If you know me even a little bit, you know that I have a thing for lipstick. I wear it every day, usually applying it as soon as I finish my morning coffee, even if I have no intention of leaving the house. I always have at least 20 shades in my makeup drawer and carry 3 or 4 shades in my purse at all times.
Back when I was in college, I lived with 12 girls. If I was having a bad day it was clear to all, as I would prance around the house with my tallest heels and bright red lipstick. Wearing heels and lipstick just made me feel put together and infinitely more beautiful, successful, and feminine. I would immediately feel better enough to push through the frustration, stress, or pain I was experiencing. If I got upset, my roommates would go into my bedroom and retrieve my lipstick. It was their way of saying, “you’re right, we support you.”
I would wear red lipstick to my classes, to work, to play. I found that changing lipstick shades was a fun and easy way to change my look, and follow trends of the seasons without investing a lot into clothes and shoes (having the reality of that college shoe-string budget).
A few years ago Gman and I had just moved in together when he had to go overseas for work for over two months. We barely spoke while he was away and I missed him terribly. The day he was returning from his trip, I made an appointment at my hair salon to get a blowout and to get my makeup done. I wanted to surprise him at the door, lookin’ pretty.
While I was getting my makeup done, the man doing it asked me which shade of lipstick I usually wear. I said, “something bright, usually an orange-red.” To which he replied, in a very concerned and condescending tone, “Oh honey, you should never wear red lipstick. Your lips aren’t symmetrical and are too thin. You don’t want to bring attention to it now do you?” He then proceeded to give me tips on how to make my lips look fuller and how to even them out with a nude pencil (I felt like a clown).
I was so blindsided that I didn’t know how to respond. I just sat there. I wanted to smack him and walk out. I never thought something was wrong with my lips. Out of all the things I might nit-pick about myself, I never thought about my face like that. I mean, you can’t really change your face (well, without surgery) and I was completely OK with the lips God gave me. I never considered them “too” anything; I never really thought about them. I was just like, “oh, there are my lips.” My sense of beauty came from how I felt. It wasn’t about the lipstick or my lips; it was about how the lipstick made me feel radiant and confident.
I said nothing else during my appointment and left without tipping that man. As soon as I got home I washed the makeup and shame off my face. When Gman got home I greeted him bare skinned and he was just happy to be home. He kissed my mouth without noticing or caring if my lips weren’t perfectly symmetrical.
It can be difficult to maintain a sense of self-love in a culture with a critical eye. It can be hard not to take the advise of or seek the approval of experts or strangers when faced with wanting to be included, liked, and feel beautiful.
If I’ve learned anything from travel, it’s that standards of beauty are fleeting. What is considered beautiful in one place is considered vulgar in another. At the end of the day, when we are alone faced with ourselves in the mirror, we are the only ones who have the power to choose to find beauty and love in our own reflection.