Monday, July 20, 2015

The role of lipstick in liberating women's freedom of expression

[As published on HERE]
I’ve always thought that lipstick is a woman’s extension of her personality. While it wasn’t considered fashionable to wear bright lipstick in the 1990s and early 2000s, statement lips have come full circle since Elizabeth Taylor’s signature red lips caught attention in the 1960s.
Ten years ago, if you wore eye-catching lip colours, you were putting yourself at risk of being called a ‘tramp’ or an ‘attention-grabber’ (the writer has chosen to use ‘grabber’ as a more polite word in place of another derogatory term that starts with ‘W’).
Let’s do a quick test: how many lipstick-wearing celebs can you name off the top of your head?
  1. Gwen Stefani
  2. Dita Von Teese
  3. Taylor Swift
  4. Rita Ora
  5. Miranda Sings
And that’s just skimming the surface.
I mean, Taylor Swift just isn’t Taylor Swift without her signature red lips. And Miranda Sings is practically unrecognisable without lipstick. So is Rita Ora.
(Side note: Miranda Sings is a fictional character made popular by YouTube personality Colleen Ballinger. Often delusional and bordering on annoyingly bossy, Miranda is known for her over-the-top red lipstick and cover versions of popular songs.)
But now, with the emancipation of feminism, made even stronger by recent pro-female movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s no longer taboo for women to be different. And by different, I mean being able to indulge in self-expression without worrying about social backlash.
When I was young, lipsticks only came in a very limited selection of colours like pink, orange, nude, red and burgundy. The ‘frosted’ look was in, and boy, was it hideous on Asian skin tones. (I know first-hand because I stole my mom’s lipstick.) Growing up, I’d never seen my mom (or any other woman) wear bright red lipstick. Everyone’s lip colour was safe and predictable. The general consensus was to exist without drawing unnecessary attention to yourself. Red lipstick was strictly reserved for special occasions only, such as weddings, evening dinners and maybe Chinese New Year.
I remember the first time I wore red lipstick. I was probably 23, fresh out of university and feeling all grown-up. I felt so self-conscious the moment I slicked on that bright shade of cherry-red. When I stepped out, I could literally feel everyone’s eyes boring into my soul, judging me for wearing red lipstick. It felt so scandalous, and I loved it.
Looking back, I now realise that all the judgemental looks I received (ok, maybe a few were sincerely judgemental) were all parts of my imagination. As women, we’ve been conditioned to try and blend in as much as possible, so that we don’t attract attention. In fact, most major decision-making dilemmas in life can be likened to that very first time you step out wearing ‘scandalous’ lipstick.
You’re in a public place, wearing a lipstick shade so bright, you could probably blind the person next to you if they looked straight at you. People are staring, and not necessarily in a good way. What do you do?
A)     Sneak to a corner as inconspicuously as possible and try your best to remove the lipstick. Pretend like it never happened and carry on.
B)     Apply a fresh coat of lipstick, hold your head high and ignore everyone else. Make sure nobody dares to question your colour choice.
When it comes to taking a stand for what we believe in, sometimes there will be people who want to judge and comment, even though what you do has no relation whatsoever with their lives. At this point, you can either cave in to pressure or toughen up and ‘be a man’. The correct path for you might not be suitable for everyone, but if you believe that you can make a difference in your own life, it’s time to do something about it.
One of the best examples in pop culture is Miley Cyrus. Transitioning from squeaky-clean Hannah Montana to hippie chick Miley wasn’t easy, but she hung in there without falling prey to naysayers who gave her the evil eye for swinging nude on a wrecking ball. Despite the negativity surrounding her personal life and weed-related pastimes, she’s managed to emerge unscathed, and is now making her mark in the world with her non-profit organisation, Happy Hippie Foundation, which aims to fight injustice faced by homeless youth, LGBT youth and other vulnerable populations. The same cannot be said for the self-righteous internet trolls who sit in the safe confines of their bedrooms and type trash comments, condemning everyone but themselves.
My point is, Miley is the equivalent of that eye-blinding bright fuchsia lipstick that nobody dared to wear at first, but fell in love with after one try.
Had it not been for other women who have dared to wear lipstick in all sorts of colours (thank you, brave women of the world who aren’t afraid to rock a Lime Crime lippie), we would all still be stuck at ‘frosted lipstick’.


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