Pink Lipstick and Joyful Resistance
I’m stealing part of my blog post title from an article I read a while back in The Walrus by Erika Thorkelson, titled, “Why Wearing Lipstick Is a Small Act of Joyful Resistance,” which I loved and was a bit jealous of. Jealous because a hundred years ago I wrote an essay that had to do with lipstick which never got published, and which I must have deleted a couple of computers back. That’s the way it goes with writing.
It’s fine, anyway, because the piece I was writing referenced the “Lipstick Index,” which inversely correlates the health of the economy with sales of lipstick. The crumbier we’re doing financially, goes the early 2000s thinking, the more lipstick is sold, rather than, say, dresses or shoes. Apparently, the “nail polish index” upended the lipstick one in the 2010s, and now here we are, 2019, and all bets are off, I imagine. The thing is, I’ve always bought too many tubes of lipstick. They make it so you never quite find the colour you’re after, though it’s possible to blend a shade or two.
I came of age in the mid-1980s, and so at one time I wore all the makeup. At some unknown point, I gave up mascara because my blonde eyelashes weren’t having it, and my pale skin rebelled, my eyelids puffed up unattractively. It just became more trouble than it was worth and I needed to keep my eyes clear, my seeing clear. But lipstick! I’ve always worn it. Usually it’s pink, but I went through a red phase or two. I totally understand it as “a joyful act of resistance.”
I’ve long been obsessed with Irving Penn’s image of lipstick, which for me brings home the connection between art and beauty. There’s a defiance in the image. As in, I’ll wear whatever colours, I’ll wear all the colours, these are my lips, this is my body.
I moved into my first bachelor apartment when I was 18. (It was a different world then, wasn’t it?) I remember lining all my lipsticks up on the vanity, maybe 12 of them, including a yellow one and a black one, and taking a photograph of them. I really wish I still had that photo.
What did the photo mean? It meant I was tough, I was bold, and I could wear whatever the hell I wanted. This wasn’t always true in real life, but the idea was there. It said that I was trying to find myself, that I could bring my paleness into existence. That no way was I going to disappear.
Check out this poem by Anya Silver about red lipstick:
by Anya Silver
I stand in Walgreens while my mother sleeps.
The store is fluorescent and almost empty.
My father is ailing in a nursing home,
my friend is dying in the hospital.
What I want tonight is lipstick.
As pure a red as I can find—no coral
undertones, no rust or fawn. Just red.
Ignoring the salespeople, I untwist tubes
and scrawl each color on my wrist,
till the blue veins beneath my skin
disappear behind smeared bars. I select one.
Back in my mother's apartment, silence.
I limn my lips back out of my wan face.
There they are again: smacky and wanting.
The way she uses the word limn…..speaks to me. It’s an act of light, an act of creation. Self-creation. It’s an act of resistance. A defining of self, as she defines her lips, paints them. Her mother’s apartment is silent, but her lips will speak in bold red, pure red. In spite of everything sad and lousy, the red speaks life, says, live. Says, to life, I want. And the word, smacky. Which reminds us of the Bonnie Bell lip smacker, a big loud smack on the lips, on the kisser. Reminds us of talking smack. Maybe it’s some other kind of slang that I’m missing because I’m old. It’s not in the dictionary, but it feels rebellious to me. It feels sassy and tough. It feels resilient and persistent and determined. It feels like, I’ll smile when I want to, buster.