My $14 Cheerleader: How I Went From Hating to Loving Lipstick in One Easy Week

When Eden did my makeup, she pointed out that by wearing eye makeup but no lip color, I was actually putting my face a wee bit out of balance. "The face is in thirds--you see up here [eyes and above], this here [the nose area] and down below. If you don't have everything in balance, instead of one feature jumping out it just looks sort of strange." (This explains why I've always found the '60s-style "nude lip" cool but bizarro.) "If you're wearing eye makeup and then put on a little bit of lip color, you balance your face and your eyes actually jump out more."

 Brigitte at left: Sultry as hell. Brigitte at right: Vaguely alien-like, and sultry as hell.

Reluctantly, I saw she was right. I never liked wearing lipstick; my nervous habit is to rub my lips (I tell myself I'm "exfoliating" but let's be real) and I fear that if I wear lip color I'll wind up looking like a 6-year-old in her mother's makeup cabinet. But even with the exaggerated lip that Eden did on me, I saw that they still didn't overshadow my eyes. (The false lashes may have had something to do with that.) And off to MAC it was. As a wearer of lipstick for exactly one week, I'm pleased to report my preliminary findings:

I became less conscious of how I looked. Rather: I became less conscious of whether I looked pretty. I don't wear a lot of makeup, but everything I do wear is designed specifically to hide "flaws": tinted moisturizer evens out my ruddy skin tone, mascara darkens the blonde tips of my lashes, and so on. I don't wear makeup that is designed to look like makeup—that is, nothing that announces itself as being artificial. I'm comfortable that way, but it also means that there's zero sense of play in my makeup routine. It's just hiding all the stuff that I think is wrong with my face--how could that be fun?

But with this pert little brick-red Cupid's-bow announcing my presence, pretty wasn't the question. Instead, there was a sense of self-definition going on: No, I don't just look like a slightly Photoshopped version of how I looked when I woke up this morning; I have unnaturally red lips, and you can't deny it. I'm less aware of whether I look pretty because instead of merely presenting my face—which, really, I have little control over—I'm presenting something closer to a look. Now, red lipstick is certainly a signal of beauty, so in one way it's further putting myself out there to be evaluated. But the juxtaposition of bright red lips with the rest of my relaxed look—loose college-girl hair, jeans, barely-there makeup—makes me feel like the lips are a sort of boundary, defining something about me and how I move in a public sphere. I'm bringing something to the table that's me, certainly...but not quite the me I and I alone wake up with in the morning.

It was boiling in the office on Day 2 of my lipstick experiment, so I was sweating buckets. But when I looked in the restroom mirror instead of seeing all that shine on my forehead, I saw this bright little pucker of a mouth wearing this color that still doesn't look at all natural to me. Instead, it looks: a tad obstinate, insistent, amused, amusing. A colleague entered the restroom as I was washing my hands, and in saying "Hello" to her I saw how the slight exaggeration the color gave my lips seemed to also exaggerate what I was saying, even if only to myself. And it was in seeing my lips in motion that I understood what it was that was intuitively making the lipstick experiment more rewarding than I'd anticipated: My words felt just a little bit brighter, edgier, more present. In seeing my highlighted lips move, I saw the words themselves as being highlighted. I never thought I'd be feeling this way about lipstick, but here it is: I felt like what I was saying had more of a right to be said. The vehicle that carries those words was painted with color, verve, punch: How could their cargo not absorb a bit of that essence?

Certainly I'm not the first to connect articulation with lip color: While pigmenting one's lips has been in fashion for a few millennia now, lipstick—with its swivel-up tube that can fit inside even the smallest handbag, making virtually any woman able to swipe her lips and announce that she's playing ball—only showed up in 1923, just three years after the passage of the 19th Amendment. Women matched their new political mouthpiece with exaggerating their actual mouths—besides the bob, is any motif of the newly liberated Jazz Age woman more significant than lipstick? When a woman is described as lippy or mouthy, it's not exactly a compliment, but it's not exactly an insult either. It's more that she's sassy. A mouthy broad? It's not me—but where can I take lessons?

I'd say I'm conflicted about how lipstick made me feel, but I'm not, not really. In no way do I think that my words are actually more important when I'm wearing lipstick, nor do I take any other woman more or less seriously based on whether or not she's painted her lips that day. But I can't deny how I felt: more confident, more present, more rightful. I feel conflicted about a lot of aspects of traditional feminine trappings: high heels (love 'em! hate 'em!), jewelry (holes in our ears? but I happily wear a pair daily), leg shaving (who has time? me, apparently). And that includes the very idea of makeup--I rarely leave the house without it, and part of me really hates that fact, because I feel like I'm telling myself every morning that I'm not quite good enough as-is. But I feel none of those conflicts with lipstick. Instead, I just enjoy how it feels.