My Upper Lip and Other Sorrows

Lucille Ball and her red lipstick

Lucille Ball with her famously red hair and overdrawn lips.

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I feel bad about my lip. My upper lip.

Nora Ephron felt bad about her neck, a body part she made famous back in 2006 with her book I Feel Bad About My Neck.

Nora Ephron holds her turtleneck shirt to cover her neck. Photo by Elena Seibert

Nora Ephron photo by Elena Seibert

Nora also felt bad about her frizzy grey hair, parched skin, incipient mustache, flabby upper arms, and tendency toward belly fat.

She did not, however, seem to be bothered by the bottoms of her feet.

I am. My toe prints and footprints – technically known as friction ridges – seem to have worn down a bit with the passing years, making stepping into a slippery bathtub a life-threatening proposition.

Slick feet aside, my getting older complaints are pretty much the same as Nora’s. I feel bad about my neck, my upper arms, the frizzing of my hair, the curving of my spine, and the extra – let’s call it tissue – across my ribs and belly.

But right now I’m mainly focusing on feeling bad about my upper lip.

What’s left of it.

Day by day and year by year, my upper lip has gotten smaller and smaller and narrower and narrower. (See for yourself. There’s a mug shot at the top of this page.)

Before long it will be a straight shot, vertically speaking, from the bottom of my nose to the modest bump that is my lower lip.

Angelina Jolie's lips

A. Can you guess whose lips?

We Falconers have never been famous for dewy, luscious, bee-sting lips. Unlike say, Angelina Jolie. And unlike the Newhalls, whose lips can sometimes run to the downright lascivious. Take my husband Jon, for example. I think maybe I married him, and stayed married to him, for those lips of his. They were and continue to be ever so full and . . . generous.

Lucille Ball's red lips and hair

B. This one’s a freebie.

My disappearing upper lip, on the other hand, is anything but generous. It makes me look mean. Mean as in unkind. Mean as in stingy. Mean as in mean.

So mean, in fact, that I’m afraid it will scare away the grandchildren.

Not that I have grandchildren. But by the time I do, I’m pretty sure that upper lip of mine will be a thing of the past.

Jessica Simpson lips.

C. Botoxed?

I could do like Lucille Ball. I could ignore my lip line and draw a nice lipsticky mouth way outside the kissing part of my lip. But that would be a 1940s thing to do – and my decade of choice is the ’60s, when the hip woman kept her lipstick confined to her lips, if she wore it at all.

Mamie Gummer comedienne

D. Hint: TV comedienne.

I could do the Botox, of course. But like I said, my aesthetic is 1960s natural. My body is a temple and all that. No messing with Mother Nature.

I’m going to die someday, I’m told. But dying isn’t my sorrow of the moment. First of all, it isn’t really going to happen to me; dying is what happens to other people, people I care about maybe, but other people nonetheless.

condoleezza rice mouth

E. Getting skinnier.

No. It’s the decades that lie before me, the decades on the way to this dying that trouble me right now.

Where my body is concerned, matters are going to get worse. The breasts will continue on their way toward the waistline. The hair will thin. The body fat will move around some more. My fingerprints will go the way of my toe prints.

Scarlett Johansson lips

F. Messing with Mother Nature?

And my upper lip. It will vanish.

Without a presentable upper lip, how will I kiss the grandchildren?

More to the point, will they let me?

Next week: Tune in for the answers to today’s luscious lips quiz.

1940s Actress Hedy Lamarr's lips

G. Vintage, pre-botox lips.

If you sign up for my regular Facebook, Twitter, RSS or email updates, you’ll get the answers automatically, as well as all future posts. You can use the icons at the top of the right hand column.

Right now: Check out “Mad Men Exposes the ’60s Girdle — But Will She Get It Off In Time?”

Oprah Winfrey's lips up close.

H. The real thing?


“I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman,” Nora Ephron, Knopf, 2006, $19.95, hardcover.

book jacket for nora ephron's book "I Feel Bad About My Neck"



  1. Hi, I know this was written over a year ago but I want to say this for the benefit of anyone who may read this at any point.

    Many years ago, I read in one of Adelle Davis’ books – I think it was “Let’s Get Well” – that the “disappearing” upper lip was a sign of B-complex deficiency, more specifically B-2. And I noticed how my father, who was a celiac and could not absorb vitamins well (and had to be given B complex shots after diagnosed), had that problem starting in his 50s. Thanks to that book I learned to recognize the many signs and symptoms of deficiencies of all the B vitamins and became diligent at taking an 11 factor supplement and I’m happy to say that at almost 62 my lips look as nice as they always have, and I suspect that I may have celiac too, or at least a serious wheat/gluten intolerance. So ladies, take heed, Ms. Davis’ advice came from years of observing her clients and from all the research she did, so to this day I still consult her books often. But I just did a Google search and found this so you can check it for yourselves:

  2. I hear you! Well said! And I’m feeling bad about all the things you mentioned PLUS my eyebrows, which used to be dark and nicely arched, but now are looking sparse and sort of gray. But our grandchildren, when we have them, will love us anyway because we’ll read aloud to them and feed them yummy snacks and let them stay up way later than their parents do!

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Anne and Kathryn,

      So true about the eyebrows! I forgot to put them on the list. I’ll share a dark secret — you can get them tinted, along with your hair.

      As for waking up at 3 a.m. — I recommend Zumba, and maybe yoga, Spin or free weights. That way you can tell yourself in the middle of the night that you are this big jock at age 60 or 70 or 80.

      But no, I don’t meditate — at the moment. (Check out my post “Why Meditate When I Could Be Sweeping the Garage” at

  3. Anne Pardee says:

    Oh, Barb,
    As I enter my 70th year, I am so glad you are addressing those things that occupy so much (unfortunately) of my concerns about getting older. Haven’t really had the “lip” issue but all the other things on Nora’s list are definitely taking over.

    Before this year, I would have said she died young. Now, as I get closer to her age, I find myself counting the possible years I have left and realizing that all these physical issues are better than the alternative but, still, at 3 am, seem to take over my thoughts. . . Never been particularly successful at meditating – you?
    Thanks for being you, Anne


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