Scarlet Fever

To those that know me or my writing, this post will come as no surprise. But today, to fight the morning blues, to beat away all negative energy, to empower myself and boost my confidence… Today, ladies and gentlemen, I am wearing red lipstick. And to honor the occasion (and perhaps to explain why this is so epically awesome and a big deal), here is the essay that started it all:

The Red Badge of Courage

Visualize a “power woman.” A sleek and classic leather bag hanging loosely from her shoulder; four-inch high, sturdy designer stilettos strangling her feet; a ridiculously stylish and sexy outfit—most likely a mod pantsuit—accentuating her feminine curves; classy, natural hair gently gathered at the nape of her neck or falling over her shoulders; and simple, natural makeup highlighting her strong cheekbones and long eyelashes. Ah, but don’t forget the one necessity: bold, beautiful, va-va-voom red lipstick. Oh, the lipstick! The scarlet magic wand that takes a woman from blah to AH-HA! What is it about red lipstick that is so classic and sexy? So quintessentially feminine and beautiful? Red is confidence, passion, lust, power, beauty, maturity. And what woman wouldn’t want to wear such characteristics prominently on her lips or plaster them all over perfume-sprayed envelopes, overlapping the “S.W.A.K.” written beside?


Beeswax, Candelilla wax, Carmine, coloring, iron oxides, lanolin, and petrolatum: some ingredients are harmful and some can cause allergic reactions. So what would compel a woman to paste them all over her pucker? Well, money, attention, confidence, power, and sex for starters. Simply put, red lipstick makes a woman feel sexy. She can be whoever or whatever she wants to be. Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, Judy Garland—who stylishly paired her ruby lips with matching shoes, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Julia Roberts, Jessica Alba, Gwen Stefani, and Katy Perry all characteristically wear red lipstick (or, in Katy Perry’s case, cherry chapstick). They are all classic beauties possessing panache, talent, etiquette. And maturity. Because there’s something about red lipstick that signifies the transition from girlhood to womanhood.


See, lipstick very much relates to underwear. From the time they are born until their “tween” years, girls wear simple underwear that does the job. Diapers, training pants, and, of course, the simple pink cotton panties with the bow on the front. These are the chapstick and BonneBell years. They are years of simplicity and innocence when looks are genetic and legs unshaven. Then, girls cautiously venture into the early teen years, maybe try a new, more risqué, underwear style or color, still too naive to wonder why their underwear is missing its butt cheeks. They might venture to shave their legs, brush their hair, or wear training bras. Ah, yes, the teeny-bopper years of shopping at Claire’s and wearing sticky, super glue-esque glitter lipgloss, constantly reapplied before breaks and lunch so as to attract that special “sk8er boi’s” attention.


And then comes a day of bloody underwear and everything changes. A woman’s puberty marks her womanhood, her independence. It is a small, private, Red Badge of Courage that signals her readiness to wear a more prominently displayed, public, red badge of courage.


The first time a woman tries on red lipstick, it comes as a shock, even to the wearer herself. Welcomed into a new sisterhood, she often rebels and tries to cling to the glitter glue of old days. But eventually the time comes when she feels comfortable enough with herself to display her confidence and sexuality in public. By that time, her top drawer is filled with a different kind of underwear, underwear foreign to the girl from the BonneBell years. Black and red and see-through things—all that effortlessly match the ever-present red lipstick. And from that point, she never goes back. Even old ladies who sport no other makeup wear red lipstick. Their drawers may not be filled with sexy lingerie, but at that point, it no longer matters. They’ve earned their place in the sisterhood and their right to wear red. It is their femininity, their womanhood, and it can’t be taken away.


Like a varsity jacket or a sorority pin, red lipstick is a manifestation of acceptance into the Sisterhood of Femininity. The BonneBell key chains and Claire’s Club cards are tossed aside to be replaced by copies of Cosmo and Vanity Fair, couture dresses and four-inch heels. Red lipstick is a coming of age and an acceptance of the loss of innocence. It is power, class, confidence, sexiness, and womanhood. Always womanhood.


The above essay was written in September 2008, when I was 16. I’ve been wearing red ever since.


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