For over a decade, I've long believed that the power of red lipstick is a major one. The first time I tried on lippie was when I was 13, and I wasn't allowed to touch my mom's makeup case (which only made the love affair all the more exciting). We were meeting illicitly, despite my mother trying to keep us apart. I remember sneaking into the bathroom on tiptoe, and looking over my shoulder carefully before locking the door behind me, as if my mom had Spidey senses when it came to me causing trouble. But after a moment's pause, I didn't hear any mom-sounding footsteps rushing towards me. I was in the clear.
I swung open the bathroom mirror and was met with a treasure trove equivalent to that of the Cove Of Wonders. You'd think I would've gotten overwhelmed with all the different pots and tubes stacked and tumbling over each other on the tiny shelves, but I already knew what I was going for. I'd been working up the courage all month to get my hands on it, and I was nearly ready to try it out. Reaching for my mom's bright red lipstick tube, I uncapped it reverently and took a moment to acknowledge how my life was about to change forever.
Whenever I saw my mom wear this shade, I always had the sense that she transformed from the momma who walked through the house with a laundry basket on her hip, to the momma who put on gold jackets and silk stockings, and left the house with my dad with a quick, flirty laugh. It was like a metamorphosis. It was confidence, capped. Clearly, red lipstick somehow made a wearer stronger — more empowered. And I wanted it to be mine.
And so I hastily drew a quick circle around my mouth like I'd seen her do countless times... And I looked like the stuff of children's nightmares, in clown form.
In other words, I looked like a tragedy. Though completely heartbroken that I didn't have some innate feminine instinct regarding how to flick and swipe Chanel lipsticks on in front of bathroom mirrors, I didn't give up. And so, 13 years later, you can find my makeup case filled with the odd eyeliner or mascara, but practically bursting with lipstick tubes.
While it might sound like I just really like makeup, to me it's more than that. It's like a shield. I've long lived by the Elizabeth Taylor quote, "Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together," and I think that one swipe of bold color does a lot where confidence and strength are involved. For me, red lipstick is like the first step in tackling all the unraveling strings of a stressful situation. It's taking a deep breath, and being all, "OK, let's put this sucker back together. It's go-time." The act of that carefully applied swipe is like the sounding bell.
Putting it on is an attitude. It's a state of mind. It's not about primping myself, or adding a loud pop of color to my face, or making myself "prettier" when the roof is collapsing around me. Rather, it's how I'm going to approach putting that roof back together. And more importantly, it's a nod to the fact that I can put it back together.
For whatever reason, swiping on some bold, get-out-of-my-way red turns me into something or someone slightly different. It's like wearing a mask, because when you have a mask on, you become a little more emboldened. While other cosmetics (like foundation or under-eye concealer) are often used to hide or change certain aspects of ourselves, I feel like lipstick turns the big, bright spotlight straight onto my features. In some ways, it's a statement of assertion, like, "I've put this vampish, powerful shade on, so I might as well live up to it now."
You might be sitting there and thinking that I'm giving way too much credit to a small tube of Chanel, but just think about the women in the past who were famous for the shocking hue. We can go as far back as Queen Elizabeth I, who, known for her blood red lips, turned the previously wanton shade into something regal and powerful. Then there was Old Hollywood, when Rita Hayworth's crimson red mouth became an aspiration in the '40s. And when a swipe of red turned home-grown Norma Jeane into walking sex icon Marilyn Monroe. These were women of power. They had self-awareness and self-possession, and their super-charged lips communicated their flippant "I've got this" confidence.
When I swipe on that powerful red, I feel myself channel that type of woman. And even if I've gotten myself into a harried situation, or am feeling like everything is getting away from me, I can square my shoulders, flip my hair over them, and switch on that determination inside. After all, it was always there... it just needed some coaxing from the rouge.
Images: Marlen Komar (4)