This month marks 30 years of Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s Tennessee theme park. In an interview with People Magazine, Parton explained her success thus: “There are some golden rules in life. Be true to yourself. You need to know what you will and won’t put up with, and what you’re willing to sacrifice…You gotta work your dreams; you gotta put legs and arms and arms and wings on them!” In honor of the amazing Dolly Parton, we present this essay on another truth Parton taught one of our readers.
It was Christmas Eve. I had one gift left to open, a small rectangular package.
“I wonder what this could be!” I said in my present-opening voice. My family tells me I’m the most difficult person on earth to buy gifts for and as a result I overcompensate with enthusiasm and wonder.
I ripped the wrapping paper off and thrust the tube in the air, “Lipstick!” I said, unwrapping the black tube. The shade inside was a bright, orangey-red. The sticker on the bottom read Lady Danger. “That’s not just any lipstick,” my mother said. “That’s Dolly Parton’s favorite lipstick.”
And thus began the first day of the rest of my life. I went to the bathroom and smeared some color on my lips. It looked good. Surprisingly good for me not choosing it myself. I puckered my lips in the mirror, made a few faces, and went back to my family’s celebration.
“Dolly!” I said when I entered the room.
“Dolly!” My mom said encouragingly.
Over the course of the next few days I wore my Dolly lipstick constantly. It looked so good! I felt so good when I wore it. I was fierce. Bold. I was Dolly Parton. The worries I had, the typical worries of an introvert back in her hometown for the holidays, were lessened.
So what if I run into the people who I felt awkward around in high school? I look hot—Dolly Parton hot. So what if my career is not where I thought it would be when I graduated from college ten years ago? I have spark, I have spunk.
I started to think in Dolly lyrics:
Tumble outta bed
And I stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition
And yawn and stretch
And try to come to life
Over the course of the next few months I found myself digging deeper into Dolly’s song archives. While I have always loved and appreciated Dolly Parton’s music, suddenly wearing her lipstick brought me closer to her. I was studying Dolly. I pulled her books out of the library and quoted them to friends. I asked them questions: “Did you know Dolly has a children’s book program? Of course she runs a children’s book program. Do you think I could work for the children’s book program? How does this earnest cover letter sound? Do you think she’ll hire me?”
I highlighted her words. I sent away for her collectibles. One lazy afternoon I found an old boxed set with seven beautiful Dolly Parton records. I snatched them up before anyone else could and admired Dolly’s ever-confident hairstyles. I played her songs while I made dinner or cleaned up the house. I hummed them throughout my workday, while on drives, when I went for long runs.
I’ve always been misunderstood because of how I look.
Don’t judge me by the cover ’cause I’m a real good book.
And yes, I wore my Dolly lipstick the night I was an audience member at the live premiere of The Bachelor. Somehow I found myself front and center, on the TV screen all night.
I dabbed the lipstick on before a phone interview. I immediately connected with my interviewer. Dolly’s lipstick became this talisman, this good luck charm. It was instant confidence, instant pizazz. A way to go 1-2-3, I’m Dolly. I always want to be a bit more Dolly.
Dolly Parton is who she is, no apologies. She’s not afraid to laugh at herself, but she’s also not going to justify her life. She loves her makeup. She loves her music. Dolly is an icon. She’s a businesswoman, a songstress, and a rollercoaster tycoon. Amy Poehler dedicated her memoir to Dolly Parton. Wearing her lipstick made me think more about how to live freely, to take chances.
Recently I Googled “Lady Danger” and Dolly Parton together. I wanted to find the interview where Dolly said this was her favorite lipstick, where she gave more insight into why she loved it and how much she wore it and why she and I were, indeed, the same type of person. I wanted the confirmation that I could expect my life to go much the same way as hers because of our shared red lips.
I couldn’t find anything. The mystical article, the information my mother got before she bought the lipstick that told her “this is Dolly’s favorite” was nowhere on the Internet.
How could it be? This was Dolly’s lipstick! I could feel it every time I went out. Every time I asked my friends which color I should wear and they said “The Dolly one.” I felt it: the surge in confidence, the extra spunk.
It wasn’t until later, when the shock died down, that I realized what was going on: I had been living a fable. One of those tales you tell your children around the fire, ripe with moral lessons.
My lipstick wasn’t magic because it was also owned by Dolly Parton. My lipstick was magic because I believed it was magic. My lipstick was magic because when I wore it, I channeled all the parts of Dolly I want to be, the parts I am not yet.
Me saying, “1-2-3 I’m Dolly” was really just me giving myself permission to say “1-2-3 I’m me. Here I am. This is me. And my lipstick? Well, it’s amazing.