Reclaiming Red Lips

I’m in love with lipstick. I collect them and keep them neatly arranged in the third drawer of my make-up organiser, stacked from shimmery, petal pinks and dusty roses to the bloodiest reds and velvety purples.

In the second drawer I keep eye make-up. Powder palettes and tinted creams, eyeliners – pencils, crayons, liquids, gels, in black and brown and blue – lash curlers, little tubes of inky mascaras and glitter, brow pencils and soft-bristled brushes. Above that, the creams, primers and powders I use on my skin, more brushes and sponges and cotton pads. My nail polishes have their own basket. My perfumes are displayed on my dresser. I keep my heels stacked in their boxes beneath my dresses and skirts.

I went through a phase in my primary school days when I violently rejected anything ‘feminine’, because to be girlish was to be weak, insipid, somehow lesser. The boys in my classes used ‘girl’ as an insult – ‘you run like a girl’, ‘don’t be such a girl’. I heard this so often I started to believe it. I turned away from skirts and jewellery and the colour pink, even though I liked those things. I tried, rather dismally, to make myself like ‘boy’s things’, to dress and act and carry myself like a boy. I was a girl, but I didn’t want anyone thinking I was girly.

I carried this into my teenage years, when I stupidly believed my aversion to typically female interests like make up and pop music and The OC somehow made me better than other girls.

At some point, with some gentle prodding from Mum, I discovered foundation and concealer, and a little later I started experimenting with eyeshadow, collecting unwanted palettes from older cousins. I was probably 17 before I bought my first lip stains, older before I was brave enough for eyeliners, and even then I told myself there were styles and colours I couldn’t carry. Some women could wear dramatic wings and red lips, and they were beautiful, but they weren’t me. I couldn’t do that.

Until I could. I read blogs and watched videos and paid a little too much attention to other women’s faces, and worked my way up to red lipstick. I bought my first true red about a year ago, in a Boots on Oxford St. It was the start of an addiction.

I’ve taken lots of steps towards reclaiming the femininity I was once so ashamed off, but make-up has played such an important role in embracing and loving who I am. I could be accused of buying into an industry that profits of women’s insecurity, and to an extent, you’d be right. The cosmetics industry is undoubtedly flawed. But when I wear make-up, I am wearing it for me. Because I like the way I look, because it makes me feel good about myself, because I can make myself look sweet as a summer day or dangerous as a dragon in a silk skirt. Make up is a distinctly feminine experience, an art form practiced and passed down almost exclusively by women, one we’re taking back from those who ridiculed it.

To me, red lipstick is about more than style. It’s a statement. A grand fuck you to those 10 year old boys who told me to stop being such a girl, to the 14 year old who told me boys don’t like girls who wear make up, to the 17 year olds who complained that make-up is ‘false advertising’ and the 22 year olds who put dark lips on their lists of 14 Trends That Deserve To Die.

I will wear skirts and gemstones and grow my hair and paint my face. I will control my image and the way the world sees me. I will post selfies and accept compliments and believe in my own beauty. I will take my girlhood and weaponise it and leave scarlet stains on all my teacups.