I started wearing red lipstick when I was twelve.
It was a two-pronged event. The Catholic school I attended prohibited makeup; thus, the forbidden fruit phenomenon. But that's too easy and obvious. The real reason I started wearing red lipstick in the 7th grade was because of my mother. She never wore red lipstick. Ever. My whole life, I have never seen her in anything even close to red. Not maroon. Not brick. Not even cinnamon.
It wasn't an age or religious thing. The ladies in her church group wore red lipstick all the time. Both my grandmothers wore it. It wasn't a supply issue, either. Her best friend was an Avon Lady who also wore red lipstick. It would have been no problem to hook her up. I couldn't even blame it on disco fever and the muted pouts of the era. The truth is, she's never been a big fan of makeup, a fact which dismayed and horrified me as a child.
There I was, an impressionable young girl clutching a Malibu Barbie in one hand, Teen Magazine in the other, in my parents' 70s-style bathroom. Amid white shag carpeting and black faux marble vanity, I hovered in anticipation while my mother put on her face. I watched her lay a foundation of tan-colored liquid, carefully blending into jawline and neck, and set with matching powder from a stained puff. The eyes got a swift, cursory coat of mascara, but only the upper lashes (we don't want to get too crazy.) But the real show came last: the lips. I relished the uncapping and the unswivelling. This was magic. This was like punctuation at the end of a sentence. This was...a total disappointment.
She dabbed at her mouth--dabbed, the way you'd tentatively touch a burn to see if it really hurt--the stingiest, teeniest bit of frosted, don't-notice-me beige. It was as though this was the last lipstick on the planet Boring and the tube had to last the rest of her life.
I was disgusted and openly contemptuous. What kind of example was she setting for her kid? Makeup is a torch passed from mother to daughter, an important rite of passage, and she was cutting corners on what was, to me, the most important part of all. This was surely a parenting flaw. Was I being raised by wolves?
I made a vow that day to never join my mother in her cosmetic prudery. In my surly, know-it-all twelveness, I decided I would wear lipstick, the reddest kind, and lots of it. From then on, unless I was in class, or asleep or at the dentist, I wore red lipstick. If I brushed my teeth or kissed a boy, I would carefully wipe up the crimson smears and reapply. For the next decade, except for a brief foray in high school with bubble gum pink, my calling card on napkins, notes, and coffee mugs was harlot red.
As the years advanced, so did my taste level and my need for variety. I experimented with all shades berry and melon. My fire engine reds became burnt, rusty, roasted, and toasted.
Now that I've gotten older, my lipstick has become more conservative. The last couple of years in particular, I've found myself gravitating to fleshy neutrals and, dare I say, beige.
Nudes are trendy, I tell myself.
I'm not sure whether I regard the subdued shades I now favor as classier or more age-appropriate.
Perhaps I am self-conscious of emphasizing the laugh line around my mouth.
Maybe it's because the Kardashians are doing it.
It certainly isn't because of my mother.