Hutchings says:

    In fall of 2014 he did a multi stake conference in the Marriott center and he told the men to ask girls on dates more and try harder to date to get married, and then he said to the women that we need to stop cutting our hair so short “like a boy” and that we just needed to “be attractive.” (So the boys would be more likely to ask us out?). After coming home my roommate was appalled and said “do I need to go tanning more? Get highlights in my hair? Be attractive that’s all we get?” She was very concerned about her appearance and always looked great but still struggled with dating. In my opinion, I didn’t really care to hear an apostle’s advice on my dating life, but of all places, BYU does not have a problem with girls not trying to “be attractive.” That’s a huge deal to most of them already.

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