Lipstick Is More Than a Symbol of Femininity

It’s a form of self-care

Photo from the day Ruby Woo (with a touch of Russian Red underneath) became the most powerful self-care tool I ever used. Photo by Author.

Lipstick has as many meanings as women have worn it throughout history.

And not all of them are frivolous.

It’s true that in many eras and places it played a part in repression, shame or margination. It’s also been a symbol of sexualization and objectification of women. At the same time, something we have used as a weapon to achieve progress, empowerment and self-confidence.

Hell, it’s even been used to piss Hitler off!

As much as I love the fascinating stories behind lipstick, I’m not here today to talk about how it evolved over the ages. I could do that for months.

I want to talk about how it made me evolve and pick-up my pieces when I needed it.

How it helped me stay strong and become the confident woman I am today.

When I think of lipstick, I think of self-care.

I don’t even remember when was the first time I ever used lipstick.

It must have been when I was very young. I recall some vague memories of using my grandma’s bidet as a prop to reach her cosmetics cabinet.

I would then steal her lipstick and any other makeup and play with it in the bathroom until someone dragged me out.

I’d just do it again the next time. No amount of shaming, laughter or “Look at the chorizos she put on her face!” would stop me from digging around the house until I found some makeup to play with.

Fashion and makeup always fascinated me. It’s ironic since I never saw my mother use any makeup. Or perhaps it was because of that.

Growing up poor, I was self-conscious most girls at school wore nice clothes while I didn’t. I knew I wouldn’t have them. It bothered me, but there was something I was more interested in than cute clothes.

Tv, magazines, movies, cartoons… they blew my mind because of makeup.

I didn’t have access to nice clothes, but I had paper and pencils. While I was too young to realise it back then, I was designing fashion and makeup looks.

I was cultivating an eye for detail, colour, and life-long obsession.

I wanted to feel like Jem, Rogue, Betty Boop, or whatever model whose makeup caught my eye. I wouldn’t even mind doing a clown costume as long as I could put some makeup on!

My grandmas’ modest makeup stashes and carnival season opened the doors for me to make those dreams come true for a few hours.

I always knew there’d be consequences but didn’t care. Makeup helped me escape a reality I couldn’t stand to look at.

As life went on, makeup and more specifically lipstick took over my life and became my passion.

Getting to know and love myself through lipstick

I experimented a lot with makeup in my late teens. Drugstore brands were a good enough start since I didn’t have access to anything fancy.

For a few years, I experimented with cold toned mauves, pinks, and lipgloss. I became obsessed.

I lived and breathed makeup, to the point I began handcrafting my own and taking some freelance work.

There weren’t any decent makeup academies nearby nor could I afford to move to another city to study, so I eventually had to give up on my dream of following the steps of Lisa Eldridge.

When I started working and earning my first few salaries, I began dying my hair all the colours I could imagine.

To my delight, any changes on my hair forced me to experiment with lipstick to suit my skin undertones and crazy hair dyes.

Handcrafting my own mineral makeup taught me more than I could ever express. I felt and looked more beautiful with every new experiment.

I learned to love my looks and had the time of my life along the way.

I realised nothing brought me more joy than spending time in front of a mirror applying makeup. It was a whole mindfulness routine.

I was taking care of myself and enjoying the hell out of it.

21 years old. Photo by Author.

And then it happened. I dared to try red.

I’m not lying when I say this photo makes me feel nostalgic. I miss my red hair and eyeshadows!

Red hair, red eyeshadow, red lipstick. How could I not feel empowered and confident when I was exactly who I wanted to be? Most importantly, who I knew I was.

Hair and makeup represented the freedom I strived for my whole life. They were a channel for my creativity and I expressed myself through them.

I felt beautiful outside and connected with my inner self like never before. Those were the best years of my life in many aspects of my life.

I was daring, confident, and took steps forward in my life one lipstick shade at a time!

I’m not exaggerating when I say Ruby Woo changed my life and made my love for lipstick reach a new level. Relentlessly Red was the missing piece of the puzzle when it was released a few years later.

I wore one of them daily. The choice would be made by the situation or my mood that day.

For work, parties, going to the supermarket or on a date.

It was my anchor to stay strong when life threw me shit and an extra touch of it when I felt on top of the world.

I’m a naturally confident person, but lipstick turned it up a notch.

There isn’t a job interview where I didn’t succeed while wearing Relentlessly Red. Or a night that wasn’t memorable when Ruby Woo was on my lips.

There was no depression Ruby Woo wouldn’t mask

My life spiralled out of control at some point during 2015.

Physically, mentally and emotionally.

I didn’t know about IBS back then and just knew I was very sick. There was no apparent reason other than anxiety and depression.

I was going through a brutal case of bullying at an old workplace, a toxic relationship and financial issues. I couldn’t keep my head afloat and my whole life crumbled.

I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, was in constant pain.

My anxiety was so bad I had to take triple and even quadruple doses of anxiolytics prescribed by my doctor to try and calm down. They wouldn’t kick in until I was on the way back home, and I almost died on the road more than once because of it.

I know the only reason I’m alive to tell it today is that my ex-boyfriend knew how to perform CPR. He was present during a seizure where my body shut down.

He only managed to say I died in his arms. The rest of the story was told by my smeared lipstick and bruised chest.

I knew I was no longer beautiful but knew I stopped caring somewhere along the way.

It wasn’t that I was skinny; I was a walking skeleton.

My skin was sickly pale, sunken, dehydrated. Some days it was grey. You wouldn’t tell apart from a street junkie and me on my worst days.

I stopped wearing makeup, which only made me look and feel worse.

Abandoning my beauty routines led me to allow shame, guilt and depression eat me alive.

The worse I looked? The worst I felt.

And the worse I felt, the less care I took of myself.

Relentlessly Red and Ruby Woo stayed forgotten in my makeup bag. I carried them with me every day, but I couldn’t even acknowledge they were still there.

I was a medicated ghost, barely going through the motions and unable to lift my eyes from my knees. Some days, I couldn’t even manage to say a full sentence.

Until something happened that shook me to my core and turned my life around.

I remembered I was once a determined, unstoppable woman who built herself out of nowhere by smashing challenge. And you can imagine already why that happened.

One day, I sat in my car during a work break. It was a specially tough day and I rummaged through my bag, desperate to find a spare pill that would help me calm down.

I failed to find the emergency Tranxilium I used to keep in my makeup bag, so I emptied its contents on the car seat.

A small eyeshadow palette, mascara, foundation, a ziplock bag of my handmade setting powder, highlighter, lipsticks, blush. But no signs of the pill, I’d forgotten to restock it.

But something caught my eye.

Ruby Woo and Russian Red were there among the scattered makeup products and my heart skipped a beat.

I had a flash of all the good memories lived wearing my trusted lipstick, how empowered I always felt when it adorned my lips.

Those memories were distant yet I could almost touch them with my fingers.

It was the only form of relief and self-care I had on hand at that moment.

I don’t know how long I stayed in my car doing my makeup.

I didn’t give a fuck.

All I cared was that for the first time in months, I saw a reflection on the mirror that I recognised. It was smiling back at me.

I was so shocked and delighted to reconnect with myself that I took the photo featured at the top of this article.

It wasn’t a pill that calmed me down, it was a lipstick bullet.

And I kept doing it every single day after that, alternating between Ruby Woo and Relentlessly Red.

Kept taking daily photos despite how sick and empty I looked in an attempt to remind myself who I was and see a difference.

I still keep copies of them on my phone and scroll through them when I need to remind myself how far I’ve come.

Life wasn’t been easy after that. While I’ve wildly succeeded in my career after leaving my country, the toxic boyfriend — whom I owe my life regardless — , and my old work and life behind, I still struggle sometimes.

You can imagine what I do those days when I need to reconnect with myself.

Whether I leave the house or not, whether IBS is killing me or giving me a truce.

No matter if I feel beautiful or ready to be thrown into a dumpster, I go back to the best form of self-care I ever knew.

Wearing ‘Relentlessly Red’ by Mac — Photo by Author

The next time you think lipstick is a frivolous thing, let this lady boss remind you it is a form of empowerment, confidence and self-expression.

And it’s one that will help lift you up when life or your health are bringing you down.


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