Lipstick Courage

After a lovely afternoon of productivity on the computer and minding my own business at my neighborhood coffee shop in Tucson, Arizona, a surprisingly artsy and progressive haven in the southern corner of the ever-so-red state, I placed my laptop in my satchel and my phone in my pocket, and was off. Or so I thought. Before I took even one step, I was approached by a nerdy and disgruntled looking stranger not much older than me. He had something obviously urgent to say. Being a veteran pick-up line receiver, I could sense this fellow was not looking for a date. “Can I ask you a question,” the stranger inquired, “Yeah,” I said, startled and curious about what, aside from a date, there is to ask a girl so urgently about. “I can see your lipstick from across the room. Why are you wearing such BRIGHT lipstick? Is it because you want attention? I NEED to know,” he stammered, loudly enough.

In my head I’m like, “UM OKAY…this is weird…And I’m kind of embarrassed for this guy because that was a really dickish thing to say, but I’m going to be polite for the sake of all of us now involved (which is basically everyone in the coffee shop aside from the people in the kitchen).”  So I respond out loud, “I wear this lipstick because I like wearing lipstick. I just got this color a few days ago and I really like it so um yeah, that’s why I wear it.” I may have also said that I like the color because it’s a matte shade, but I don’t remember because I tend to brown out when I say ridiculous inane things to people who already think I’m shallow. But anyway, the conversation wasn’t over. “Are you sure that’s why?” he pettifogged. “I just HAD to ask you that because it just really seems like there’s only one reason someone would wear something like that. It’s attracting a lot of attention, “ he said, and then not really under his breath but almost, added, “Maybe the wrong kind of attention.”

It is rare, very rare, that I am found speechless. I looked to an old friend who happened to be sitting sort of nearby for confirmation that this was a totally what the f**k situation, and that it was acceptable for me to depart without further words. My friend nodded, the nerdy-disgruntled-dickish-weirdo-stranger sauntered back to his table, sat down, and declared to whom I presume are his friends, “MYSTERY SOLVED!” I exited like a baby deer in headlights whose mother is already on the other side of the road…knowing the world outside that coffee shop would embrace me and my lipsticked lips with her open arms.

Stepping onto the sidewalk, I had one of those movie-ish slo-mo kind of moments where everything was whirling, especially my head, and a strange and intense inner conversation happened. “Wait a minute. WHY AM I WEARING THIS LIPSTICK? And seriously IS IT THAT WEIRD?” I really got thinking.

That guy has obviously never been to this coffee shop before; several of the superiorly attractive mavens that work there wear it all the time.  And according to a 2004 Mintel market research study cited by the New York Times, so do 81 percent of American women. And I assume, 100 percent of drag queens.  Has this man seriously never seen ANYONE, anyone wearing red lipstick before? Or has he, because he obviously has right?—But he’s actually ignorant enough to believe that all us bright lipstick wearers out there are just doing it to get attention. And so what if we are? I wouldn’t exactly say I mind attention and I’ll admit, wearing red lips sometimes get it, but I don’t think that’s the real reason me, or any of us wears lipstick. We wear it because, like anything else we put on, it is an outside expression of some part of our inner self. That guy didn’t know it, but I happened to be experiencing a little post holiday slump and today was the day I was taking charge of things and jump-starting a new year I hadn’t fully embraced. That lipstick, Nars Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Dragon Girl in case you were wondering (and I really hope you were), gave me exactly the boost of confidence I needed to pull myself together. When I put it on, the last thing I was thinking about was whether or not it was going to attract attention. I wasn’t wearing it for anyone else. I was wearing it for myself. Because I can.  And because I like wearing lipstick.

Read more from Rachael Mitchell here.

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