sealed with a kiss

I Think About This a Lot: Ursula Applying Red Lipstick in The Little Mermaid

Ursula applying lipstick.
Photo: Disney

I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.

There’s a myth that women first learn about lipstick from their mothers — that we sit on the floor, adorably watching as our glamorous moms apply it in front of the bathroom mirror. No offense to my mom, but in my case, I’m pretty sure all the credit actually goes to Ursula, the sea witch villain from The Little Mermaid. And it was more like me sitting on the floor in front of the TV, repeatedly watching her maim a sea creature before applying it to her lips.

The scene is short and risks being overshadowed by what comes immediately after it: Ursula’s performance of “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” the true banger of the film. Still, it’s seared in my mind. It goes like this: Ariel warily enters Ursula’s lair in search of dating advice. Ursula responsibly advises her that “We musn’t lurk in doorways” (fire hazard!), then floats over to her impressive vanity for an abbreviated Get Ready With Me. In appropriately ’90s fashion, she dispenses some mousse and runs it through her hair. Next, she grabs a shellfish, gives it a forcible squeeze, exposing some red pigment I’m now slightly worried may have been blood, and applies her statement lip in two quick swipes. Two!

This is done left-handed, underwater, and while convincing Ariel to sign away her voice for a dude she’s never met. She finishes it all off with a good lip smoosh, a big pucker, and an open mouth smile that reveals bright, smudge-free teeth. The whole process takes six seconds, is intensely satisfying to watch, and immediately made me want to get lipstick.

The first time I watched I was 3 years old. Back then, I couldn’t put into words just how appealing it was at the time, or how much I needed a longwear, satin finish red lipstick, because I’d yet to read a product description and I was an extremely quiet child who rarely spoke. But Ursula’s steady hand and nonchalance with her lip color made an impression on me — it seemed obvious that when I grew up to be a confident woman who was manipulative to teens, I too would regularly apply lipstick.

It wasn’t because the lipstick made her look particularly different (her lips are already a great shade of red pre-application) or because it signaled she had somewhere important to be (she wasn’t going on land to seduce a man yet), but because it seemed so routine and so normal. It was just another part of her day — a fun personal project that ended in a sense of accomplishment, just like all the Crayola coloring I was filling my own days with.

Some things have changed: I now know how to read and write, I no longer underestimate the importance of body language, and I can’t watch The Little Mermaid anymore because Ariel and Flounder stress me out (and it’s no longer on Netflix). But I still see lipstick the Ursula way — the most wearable and satisfying of beauty products. I save the smoky eyes, highlighter, and concealer for special occasions where a lot of people and cameras will be present, but any lip color in stick form is part of my routine most days. I just make sure I’m not murdering anything before applying it to my lips.

I Think About This a Lot: Ursula Applying Red Lipstick