Lipstick Legend

A nervous attempt at self-reinvention became a symbol of my identity.


by Mackenzie O'Guin, Managing Editor of Print

“I think I want to start wearing red lipstick. I want to make that, like, my thing.”

Standing in my mother’s bathroom at my old house the night before my first day of high school, I was 13 years old, perpetually embarrassed and about to enter a new environment in which I was virtually anonymous. Thus, two roads had diverged before me – succumb to my social anxiety by skating under the radar as discreetly as possible or succumb to my social anxiety by creating a reputation that would precede me. I chose the latter, and knowing no one else at STA wore makeup, I knew just how I would leave an impression.

The next morning, I woke up early to zip my chubby self into my perfectly pressed plaid and polo. Just before dashing downstairs, I grabbed a silvery tube of Urban Decay lipstick off my dresser, drew it across my mouth, and ran out the door. Throughout the day, I became acutely aware of just how visible I had made myself, and almost second-guessed that decision. At my first midday advisory, a senior girl came up to me.

“I love the red lips! I saw you first thing at the ceremony sitting in the front row and I thought, ‘Wow, I love her, she is so bold.’”

I stared in shock. Bold? I was not bold. I was desperate for acceptance and constantly on the verge of either yelling or crying. But, no one here knew that. In fact, someone even thought I was bold, just because of my lipstick.

Immediately, I became married to the red lip. I bought it by the handfuls. There’s probably a storage closet full of half-used lipstick tubes somewhere at STA from all times I left my little sidekicks lying on a lunch table or rolling across the pavement in the quad. In fact, I have lost so many of my Urban Decay F-Bomb lipsticks that some days, I reached into my backpack to find not a single tube at all. On those days, in a panic, I would frantically search classrooms, hallways, and lockers alike for a substitute. On more than one occasion, I’ve horrified fellow students and teachers by drawing on my lips with red Sharpie. Desperate.

“Is it really worth it? Why can’t you go just one day without it?” another student asked me during one of these lesser moments.

I froze, the marker halfway raised to my lips.

“No!” I answered abruptly, “I need it.”

Sometimes, that would be met with a pitying glance. Was I using the lipstick as a security blanket? Absolutely. Sometimes, there would be girls who would be irritated to the point of confrontation that I refused to let go of the lipstick. How unfeminist! How lacking in constitution to need my token of confidence! Why should I need makeup to feel pretty? Well, that’s where they had missed my point. I knew I didn’t always look better for having smeared lipstick on. Many times, the red lips did not necessarily compliment otherwise un-made-up face and bedhead. Half the time, my lipstick was smudged across my face and teeth or horribly accentuating my reddened, “definitely-has-high-blood-pressure” complexion and dark circles. But, it didn’t matter, because the day-to-day never really was about the glamour. In the everyday turbulence, I had my controlled variable, and that became my identity. I loved having a brand, I loved having a signature, so I loved having my lipstick.

Sitting in my hotel room in a shimmering red gown before my first time at the Grammys, I am 17 years old, perpetually embarrassed and about to enter a new environment in which I was virtually anonymous. My team bustling about the room, I’m fifteen minutes late when my makeup artist finally twirls me towards a mirror.

“Okay, you’re done!”

I stared into the mirror with a stress headache and latte in hand.

“Wait,” I froze, “what about my lips?”

“I don’t think we should do red for this one, Mack. Come on, we’ve got to go.”

“No!” I remained stationary, fixed in front of the mirror. I saw my 13 year old self staring back. “I need it.”

I grabbed a shade of red off the dresser, drew it across my mouth, and ran out the door. I caught a glimpse of myself as the elevator door slid shut before me. I was no longer the pudgy, approval-starving kid that sat in my mother’s bathroom that night. As I strode through the hoards of tuxedos and designer dresses on the way to my seat, I had a hard time believing that girl and I were the same person. I imagined what she might say if she saw me now. I sat down. A beautiful portrait of a woman took her seat next to me. Her eyes twinkled at me over her tattooed shoulder.

“I love the lipstick,” she stated matter-of-factly, “It’s very bold.”