Why I Wore Red Lipstick When I Gave Birth To My Daughter
When I was eight years old, I was mauled on the face by a dog.
It was a relatively unremarkable day. My family and I were at a close friend’s home for lunch when I knelt down and began patting their Blue Heeler.
“Good boy,” I remember saying. “You’re such a good boy”.
I heard the animal's hungry roar and smelt its muddy breath before I saw its teeth -- I was small and he was big and for a moment I thought he had swallowed my face whole.
I guess I was lucky because I felt nothing.
The pain still hadn’t set in as I laid on a gurney in an ER department with doctors leaning over me, trying to stitch my face back together.
My dad fainted. My mum cried. It was only later, days later, that the pain began to perform its secret ministry.
After the attack, my mother inadvertently broke my pre-teen boy-crazy heart by telling me it was a shame I wasn’t a boy and therefore couldn’t grow a moustache to cover up the scar.
There are no pictures of me from back then. My parents didn’t think it would be a good memory to have. And they were right… kind of.
The memory is there, but, at the same time, it isn’t. It is, to quote Sylvia Plath, "a negative … it is hollow", and as more and more time passes it merely exists as a kind of smudged still from the otherwise innocuous reel of memories that make up my childhood.
Like all traumatic experiences, it was the tendrils of the memory and the way the reverberations from the experience shot out far wider and into far more places -- such as my confidence -- that caused the most pain.
When I started high school I became warier of the scar. As I started to date, I became conscious of my face and its quirks -- my scar always there, always standing out. And so I started wearing tinted gloss. Dabbing a little over the bold white line that slashed through the pink of my lips. I started to feel confident. I started to believe that perhaps people couldn’t see it. That perhaps I had fooled everyone. Not quite.
I spent my final school years at an all-girls school and that’s when the bullying came thick and fast. Girls can be cruel. And so I began filling out the scar with lipstick. Very quickly I ended up being pulled into the principal’s office for breaching the school 'no makeup code'. As it turns out, some schools would rather see a student being bullied than allow lenience towards victims trying to render their own solutions.
Then it happened. I graduated and so began my foray into red lipstick and I’ve never looked back. My love is double sided and opposing -- I wear it as armour and as a means of shouting out silently to the world.
Very quickly it became ‘my thing’. Friends would tell me that they “knew me” because of my lipstick.
"It’s so you," said one.
"It’s your thing," said another.
It was. After all those years of trying to hide my scar, I was now taking a torch to my tragedy and flashing a red light upon it -- look, because nothing you can say about it can hurt me anymore. I was proud of this tiny rebellion I was forging into the world.
And so, when I went into labour in the early hours of August 2, 2016, I decided to reapply. The colour and the way I recognised my face by wearing that colour had become so much a part of me that of course, I would wear it for the most momentous event in my life. I asked my doctor if it was ‘safe’ to wear it during the birth (I’d heard stories about doctors monitoring women's oxygen levels by their lips) and he was fine with it. Oh, and he’s a very, very good doctor.
After the birth, I was wheeled through the maternity ward when a nurse came up to me. “Love the red, darl,” she said. “Nice to see a pop of colour.”
So why red? Why not just any old slap? Well, I like to think the history of the colour has something to do with my choice, that the reverberations of the tales told from generation-to-generation have somehow seeped into my subconscious.
A standout tale took place before World War I. It was 1912 and female New Yorkers took to the streets demanding their right to vote -- a right not given to them until 1917.
It was during this march that Elizabeth Arden, yes the Elizabeth Arden, joined the sidelines and handed out tubes of red lipstick to the female marchers.
It's moments like these that left not only me enchanted, but also scores of other women.
There’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice who just had a red-hued lipstick named after her. Then there’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who, at 29 is the youngest woman ever to be elected to the US Congress. During her swearing-in ceremony, she chose to wear a bold red lip and large hoop earrings.
The truth that you can still be a feminist and wear your war paint loud and proud is no more evident than in the appointment of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as the face of beauty brand No. 7.
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The Nigerian novelist and author of ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, is known mainly for her extraordinary TEDx talk of the same name which ended up being featured in a verse on Beyonce’s song, 'Flawless'.
Back home, feminist author and political commentators Jane Caro confessed her love of a bold lip, telling 10 daily that she "loves a bright lipstick".
"It is bold, it is sexy and it is unashamed of being both. It leaves a mark but does no real harm and it says 'look at me'. Nothing modest, submissive or downcast about it," she said.
Amen to that.
Feature Image: Getty