Why I Waited More Than A Decade To Try Red Lipstick Again

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.

It’s the summer before eighth grade and Gillian and I are crouched in the backseat of my mom’s station wagon parked outside the party at a family friend's house.

“You go first,” I say.

Gillian reaches into the pocket of her skintight denim capris and pulls out the stolen
goods: her older sister Alexandra’s bright red MAC Ruby Woo lipstick. Alexandra and
her friends have been walking around with red lips for a few weeks now, and even though we have mouths full of metal and an absence of puberty, we are ready to join them in their mature beauty world.

Looking into the rearview mirror, Gillian makes an O with her mouth and smears the
saturated red over her plump pout. She smacks her lips together three times, making a
sound like bubbles popping, and hands the lipstick to me.
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The color is palpable after a single lap around my mouth, but I do it a few times over just to make sure I hit every crease.



Propped up on my knees and rotating the rearview mirror to face me, I press the buttery
cream to my lips, trying my best to stay in between the lines. The color is palpable
after a single lap around my mouth, but I do it a few times over just to make sure I hit
every crease. My lips become so strikingly bold I don’t even notice the rest of my face.
Mimicking Gillian, I smack three times before sitting back, my sweaty shins sticky against the leather car seat, and click the lipstick cap back into place. Gillian and I look at each other: two pale, skinny blondes crouched in the back of a station wagon with lips as red as cherries.

“We look good,” I tell her. I open the car door and we scoot out, one by one, side by side, ready to return to the party. But, just before turning the corner to mingle with the guests we spot Jenny, a friend of Alexandra’s. We stop.

There’s no need to communicate — we both know if this gets back to Alexandra not only will we be reprimanded for stealing her makeup, but she and her friends will make fun of us for the rest of the summer. We whip around and sprint back to the station wagon, rubbing the lipstick off on the backs of our hands and the crumpled-up receipts scattered around the backseat.


“Do you think she saw us?” Gillian asks, her cheeks taking on the previous flush of her lips. “No, definitely not,” I tell her. “But, let’s make sure we get it all off — we look stupid anyway.” Deep down we both know it isn’t just Jenny we are afraid of noticing our suddenly painted lips, but our parents and the rest of the party, too. They would no doubt look at us with patronizing endearment, all too aware of our innate desire to be grown, sophisticated women.

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We return to the party moments later, a light red stain lingering on our lips. When my
mom asks me about it, I blame it on nonexistent cherry Popsicles. No one questions my lie. Popsicles, unlike lipstick, are to be expected at my age.

Popsicles, unlike lipstick, are to be expected at my age.



I thought that applying bright red lips would make me feel older and more sophisticated, but it had the opposite effect. I felt like a phony. Like I was playing the part of someone I had yet to become, exposing my eagerness for adulthood and femininity too soon. At that moment, I decided to put the red lip on hold.

There are other beauty hurtles to tackle in the meantime — like pimples, over-plucked eyebrows, and hiding my insecurities behind a mess of un-brushed hair.
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When I do wear red lipstick again, I am 25 years old. My hair is pulled back, allowing my saturated pout to take center stage. I am in the car waiting for my mom to get out of work. When she gets in the car she looks at me and says, “Whoa. Those are some red lips.”

When I do wear red lipstick again, I am 25 years old.



My mind flashes back to being in the backseat with Gillian. Did I paint them too red? Do I look like a clown? I decide it doesn’t matter. I walked out of the house feeling good, and that’s what’s most important. I smack my lips together three times, look at my mom, and say, “I know, aren’t they amazing?” She went out and bought the same shade of Ruby Woo later that week.

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