Fact Check

Lipstick on the Bathroom Mirror

How a school principal convinced girls not to leave lipstick marks on washroom mirrors.

Published March 17, 2001


Legend:   Custodian demonstrates to schoolgirls how he removes lipstick from a mirror.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 1997]

A principal of a small middle school had a problem with a few of the older girls starting to use lipstick. When applying it in the bathroom they would then press their lips to the mirror and leave lip prints.

Before it got out of hand he thought of a way to stop it. He gathered all the girls together that wore lipstick and told them he wanted to meet with them in the ladies room at 2pm. They gathered at 2pm and found the principal and the school custodian waiting for them.

The principal explained that it was becoming a problem for the custodian to clean the mirror every night. He said he felt the ladies did not fully understand just how much of a problem it was and he wanted them to witness just how hard it was to clean.

The custodian then demonstrated. He took a long brush on a handle out of a box. He then dipped the brush in the nearest toilet, moved to the mirror and proceeded to remove the lipstick.

That was the last day the girls pressed their lips on the mirror.

Origins:   This bit now circulates on the Internet as a "true story," and it may well be. School janitors have at times had to take creative approaches to combating


the marking effects of what the students can get up to, and at least one of our readers recalls seeing a note
taped to a mirror in one of her high school's girls' bathrooms that informed whoever was putting lip-prints on the mirror that the mirrors were cleaned with the same brush as the toilets.

That was back in the late-1980s, which greatly predates even the earliest version of this anecdote, which appeared numerous times on the USENET newsgroup rec.humor in April 1997. It lacked validating details found in later Internet versions: that the incident happened "at a middle school in Oregon," "at a middle school in Beaverton, Oregon," or that "According to a radio report, a school in London ..."

That the lip print tale has since appeared in a handful of newspapers adds to its spread. Though each of the columnists who ran it presented it as something fetched back from cyberspace and did not claim it as a true story, we are conditioned to view what we find in newspapers as

accounts of facts, things that have been checked out by eagle-eyed reporters. Consequently, such appearances in the print media foster belief in all manner of legends.

Could this have actually happened? Well, it appears so. In at least a few cases, folks who work for schools have turned the legend to their advantage by using it to combat a lipsticked mirror problem at their facilities. These acts of pseudo-ostension (the deliberate re-enactment of an existing legend) have served to make the custodians' jobs a bit easier.

Do pre-adolescent girls make smooch marks on mirrors? Surprisingly enough, they do. No one knows exactly what prompts this urge, but it might be tied to a need to see tangible proof that they're changing from girls into women. Little girls don't wear lipstick but women do, and women wear it to make themselves look sexy. To a pre-teen, making lipstick prints could be a way of seeing if she looks pretty or grown up, or at least if her lips do. Or it could be a way of pissing off authority figures by an action which combines an element of vandalism with a clear announcement of "I'm developing a sense of my sexuality, and there's not a darned thing you can do about it."

Moreover, kissing a mirror is an odd way of finding out what a girl is going to look like to the boys she'll soon be trysting with. (Hint of the day: Yell "Bloody Mary!" thirteen times at the mirror instead. You'll scare yourself a lot less.) Or it could be for the simplest of all reasons: the same "Kilroy was here" motivation that prompts us to scrawl our names in yearbooks, spraypaint them onto rocks, or etch dirty ditties on the walls of lavatories.

Lipstick is hard to scrub off a mirror, so keep this story in mind and your toilet brush at the ready should a pre-teen in your household begin to show a peculiar fascination with your lip rouge.

Barbara "candy apple well-read" Mikkelson

Last updated:   1 January 2005

  Sources Sources:

    Allan, Marc.   "Read All About It!"

    The Indianapolis Star.   30 December 1999   (p. E1).

    Guerard, Marsha.   "It's Time to Go Back to School."

    The [Charleston] Post and Courier.   14 August 1997   (Downtown; p. 2).

    Marchal, Terry.   "Lip Service."

    The Charleston Gazette.   20 August 1998   (p. P1C).

    Roberts, C.R.   "'Grab Bag' a Medley of Folk Wisdom."

    The [Tacoma] News Tribune.   21 July 1998   (p. B1).

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