I once wrote an article in which I refused to give up red lipstick despite surrendering eye makeup. With all the misogyny to which Trump’s election has set us back, I think it’s about time I explained why.
What got me started thinking about it was a statement my friend made to me. This was back when I was still debating eye makeup — to mascara or not to mascara — and he had asked me to hand him my red lipstick also. Now, I immediately protested, for a number of reasons, but the only one I could think of at the time was that a professor had given it to me as a gift.
“What?!” He exclaimed in shock.
“Yeah, she wanted me to believe in myself!” I responded self-righteously.
“That’s so cliche, giving a girl lipstick for self-confidence,” he scoffed.
At first I was more than a little indignant. I reflected for a moment, and then was a little ashamed. Maybe that was kind of sexist, I thought. Was I putting myself in a box?
To answer that question, I had to search through my own past with red lipstick.
Lipstick has always been, for me, a symbol of self-expression and independence. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup in high school, and the only thing I could wear was lipstick. I used it to my advantage and expressed myself in the shiniest, most colorful lip products imaginable, telling my mother that if I couldn’t be raccoon-eyed, I sure as hell would have control over the plumpness of my lips.
My second year of college was to be my triumph over the difficulty of my first year. In other words, I was trying to do all the things I never thought I could do. Red lipstick was one of those. There were the obvious superficial reasons for thinking I couldn’t wear it. It didn’t fit my skin color, it was too loud on my face, it would draw too much attention to me, etc.
There were the other, rather stereotypical reasons for not wanting to wear it. Red lips are associated with a certain type of person, a girl in charge of her sexuality, a confident woman. I was neither of those things. However, wasn’t that all the more reason to wear it?
I spent the whole summer Googling reasons people wear lipstick — am I not a product of my generation? — in order to justify my own desire to wear it. I discovered that powerful women like Cleopatra and Queen Victoria had worn it. The suffragettes had used it as part of their campaign for the vote. Red lipstick had begun as a sign of prostitution, and women had reappropriated their stigmatized sexuality into a symbol of strength. Though it felt nice to have this impressive history backing my decision, what should have validated me was simply my own choice to wear lipstick.
It is a little cliche to think that lipstick gives me confidence, but just because something is cliche doesn’t make it less true.
When I think back to how I was so eager to throw away my eyeliner, it might seem contradictory that one appearance enhancer could harm and another could help. However, the answer is quite simple. Most things are never good or bad in themselves. What matters is the intention in using those things.
I had been using eyeliner, not because I liked it, nor because it made me feel strong, but because I wanted to hide the shape of my eyes. On the contrary, I wore lipstick to show that I am not afraid to stand out and defy whatever stereotypes others have of me.
Typical symbols associated with femininity do not have to be discarded in order to partake in female empowerment. In fact, it is more powerful for women to show men that those things which they thought limiting are actually sources of freedom and will.
A woman should be able to walk down the street in a tight dress without fearing some man will grab her by the ... you know the end of the sentence. She should be able to be sexually active without some man violating her and blaming it on her sexuality. I should be able to wear red lipstick, and believe about it what I will, without any man patronizing me about my choices.
AMY CHAN is a College junior from Augusta, Ga, studying Classics and English. Her email address is email@example.com. “Chances Are” usually appears every other Thursday.
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