A Letter to the Lipstick I Once Hated

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Looking at the lipstick stain on my coffee mug this morning, I realised the strangeness of my relationship with this rouge that sat on my lips. 

Those were tough times. The desire to be a ‘Cool Girl’ (Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne will tell you) had taken over everyone and I got caught up with it. I wanted to be cool, I wanted to be your typical beautiful-but-she-doesn’t-know-it badass girl. But it wasn’t just my fault; everyone around me from neighborhood aunties to problematic teachers claimed, “girls these days are too obsessed with makeup”. What was a young girl to do? I believed them too. 

The 2000s and early 2010s were constantly screaming ‘makeup means you are trying too hard’. I would see these beautiful actresses on TV, with a face full of makeup and scoff. They would shove with-makeup v/s without makeup snaps of Bollywood actresses in my face and I would become a part of the women-bashing gang, laughing at their tired, makeup-less faces. Mine was a classic case of what we today call a ‘Pick Me’ girl. You see, a Pick Me girl believes she is better than everyone else just because she doesn’t participate in conventionally feminine activities. She tries to be cool and tries to completely erase her identity as a woman. While this starts out as a normal tomboyish attitude, it develops toxicity and becomes a complete disdain of the feminine. 

It is internalized misogyny. In simple terms, when enough people tell you that being a woman (and all the associations that come with it) is bad, you begin to believe it yourself. The world tells you ‘women are weak’ and so you try to detach your identity from this womanhood. They tell you pink is gross so you throw out all that is pink. And so when they tell you that makeup is stupid, you try to act ‘manly’ and not even moisturize your face. But in the end, it comes to bite you back. Because now, you don’t match their definition of a woman. Now, you are ‘gross’ and ‘weird’. 

And so this lipstick stain on my coffee mug reminded me of those teenage days: when all the other girls would wear dresses and I would wear sweatpants. Don’t get me wrong, sweatpants are comfy and I still wear them all the time but my reasons back in the day were not exactly about utility and comfort. I would look at those beautiful girls, slightly sizzle with envy and end up consoling myself by calling them ‘fake’ just because they wore lipsticks and eye shadow.

It was a love-hate relationship. I would look at my mum’s lipstick with awe. It was a beautiful ruby red. Some days, I wanted to put it on but I never did. My inner monologue urged me to throw away this vile thing that was meant to exploit my insecurities. And I wasn’t entirely wrong. While now, after a lot of unlearning and re-educating, I have realized that makeup is about art, expression and celebrating beauty, I am also aware of the dark secrets of the treacherous beauty industry. 

Yes, that lipstick which represents empowerment and conveys an aesthetic pleasure also represents the toxic culture of patriarchy which forces women to conform to beauty standards. But that does not mean that the label should stick. We can reclaim the lipstick and luckily, many of us already have. For many of us, the lipstick doesn’t dictate what we should look like but represents our choices about how, when and where we wear it. It is not about societal standards but about our confidence and how we shape it. 

That extends to not only women but everyone. We have so many brilliant makeup artists that are non-binary people and men. We are reshaping and reclaiming the narrative of what makeup should be. The very lipstick that I used to hate in my teenage years is now becoming the symbol of freedom of expression for so many people. That lipstick which was used to shame women is now helping people of all gender identities rewrite the narrative. 

My relationship with the lipstick that lies on my vanity table has now been reformed. I pick it up on days I want to feel extra pretty. It also respects my silliness when I use it to draw a cherry on the tip of my nose. While some days, it lies unused, there are days when it is applied and reapplied to the user’s satisfaction. One day, it is all about attending that glamorous wedding while the other day, it is about having a good cry while watching the F.R.I.E.N.D.S finale.

And believe me: this is a wonderful relationship arc.

P.S.: Sorry for treating you so terribly Lipstick. How about we get together for a party this weekend?

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