Welcome back to my weekly chat about (Bad) Makeup Advice I have heard throughout the years. This post is a bit different than the first one. I don’t have medical sites and mommy sites that back up my opinion. But I have a very personal experience to share this time around.
Only promiscuous women wear red lipstick.
Ah, a gem from my grandmother. I am embarrassed to say, I bought this hook line and sinker for years.
I grew up in a rural farming town in Ohio. We were country folk mostly. A lot of old people sitting on porches. Kids playing in the street. Two-parent homes where both parents worked. It seems idealistic to a few, nostalgic even; to others it seems horrible, a very slow way to die. I’m part of that latter group most of the time. There were a lot of hidden nightmares in those country towns. Bitter old racist demagogues, domestic violence, sexual assault, drug abuse, more gossip than you could keep up with, you name it. Just because it wasn’t happening on the street like it can in the city doesn’t mean us country folks haven’t experienced it too. We’re just better at hiding our nonsense.
Mom ran a beauty salon and her friend had talked her into hosting a women-only party at the salon after hours. I helped the lady carry in some boxes of stuff that smelled like roses and candy. But she wouldn’t let me open them. She said they were for grownups only. Gran showed up at the shop a little while later. For some reason that I didn’t understand, Gran was not nice to this lady. She refused to speak to her in anything more than snorts.
Mom and Gran went to the back to put some brushes and combs in barbisol and throw towels in the wash. I followed with the intention of helping out the best way a 7-year-old kid can, by standing around in the way and watching the adults work. When I came around the corner, Gran and Mom were having a whispered conversation. Gran said something along the lines of “I can’t believe you’d associate with a woman like that. We all know she is a whore.”
I didn’t know what a whore was of course. But Gran continued while Mom objected in her meek way (Mom doesn’t like confrontation). “She is a whore! She brought that disgusting stuff in here. Parading it around like it is normal. And that shit on her face! That red lipstick smeared everywhere. She’s a damn tramp!”
When adults started cussing, that was my cue to exit and so I did. I didn’t hear anymore but Gran’s words stuck with me like a bad cold. When I was a few years older, I figured out what was in those boxes (if you didn’t get the clue, they were sex toys from whatever the early 90’s version of Pure Romance was) and that solidified my view on women that wear red lipstick. Mom never talked to me about sex or even my menstrual cycle. I was sexually repressed and my only understanding of sex was that it was dirty. When I got my first period, I was horrified. It wasn’t something out of Carrie but it was close. I was wearing a white dress at church and bled all over the pew. I remember Mom being so embarrassed, Dad being utterly disgusted, and people around me staring. The deacon’s wife made a low-but-everyone-could-hear suggestion about how I had probably done it on purpose for attention. A teenage girl I rode the church bus with took me to the bathroom, cleaned me up, and showed me how to use a pad. She gave me her coat to cover myself from the waist down.
After that, I learned everything at school or from friends or moms-of-friends. Mom just kind of squirmed when I started having reproductive issues at 12-years-old. She was really uncomfortable about sex education. With a mother like my Gran, can you blame her? Mom only took me to the girl-parts doctor (yeah, we were not to the point that she could comfortably say gynecologist) so that she didn’t have to deal with it.
Given how I grew up, it goes without saying that I was woefully unprepared for sex and sexuality. Thanks adults-that-should-know-and-do-better. I really believed a woman wearing red lipstick must be trashy once I came to learn what trashy was. If I saw a woman on television wearing red lipstick, most of the time she was a prostitute or a homewrecker. Virtuous women didn’t wear that crap. So if I saw a woman on the street wearing red lipstick, I immediately judged her as a bad person at minimum.
By my mid-20s, I had started questioning a lot of my earlier beliefs about stereotypes and non-verbal communication and prejudice. I wasn’t a horrible person outwardly but inside I was pretty damn judgemental. Living like that takes a lot out of you and I was so tired of the spin inside my head space. I had gone to college at a mixed-gender, racially and ethnically diverse school and met incredible people that challenged the way I thought of them. I struggled with my loss of faith and acceptance of being responsible for my own actions. I had my first interactions with liberal academic types and true dungeons-and-dragons nerdy types. My thoughts, opinions, and judgements of people changed. It evolved simply because I learned better than I was raised.
I’ll note here that college brought me out of my repressed shell. I wasn’t promiscuous but I got over my backwardness about talking about sex, things involved in sex, and people that have sex. I still have an issue with the sexualized naming conventions in makeup because it is available to children. Or introducing children to a sexual culture before they are old enough to experience it in a mature fashion. I’ll always be a bit behind the times in that way.
So how could I let something like this trope about women wearing red lipstick persist into my 30s? I don’t know. The thing that finally showed me how untrue this was happened a little less than a year ago. Again, I’m ashamed to admit that I let that go on that long.
We were at home, Mom and the girls and me. Mom was cooking. Kid 1 was playing in some makeup she had just gotten. Kid 2 was watching television. I was reading. Gran showed up. The dogs barked like crazy and the cats scrambled to get away from the noise. All normal things. Kid 1 came out of her room to greet Gran because we’ve always emphasized being polite and acknowledging guests in our home. Gran is a guest and a respected elder, even if she is a bit of a grouchy nut. Ya know, country manners. lol Gran took one look at Kid 1 and started shrieking about that nasty shit on her face and how she looked like a damn whore. I wish I were joking.
Mom has grown a bit of spine since I was 7. She did a better job of standing up to her mother to defend her daughter than she did back in the day to defend her friend. Mom told her to stop, firmly, and that Kid 1 wasn’t doing anything wrong. It didn’t matter, the damage was done. Kid 1 went off crying to her room, wiping her makeup off with her shirt as she went and Gran stormed out of the house.
That was my “ah-ha” moment. Kid 1 was only 13-years-old. She was a lot of things at that time but a whore is not one of them. She was just having fun with some pretty things. Mom went in and consoled the kid while I sat in my room with my head spinning. Did I think Kid 1 should be wearing red lipstick? No. Why not? Um… I didn’t have an answer. Not a single thing. My whole life, I had considered anyone wearing red lipstick to have bad morals and to be sexually promiscuous. Kid 1 is afraid of the dark, loves animals, cried when her favorite band broke up, and likes pretty things. At no point would I consider her a whore. So… maybe…
Wearing red lipstick is not a secret code for sexual proclivities.
Maybe it is just something that person wanted to wear. It sounds stupid to write it out but that was my real thought process.
A few months later, when I decided to start playing with makeup, I still had a small part of me that avoided red lipsticks. Instead of saying it was whore-paint, I tried to tell myself that it was just too much for my skin tone. That I didn’t do bold colors like that. And I was lying to myself. When I discovered my love of berry lipsticks, I had to finally accept that there is nothing wrong with a red lipstick. Or a black lipstick. Or a blue lipstick. What a person wears, be it clothes or makeup or their hair, isn’t necessarily indicative of their morals. It doesn’t have to mean anything beyond that is what they put on. What other people take from it… well that’s on other people.
I am glad that I have evolved from my neanderthal ways. For what it is worth, Mom has too, to a great degree. She stands up to her mother when Gran is being unreasonable. She has been open with the kids beyond her comfort zone about puberty and their reproductive cycles. She didn’t give them the sex talk though. Kids at school took care of that far younger than anyone would support, I’m sure. She doesn’t like Kid 1 wearing red lipstick (or winged eyeliner or a nose piercing or heels) but she doesn’t tell her she can’t. I can’t say that I’m 100% okay with my 14-year-old baby sister doing a lot of the things she does, but I don’t have a problem with her makeup. I just wish she’d wash it off each night.
Am I the only one that heard this growing up and actually bought into it?