Editor's Musings: Lipstick on a Pig and Other Cosmetic Problems

by Beth Weber

Although I’m suspicious of generalizations, I do believe that Missourians are born skeptical, which is why the state slogan “Show Me” is so appropriate. Like other state residents, I’m pretty certain my first word was “Why” instead of “Mama.” So, when something goes terribly awry, I hate it when people pretend that nothing bad happened, a process known as “putting lipstick on a pig.”
Now some people find pigs attractive and may be offended by this insult to their looks. These folks may prefer saying “putting perfume on a skunk.” In either instance, someone is trying to make a big ole mess seem desirable instead of dealing with reality.
Let me give you some examples. Say you are chronically late to work and get fired. When you return home with your stuff in paper bags, you tell the family that you’ve decided to explore new opportunities. Or, say your teenager totals the car and tells you, “We needed a new car anyway. No need to thank me.”
I used to work for a large medical publishing company headquartered in Amsterdam with the U.S. headquarters in New York. Whenever the brass had to come to St. Louis, they acted as if they were being sent to camp in the outback. They abruptly decided to move production of the medical journals to the East coast, claiming it would be financially advantageous to the company. When the big boss came to face the workers, he did his best to slather the unhappy employees with lip gloss, saying that we could possibly keep our jobs if we moved to Philadelphia and joined in the effort to make the company stronger. (He was finally forced to admit that the move didn’t have anything to do with finances and infamously justified it by saying, “The world is a mystery.”)
His efforts to dress up that pig just made everyone angrier. The truth is hard to take, but many of us would rather hear it than be told to pretend something bad is, in fact, a good thing.
Sometimes a pig is just a pig, no matter how much Covergirl ruby red lipstick you apply directly under its snout. The sooner we deal with reality, the faster we can move along and make things better.