Well Being

Red Lipstick Doesn’t Make Me Loose! Ladies Mouth Off On Lip Color

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Samantha Escobar, one of our writers!

Remember when ASAP Rocky became the go-to beauty guru and informed women which lipstick they should or should not wear—since, you know—we’re all out to please the aesthetic tastes of everyone but ourselves? I know I’m a little late to the game on this one, but damn.

Women’s relationship to lipstick is very individual, I’m learning. While the topic appears superficial, the wearing of lipstick is connected to women’s views on sexuality, self-image, self-definition and confidence.

I started wearing lipstick two years ago. I was 25. I’d been in love with old Hollywood glamour and pin-up girls. I remember one of my first lipstick experiences: I was applying a deep, radiant, fire-engine red to my mouth on the 4/5 train in NYC. I applied it, and watched people around me take notice. What were they thinking? Was I trying too hard? Why should I feel the need to justify?

My face felt like it was on fire—in a really good way.

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Yours truly, Lisa Marie Basile, writer for Blisstree.com!

I have natural black hair and pale skin, so I was afraid red would essentially turn me into Elvira or some sexual being I couldn’t actually represent. I was wrong. It amplified my inherent sexuality and confidence, and–at the end of it all, it was fun.

So why is red such a big step in the makeup lives of women? Is wearing red lipstick some sort of scarlet letter? According to Keyson Crump, part of the totally whatever male peanut gallery, red lipstick is equal to loose women. After reading that rubbish, I felt the need to have women sound off here. Many of the women I talked to love lipstick and credit a good deal of their confidence to its use. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

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Anja Keister, Performer and Makeup Artist. Photo by Dale Rio.

Anja Keister, Burlesque performer & Makeup Artist, NYC: “I kind of see lipstick as a transformer for many. Red lipstick carries such a strong, deeply ingrained reaction. When selling a red lipstick I hear all the time, ‘I want a red lipstick, but not like, a hooker/prostitute/whore kind of red.’ I find it so fascinating that lipstick has become tied to this….a scarlet letter that women are sometimes scared of, but love to embrace on many levels. That being said, red lipstick can completely change a look. It takes the ordinary to a different aesthetic, whether femme fatale, pin up, or classic glamour.”

Yep, it totally transforms some, but it can be a double-edged sword for others. Some people don’t want the transformation or attention that comes with it, and I totally get that.

Chris, Writer, New York: “I never wore makeup and only am starting to get interested in dresses and skirts, and though I acted like I was just a tomboy and disinterested in that stuff, I really deep down felt like I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough to wear ‘girl things’ Also, I was totally scared of being laughed at for it.”

Zee, Filmmaker and Entertainer, NYC: “Last year I wore the 12-hour kind, in a deep red. It helps get attention, so I don’t wear it when I don’t care so much for attention.”

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Lisa A. Flowers, Editor

Lisa A. Flowers, Editor and Poet, Virgina: “I’ve worn either bright red or dark red lipstick since I was 15. Chalk it up to obsession with the glamour of old Hollywood & a strain of goth that’s only become diluted in stranger ways as I’ve gotten older.”

So, while lipstick is but a color and some whale blubber, it totally has an impact on how people illustrate their image and personality. In NYC, everyone is empowered to investigate their individualism—not so much the style for my hometown in New Jersey. When I visit New Jersey, I’ve been shot some funny looks when wearing my intense MAC Russsian Red. Apparently others are experiencing a little anti-lipstick backlash, too—and not just from outspoken rappers.

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Kelly Davio, Writer, Teacher, Editor

Kelly—Writer, Editor, Teacher, Seattle: “My favorite lipstick is a deep red: Palladio in Eyebright. I started wearing lipstick as a teenager. It’s a confidence booster for me—makes me feel put-together. I always get flack about red lipstick here in Seattle, where people are a little more earthy, but I don’t care. I will never give it up! [People say] ‘you’d be so pretty without all that makeup,’ or, my favorite, ‘why do you do that to yourself?’ Growing up in SoCal, we didn’t mind being a little more glam. Seattle, though, is crunchy and can be, at its worst, fairly judgmental. I think people see it as seeking the male gaze. Which, if I wanted to, would be my own business anyway, right? I think there’s also a lot of backlash against anything that’s not ‘natural.’ There’s the sense that you can’t be a progressive, strong woman and at the same time enjoy putting on makeup.”

Rebecca—Journalism Student, Ontario: “I don’t wear it anymore, but I wear lipliner (MAC Spice) and lip gloss in light pink (MAC). It’s funny because when I was in high-school, bright lipstick gave me confidence. Now it makes me self-conscious.”

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Dolly Debutante, performer. Photo by Harry Pocius

Dolly, Entertainer, NYC: “I wear discontinued Mary Kay Cherries Jubilee. I wore makeup as soon as my mom would let me, but probably around four or five for ballet recitals. It made me feel really grown up and glam when I was little, and now it makes me feel really put together even if I’m just running errands in sunglasses and no other makeup.”

Caolan Madden, graduate student/teacher/writer, NYC:“I wear MAC Amplified lipstick in Dubonnet (or any variation on a semi-matte earthy or winey-red), although I spent the summer wearing Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics Lip Tar in NSFW. I’m pretty sure lipstick completely shaped my self-image as an adult woman. I felt glamorous and witty, like my lipsticked mouth could say smart and outrageous things. It brought my face into focus and made me realize I liked the shape of my mouth; I liked leaving lipstick smears on everything. If I’m not wearing it now I kind of feel like I don’t exist.”

Then, Caolan told me that her 11th grade teacher asked her to research lipstick for a school assignment, because it was gender-appropriate. So, why, if it belongs to us and not them, do men seem to have so many opinions on our mouths?

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Caolan Madden, graduate student/teacher/writer

Caolan: “In 11th grade I did my chemistry research project on lipstick and my chemistry teacher was delighted because it seemed like a gender-appropriate topic to him, and that upset me because it was a pretty sexist attitude to have….He kind of encouraged the girls to research ‘girly’ topics like makeup and perfume. I think part of it was just that he was trying to get students interested and to connect science with their everyday lives…. And I felt weird because I was so totally interested in lipstick, but I recognized the deeply sexist implications of him encouraging girls to research it.”

For me, I believe lipstick is a tool for transformation. I don’t think that everyone needs to wear it, nor do I condone the merciless and female-unfriendly behavior of the advertising and fashion worlds. However, I do think makeup allows women to experiment with a sense of self and identity. If men weren’t so socially conditioned against it—and I do know men who love to wear it—I’d feel the same way.

Nathalia, Writer, NYC: “I started wearing cherry red lipstick at 13—from the moment I applied it, I was transformed into an amplified version of myself. Lipstick is muse and beauty armour; without it I feel naked, dull, and unequipt to handle the world. The magic of the painted lip is that it allows you to cultivate an entire persona around what hues you slather on, the outfit and bravado follow suit. Instantly it makes the woman the star of her own movie. For the geisha, adornment is ritual and deeply spiritual. With my lipstick on I feel like Cleopatra. Delusional? yes! But oh, so much fun!”