My Grandmother’s Lipstick

My grandmother used to wear bright, blood-orange colored lipstick on her cheeks and lips every day of her life from the time she was eighteen to eighty five. When she became an old lady and as she started to lose her eyesight, the stain on her cheeks got progressively blotchier, giving her a clown-like appearance. I would often get embarrassed when I went places with her, as young children would take one look at her, and then hide behind their mom’s and dad’s hips. Inside I would cringe and wonder, why would anyone in their right mind wear such makeup? Sometimes I would ask my grandmother that question myself, in an annoyed teenager, exasperated tone. She would laugh, unfazed and tell me that it was because it was her favorite color.

My grandmother passed away almost five years ago. Before her death, she lived in my parents’ house where she stayed and slept in my bedroom. This past year, when I visited home over the holidays, I opened the drawer on my vanity to find a tube of Coty lipstick in Sunset Orange. It made me cry to see the gold case with painted white flowers, and when I opened it up to see it half used, it was too much to bear. Guilt flooded over me. Memories of the embarrassment I had once felt and my snotty demeanor over a simple tube of lipstick made me feel ashamed. But even through tears, I couldn’t help but laugh. My grandmother was very much ahead of her time on the trend. Turn any page in a Vogue magazine, and you’ll see a multitude of actresses and models wearing the same shade of matte, orange-red stain. My grandmother had certainly been onto something.

I couldn’t resist opening the lipstick and putting a little on. I lined my lips first with the pointed end of it, and then slowly filled in the rest. I liked the way I looked, and for the first time I understood my grandmother a little deeper when she had once said, “Every woman should have that special thing that makes her smile.” For my grandmother, it was Coty #24.

You can read more from Sarah Barkoff on her blog.

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