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memoir: lippy


I hate to say it, but I only started wearing lipstick last year. I was, up until that point a staunch lip-gloss person. And before that, I had what I’d call my wilderness years, where the occasional slick of Vaseline would suffice.

Moving from using lip-gloss to embracing lipstick felt like a jump: an initiation into Being A Woman.

Leaving behind Cherries in the Glow and my bubblegum-scented teenage years, I entered a previously unlocked realm, containing high heels, perfume strong enough to anaesthetise a horse, and the idea of Power Dressing. I now own at least one shirt than can identify itself as a blouse, I didn’t fall over at my sister’s wedding whilst dancing in a circle to a drum beat, and I am now devoted to lipstick.

Lippy, where was I without you? Bright orange for cheering my face up when I’m sick; candy pink to match my nails in spring, and sultry red for evenings. I’m yet to try browns, blacks or plums, but it’s only a matter of time.

As devoted as I am to it now, I only began wearing lipstick when I went on a trip to Morocco last year.

People go to Morocco for many reasons. For Keith Richards and those of his ilk, it was to chase the chemical dream. For fashion designers, a stay in a riad furnishes ideas for endless “boho” runway collections that are essentially just peasant skirts made into other items of clothing. I often end up there visiting family when I’m at a loose end.

On my last trip over, I was made aware of several ugly truths. The main one sticking in my craw is that, as you’d expect from a developing country, women often get a rough deal. Your rapist can marry you to escape conviction, and child labour is rampant. I felt privileged to be the citizen of another country, with my family around to shield me from the more depraved and deprived elements. But as I moved about, even in large cities, I came across one strict edict that was unwritten, but still observed: women don’t wear lipstick. It’s a bit, well, whorey. (On that note: women are supposedly not meant to drink openly from bottles in the street either, but I will leave other minds to untangle that unsavoury Freudian nightmare).

It took me a while to register the idea of no lipstick, satisfied as I was by lip balm. There were far more pressing concerns for my soft, gormless self to adjust to. ‘No bathtubs!’ I’d yell. ‘How can I go on without a bubble bath? Or central heating? Why can’t I find chocolate mousse? Why is the washing machine in the kitchen?’

The idea of not wearing lipstick does itself rank fairly low in the list of Life Concerns troubling the country’s poor and homeless. A tube of Nars’ Jungle Red is probably not on the shopping list of people struggling to pay an electricity bill. Those demonstrating against the high rates of unemployment have more salient worries to consider. And lipstick it is certainly not on the mind of a teenage rape victim, when her rapist can marry her to escape conviction.

But for me, with time to think about decadent Western things, some thought was given to this unwritten Lipstick Law as a symbol of patriarchy’s iron fist. Wearing lipstick there is something scandalous and “slutty.”

I was hissed at by my parents to wipe it off. I was forbidden to do what a lazy, sleep-loving sloth like me does constantly at home, which is to fix my makeup in the street. Sometimes, when the snooze button and I are at war in the mornings, I’m so late that I do my makeup on the train.

So my hackles immediately went up and I decided to wear lipstick and test the reactions to it. I had an internship for two weeks and had to take public transport by myself. I enjoyed the brisk walk every morning and evening. But what I did not enjoy was the staring, leering, and whispering that was directed my way by men.

When I wore lipstick, in addition to my regular daily face, I was stared at as though I was the Second Coming, or an alien. Or an alien Second Coming. Men and boys slithered past me in crowds and whispered suggestively. At one point I was so incensed I swore to myself that if another bucket-headed, pleather-sporting degenerate gave me a quick Three-Second Ogle and said ‘Ça va?’ invitingly, I would administer such a heavy kick to the groin that generations of his putrid spawn would be born crooked.

It’s fair to state here that if the Objectification Olympics existed, Morocco would be on the medal leader-board, competing with several of its neighbours for the top spot. Women are inferior in so many ways, and a woman out and about is like a moving cinema for the filthy-minded and repressed individuals who make up a large number of the population (or at least, who inhabit the streets with their eyes out on stalks). Lipstick or no lipstick, you get looked at. But with it on (in different shades), the staring becomes more insidious, and sometimes I definitely felt unsafe.

But because I am a rebel who cannot be tamed, I wore it anyway. I made the resolute decision that lipstick was for me. And it was. I worked in an office where I was the only girl, but had no trouble from the lovely gentlemen who were my temporary colleagues. Sometimes even if I spent the day at home, with nothing but a mirror and a laptop for company, I put it on. Lady Danger can make you feel like a dangerous lady even when you have the flu.

Lipstick made me feel good about myself. While I am still a baby at it, and feel panic at the idea of lipliner, that’s why I still wear it now: it is one of the nice accoutrements of being a lady (and if you are a man who enjoys wearing it too, then more power to you). It might not shatter a glass ceiling and it delivers more of a timid sneeze than a middle finger to male-dominated society, but it looks pretty and hurts no-one. Which is more than can be said for many men.

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