Lipstick used to be something that Wasn’t For Me. These days, however? Things have changed.
I was relatively late to make-up. As a teen, my friends would drag me into Superdrug or Primark on Saturday afternoons, but I’d rarely buy anything other than those two great staples of early 2000s teenage make-up bags: glitter eyeshadow and cheap mascara. As the years went on, I gradually grew less scared of making myself up. Foundation, mascara, powder, and eyeliner all made their way into my bathroom, but anything on my lips was a no-no. Lip balm? Only if it was clear. Lipgloss? Once a year perhaps. But lipstick? No way.
For black women like me, lipstick, especially bright ones, can be fraught in the way race informs so much else. Our lips are often deemed ‘too much’ and lipstick, something that accentuates said lips, can be shied away from as a result. While people like journalist and lipstick-lover Gena-mour Barrett show the joy and beauty in bright colours on black skin, comments from public figures about the so-called ‘problem’ with dark-skinned women in a bright lip can be still depressingly common.
And then, last year. It’s 2017, I’m 26-years-old, and can count on one hand the number of time I’ve worn lippie in public. I tell the friends in my group chat how young I feel I come across, and how I want to feel more ‘grown and sexy’ in 2018. They all had the same answer: “buy a lipstick!” But which one? Red, was the answer. Your first lipstick has to be red.
Wearing a bright red lip makes me feel as though I’m taking up more space
The rest, as they say, is history. I listened, and two days later I found myself in possession of a small tube of lipstick, and a lip liner to boot. Cautious at first, but not for long, my love of my one beautiful red lipstick has ballooned over the past year. Make-up is not something I consider a feminist choice – or, an especially un-feminist one either. All our choices, especially as women, do not exist in a vacuum, and so wearing something that exists solely to make you fit a narrowly defined version of beauty does not applause, or ridicule. I think lipstick, and the new love I’ve found for a red slash across my face, comes from a more simple place.
I love my red lipstick. But better than that? I love how I feel when I wear it.
Wearing a bright red lip makes me feel as though I’m taking up more space, as though I must be bold enough to keep such a bright splash of colour around my mouth. It fills me with confidence, gives me a boost to be firm when I need to be, and reminds me that I am not the little girl I’m so often treated like, but a grown woman in her late 20s who knows what she wants. In the street, I smile at fellow ‘red lip’ women, and they always smile back.
Recently, I’ve loved seeing rising American political star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on news clips, her bright red lip a regular feature. There’s been so much discussion about the statements she may or may not be making, but I think it’s simple. If I was the youngest woman in a political institution, I don’t know many things about how I’d behave, but I do know one thing: my red lipstick would be the first thing I’d reach for every single morning.