I should start by saying I am no-frills sorta gal. Sure, I dye my hair crazy colors and put on blush and eyeliner when I go out for the evening, but I don’t get “dolled up” if I don’t have a reason to — and that means I don't wear lipstick on a daily basis, either. Since I work from home with my 2-year-old daughter in tow, I rarely have a reason for a full face of makeup. Most days my face never sees cosmetics, my hair never sees heat or product or even a brush, my hips never see a structured waistband, and my breasts never see a bra. So lipstick? Yeah, I never wear it while drop my daughter off at daycare.
At least I should say I didn’t. Because last week, when faced with this experiment — when challenged to wear shades ranging from bubblegum pink to oh my god that's red — I rose to the challenge, much to the terror, or delight, of my husband. (I’m still not sure which.)
I should note: I don't hate lipstick, I just hate it on me. It makes me stand out in a crowd, it draws additional attention to my smile — something I am self-conscious about – and it is intimidating, plain and simple. Plus, I can never seem to pick a shade which flatters my features, so I always think I look like I'm trying to hard...or like I'm 12.
Step One: Get up early enough to apply makeup (which in this house means 5 a.m. Ugh.) or get up at the same time as my toddler and do step two and three in no fewer than 19 seconds.
Step Two: Put on clothes (actual clothes), brush my hair, and rummage through every jacket and purse I own to find a few tubes of lipstick or lip gloss.
Step Three: Apply said shade and head outside looking like some strange caricature and hope to hell no one notices. (Because, again, I'm a wallflower. This experiment wasn't going to allow me to stay a wallflower.)
So why take on this experiment? Why make myself so vulnerable? Well, I wanted to see what would happen — what could happen — if I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to see if a little bit of makeup would make me feel better about myself. I wanted to see if I could "fake it until I made it," i.e. if I could make awkwardness turn to confidence through determination and sheer will. And I wanted to see if a little bit of lipstick would allow me to see the woman my husband sees: the beautiful, sexy woman he tells me I am but often shrug off and ignore.
Day 1: Barely There
Since this was my first time wearing makeup to my daughter’s daycare probably ever, I decided to take it easy and go with my favorite shade of gloss, pathetically pale pink. (Think blush champagne ... with some shimmer and shine.) It was a safe choice, unobtrusive and uneventful, and consequently no one noticed. (Or if they did, they didn’t say anything.) My husband didn’t notice. My daughter didn’t notice. Hell, the straw on my coffee cup didn't notice. But I did. I noticed the stickiness on my lips and the strange smell it left lingering in my nose.
I know what you may be thinking: Why choose something no one will see? Why bother wearing lipstick if no one will notice it? I was scared...and I didn't want to be noticed, at least not yet. So instead of jumping in the proverbial deep end, I stuck my big toe in the water. (Besides, I had to start somewhere.)
Did I feel any differently? No. Not really. I felt a tinge of sexiness (sort of), but I’m not sure if that had to do with the lipstick or the fact I spent more than five minutes on myself that morning. I did things like wash my face, pick out clothes, and enjoy a few sips of coffee — things I never do but which felt good, which made me feel like more than a mother but a person. All-in-all, day one was sort of bust, but what did I expect: I chose a barely there shade, and got a barely there look.
Day 2: Now That’s What I Call Makeup
Commonly referred to as “lust” or “lava," this particular shade is my favorite. It makes me look romantic and powerful, confident, sensual, seductive, and goddamn sexy. However, these are not features I want to be flaunting around my daughter’s teachers, or before the sun rises. Because "sexy" feels so "bedroom," so personal, and so private. Sexy feels so cocktail hour, or after-dark. And while I want my husband to think I am sexy, it was not the image I wanted to be conveying to other parents...but work is work. And so I did it.
(It should say red lipstick doesn't have to be sexy, but it is my most common association with the color.)
Unlike day one, my husband did notice this shade. When I walked in the kitchen, I got a “whoa!"And while this felt good, it was also terribly uncomfortable. (It made me wonder if he thought the lipstick was beautiful or me.) Should I have just taken the compliment, absolutely. But I couldn't. Instead I let it further fuel my anxiety.
And my daughter noticed too: “Mommy? Your lips? Your lips, they red?”
“It’s lipstick, honey. Do you like it? Do you think it’s pretty?” She responded: “No. Me no think so.”
I’m sure everyone I passed on the five-block stretch I walk from my house to her school noticed it as well. But instead of feeling confident, like I do when I wear lipstick to the bar or for an evening out with my husband, I felt self-conscious. I felt as though everyone — every parent, every teacher, every driver on the road — was looking at me and saying “holy sh*t; who the hell does she think she is?” Why? Because I was wearing such a bright shade — such a bold shade — I couldn't hide. I was wearing a shade that said I didn't want to hide, and while I do believe all women can be sexy (mother's can be sexy), I just do not see myself as such. I felt like a fake, and a fraud. I assumed they thought I was cocky and arrogant. I assumed the children were looking at me and thinking she looks like Ronald-freakin-McDonald. But God knows if they were; what I do know is I was projecting my own fears and insecurities onto other people — and into their minds.
So day two? Yeah, that was a bust too.
Day 3: A Comfortable Compromise
Thankfully, my daughter only goes to daycare three days a week — and not five — and while I may kick myself for that comment come Monday morning (when she is shrieking for Sofia and climbing all over my couch), I was never more thankful for her three-day schedule than I was this week.
On this day I picked a more subdued rosy red. Since my husband left for work early this morning he didn’t see it, and my daughter didn’t say anything, but the previous shade was so intense that I wasn’t surprised. What did surprise me was how much I liked this color and this day. It matched my hair, my skin tone, and my personality. I felt comfortable in my skin. I felt as though I looked like myself, just amped up a bit. I felt as though I looked like I cared about myself, and — overall — I just felt like me; it felt just right. (Though, admittedly, the orange hoodie was a poor choice; what can I say: I was cold, and in a rush.)
In turn, I think I did love myself a little bit more because I cared about myself a little bit more. I wasn't showing off for my husband, my daughter, or any strangers on the street; instead, I was showing off for me. Even in a rush, I was making myself a priority, and as a result, I kept my shoulders a bit straighter and held my head a bit higher. And when I saw strangers in the street I smiled and nodded instead of shrinking and shying away.
Day 4: Bright Is Beautiful
I haven't worn purple lipstick since I was 13 years old. Correction: I hadn't worn purple lipstick, but since I was willing to try anything in the name of this experiment, I headed to Walgreen's to pick up two new shades. I went with two wild shades: purple and orange. I was sure I'd hate them both, and while orange was a complete failure, purple was a total success. I loved this shade!
I can't tell you why this color worked — maybe my green eyes, pale skin, and pink hair just helped make it the perfect combination — but it made me feel confident and even a little bit sexy. And while I only went to the playground on this particular day (and an empty playground at that) I have worn it a couple of times since, and on every occasion my overall look has been complimented by both my partner and strangers. (And unlike "red day," I believed the compliments were genuine. I believed others because I believed in myself.)
Day 5: Orange-cha Glad
Uh ... no. Nope. No thank you. (Seriously. I wish I had something insightful to say here, but I don't.) This color was an all-around failure. It made me look sickly and I was uncomfortable, self-conscious, and I wiped as much of it away as I could before I walked out the door.
What I Learned
While I don’t think lipstick changed my life or that I’ll be wearing makeup every morning, I do think that I may take a few extra minutes to put on some mascara and concealer or even just a pair skinny jeans. Because spending time on me made me feel better. Picking out clothes with a waistband or brushing my hair makes me feel better. I feel important and worthwhile; I feel like I matter, and while the point isn’t what I do for myself (i.e. lipstick versus no lipstick), it's that I choose to do anything for myself — that I spend time on myself.
And more than being about lipstick, that's what this experiment brought about in me: It served as a reminder to take care of myself. It became a catalyst — the catalyst — I needed to feel good about myself, to feel like more than a mother but a woman, and it helped me break out of my shell. (I'm still a wallflower, but it helped me take a step forward. It made me feel OK with being seen.)
So today I’ll brush my hair and put on earrings. I’ll eat an actual breakfast and maybe treat myself to an iced coffee. But don’t worry: I will never ever wear “ravish me red” again before sundown.
Images: Kimberly Zapata (5)