Bold (How the lipstick of a mentor pushed me creatively)
My senior year of college I took an “advanced” creative writing class with a renowned and well known author and professor at my university. She was hard to get classes with as an undergrad, as she mostly teaches at the graduate level. So when I walked into class that first day, I felt so lucky, so privileged, to finally be learning from her. The first thing I noticed about her was her lipstick.
The lipstick was bright and red and as bold as her writing, her black hair framing her otherwise bare face as she quickly drew me in. I fell in love — with her writing, her teaching, her methods, the way she read widely and critiqued with care, and with her lipsticks.
Prior to that class, I had always been bare-lipped. With my long hair, I had little patience for lip gloss and I had always related lipstick to my grandmother.
My professor became my mentor and someone I wanted to be like, live like, and especially, aspire to write like. But I knew it would be a long time before I could write like her, so I settled for wearing makeup like her.
It wasn’t as crazy as it sounds — I don’t think I started wearing lipstick to consciously emulate her, even though that’s how I look back at it now. I was like a little girl trying on her mother’s shoes; I couldn’t fill my mentor’s shoes, but I could try them on.
I started with a cheap Revlon — lipstick? Lipstain? I wasn’t sure — in a dark berry color. At first it felt odd, like I was intentionally trying to stand out, be bold. I soon began to love the bold and so I bought another.
Eventually I ventured into Sephora, which isn’t something I do very often. I’ve always had a mild interest in makeup. I wear base and mascara. Some days, eye shadow. But the products in Sephora go way beyond base and mascara: there’s eye liner, lip liner, contouring, blush, powder, and tons of other products to help you really do makeup (that I’ve never heard of). It’s a bit overwhelming.
But when I went in that day, I wasn’t overwhelmed because I knew exactly what I was looking for: lipstick.
Lipsticks are not hard to shop for because they are always open and on display, with the colors right in front of you, allowing a visual shopping experience. As I browsed the store, I fell in love with one color: Poe.
Poe was presented as a dark, sparkly blue, ready to write poetry in a dark corner with its black studded case and fuck off attitude. I picked it up and found it captivating. I had to think, can I pull this color off?
So I did the awkward thing. I took the lipstick out and walked over to one of the sample stations, which included two bottles of liquid, several pad-looking things, q-tips?, tissues and mascara wands. I stared at the array of tools, having no idea where to start. I felt embarrassed and out of place and sure that this dark blue is going to be too dark for me, for my skin.
I finally grabbed an employee to help with my ignorance and lack of knowledge in things makeup. After applying, I looked in the mirror and was shocked. Normally the employees will comment excitedly on whatever you’re trying on so that you’ll buy it. This employee said nothing, as if abstaining from truthfully saying she just didn’t like the color on me.
I put the sample away and grabbed the real thing, walking around the store with the blue on my smile until I decided to get in line.
Not too long later I bought L.U.V. and Coven, taking my obsession with purple lipsticks to a severe commitment. Coven made me feel witchy and ethereal as its name inspires, prompting me to wear the lavender color with an entirely black outfit, giving the dreamy pastel goth look I’d so admired in the past but had never had to guts to actually put together.
Before Coven, and L.U.V., and Poe, I had never allowed myself to embrace the style of who I was or really wanted to be. They were the medium through which I inspired myself to be dark and brave and colorful. With them, I could be bold.
My style (in makeup and clothing) has evolved a lot throughout the years, but has always been a place of expression and creativity for me. As a child I spent my time drawing and writing. Many of my drawings were of my fashion designs. They were ugly and they sucked, but my mom entertained my ideas (as most good moms do) and she allowed me to do crazy things to my clothes: dye a pair of shorts purple, sew fabric to a pair of jeans, cut up a perfectly good t-shirt, ect. As a teen, my interest in design waned but my interest in fashion hadn’t changed. Well, I wasn’t wearing ugly homemade clothing anymore, but I still enjoyed fashion.
I got my first job at 16 and spend most of my paychecks on gas and clothes. At the time I still didn’t wear much makeup, but I wore expensive, youthful clothing: Free People, Anthropologie, Betsy Johnson. I went for a bold Bohemian style that contrasted my shy, introverted personality. Oddly enough, though I often wanted to blend in, I expressed myself in a way that encouraged me to stand out.
College was my dark days of fashion, which, I suppose isn’t unusual. I began to favor jeans and plain blouses in order to keep comfortable with my busy lifestyle. And then I met my professor and became inspired by her lipstick.
My birthday was a few days ago and I decided to get the last color on my wishlist: Plan 9. Plan 9 is green and strange but so wonderful that I wondered why they’d abandoned plans 1 through 8. This stick, so foresty green in appearance yet not nearly as muted as a forest, was not made for wearing on a normal day, but I decided I’d do it anyway.
I’d slide the color on my lips and walk out the house,waving to my neighbors like I was wearing a polite pink. I’d drive to work and flip off the asshole who cut me off like my lips were a fierce red. I’d park and sigh and smudge my lips a bit and not care, like I was wearing an unassuming nude.
I’d walk into work and say hello to my coworkers and smile playfully, like I was donning green lipstick. I’d smile like I knew it was fucking great.
I’d wear that green and think, if I can wear this bold lipstick, then maybe I can write just as boldly. Maybe, I can be bold.