Red Lips

I have felt paralyzed by fear ever since the results of the election. I couldn’t bring myself to leave my place on inauguration day. I was afraid to go outside. My fear stems from multiple reasons including that I’m new to this city and that all of my family is in another state. But my fear has been amplified recently. What if something happens to me? Who will I turn to? What if I witness something? Will I be brave enough to speak up? It feels safer to me to make myself as invisible as possible. I know it is important now more than ever to stand out and to make myself present. And, I will. Eventually. At the beginning of the year as I made my new year’s resolutions I resolved to conquer my fears. And, one way I’m starting to do this is by wearing red lipstick more often. I want to stand out or be visible in my own terms because whether I like it or not I stand out as woman of color and that can sometimes, a lot of times, put me at risk. And, while that shit is scary as fuck to me, especially nowadays (even though I do benefit from certain privileges) I need to take my power back—my own terms, in my own time, and at my own pace. I will rock red lips when I feel safe and especially when I don’t. I will join my sisters who already don red lips on a daily basis and tap into their strength.

I started wearing makeup in 7th grade. I took a black eyeliner from my mother’s makeup bag and after she’d drop me off at school I’d rush to the bathroom to put it on. I’d squeeze in between the other girls and try to fight for my spot in front of the mirror. We’d outline our eyes in black charcoal pencil first and you could feel all of us hold our breath as we glided our mothers’ pencils across our lids as carefully as possible because there’s nothing worse than a crooked line. We’d take another breath and hold it again as we took that same pencil to darken our waterlines. The darker and thicker the line the better. But not too dark or too thick because no one wanted to walk out of there looking like a raccoon. It was a delicate balance. I wore clear mascara because it was easier to take off at the end of the school day—a trick I learned the hard way. The braver girls wore layers and layers of pitch black mascara from their pink and green tube. We all wore the same glittery lip gloss. If your friend couldn’t see her reflection on your lips then you weren’t wearing enough of it. At the end of the day we’d be lined up in front of that mirror washing our faces, rubbing toilet paper on our eyes, and looking into each other’s faces to ensure there was no evidence.

I was late in joining in this ritual. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup and the thought of putting it on anyway didn’t really cross my mind until I saw other girls doing it. At first I only did it because one of the more popular girls asked me why I didn’t wear makeup and why my hair was always up and why my eyebrows weren’t plucked and if I was too poor to afford makeup and if I thought I was better than her. And so I started wearing makeup and crunching my hair with too much mousse. As I got older, I became more and more dependent on makeup. I couldn’t leave my house without wearing it. I didn’t want anyone to see me without it. I have very sensitive skin and its super prone to acne and this was very obvious as soon as I hit puberty. Im sure the cheap makeup I wore wasn’t making my skin any healthier but I felt better hiding my imperfections. It was easier to wear makeup and cover up and hide. I didn’t wear makeup to stand out. I used it to blend in.

I don’t wear as much make up as I use to. Mostly, because I’ve owned my I-don’t-give-a fuck attitude. And, that’s not to say I still don’t obsess about having the right foundation or having multiple bottles of foundation because my skin is breaking out or because it’s too oily. Yes, I’ve spent hours shopping for the right eyebrow color because that shit matters to me and I certainly can’t be walking around looking like a fool. But, I am more likely now to walk out without wearing makeup. I realize the wearing the makeup when I wasn’t supposed to and then the not wearing it when I was ready has been about taking risks with how visible I make myself.

Because I grew up undocumented and around domestic violence, I was taught from a very young age to be invisible. That is, standing out too much, sharing too much, or anything that would make me too visible was a risk. And, the last thing we needed at home was a neighbor, or teacher, or god forbid, a cop coming to the house and asking too many damn questions. I got a similar lesson when I started wearing a bra. Making my body too visible could be dangerous—and if something were to happen to me I’d have no one to blame but myself. It was always better to blend in. This don’t-attract-attention attitude—or survival tactic— has in a way always stayed with me. I’ll catch myself doing this in small ways like what I decide to wear to bigger issues like deciding to speak up or not. I’ve noticed, however, I make a choice to stand out or to take risks on a daily basis—every morning, when I put on makeup (or don’t). But something I haven’t been able to do is rock red lipstick on a daily basis.

Red lipstick always feels extra to me. It’s too much and I can’t help but shy away. I wear it. Every once in a while I’ll wear it. But I wouldn’t wear it to work, for example. And, I don’t wear it on a daily basis. I’d want to but I’m afraid to call too much attention to myself. It’s not like I don’t already stand out because I do. I’m a visibly-plus-sized brown femme. My eyebrows are drawn on dark and thick. On any other given day, I’ll wear bright purple or dark blue lipstick. My earrings are hoops or of the dangling variety.  If my long hair is not down its up in a large messy bun. I’ve been told I have constant bitch face even though I think I smile too damn much. My arms are large. My panza sticks out. My hips are wide. My ass is big enough. My outfits are usually bright. I physically stand out. I’m always too aware of being the biggest person in any room. I’m always too aware of how much room I take up. My ass takes up a seat and half on the bus. I can’t cross my legs and make myself smaller when I’m on the subway—my thighs don’t let me. I’m also always quite aware of when I’m the only brown body in any given space. Even though I’m shy and get very anxious when I need to talk to people and I can’t just send them an email or a text I will always speak up when shit needs to be said. I think I’m hilarious but I’ve been told I can be mean and I cuss a fucking lot. Because I feel that so much about me already makes me stand out, regardless of how much I want to or how much I try to blend in, I can’t bring myself to rock red lips as often because, in this small way, I feel safer when I don’t stand out.

Red lipstick may sound mundane or even irrelevant but now more than ever I need to find strength in even the smallest of ways. I’m not new to fighting for my rights or for my safety but my previous experiences with challenging oppressions doesn’t mean I’m not afraid right now. Because I am. Pero la lucha sigue and I need to keep it moving. I’ve chosen red lips as my armor of choice. I will look at myself in that mirror every day and don red lips when I need to and want to (or not) and know that every day I will be less afraid because I’ve decided to take that risk and make myself visible to those outside.