I’m thinking about wearing lipstick today.
I pause and wait for my best friend’s response. It’s mid-morning and I need to get dressed within the next hour and head out for a therapy appointment. I am not in good headspace this particular morning, and I just want to go back to bed and sleep the rest of the day away. My phone chimes, and I read the response.
I scoff. I don’t wear red lipstick.
You should. I want you to buy some.
Um….no. I can’t wear red lipstick. I can feel my heart rate accelerating slightly as I send the text.
No, really you can. 😉
I stare at her response for a moment, not sure how to respond. A spike of anxiety has my mouth going dry. I won’t wear red lipstick. I can’t.
And I have no idea why.
I finally respond. I’ll think about it. Off to therapy now.
Later, in the therapist’s waiting room, I go back and review the conversation. My heart-rate accelerates again and I feel a worm of discomfort turn my stomach. I toss my phone into my shoulder bag and by the time I’m called into the office my nausea has only just started to recede.
“How are you?” Victoria asks.
“Okay,” I answer. I sound distracted in my own ears, and I can tell she sees it. I’ve been seeing her for nearly a year and a half, and I’ve only just admitted in the last month that I’m suffering from a severe depression. It took her nearly a year to convince me that medication would help. I’m still trying to convince myself that having a mental illness isn’t something to be ashamed of. But this woman is good for me…she’s the best therapist I’ve ever had, and I trust her like I have no other.
“What are you thinking about?” she prods.
“Lipstick.” My eyes go wide as I say the word, but I realize it’s the truth. I can’t stop thinking about the red lipstick.
I nod, and I explain about the conversation I had with my friend before I left the house.
“Why do you think you can’t wear it?”
“Because people like me don’t wear red lipstick.”
“People like you?”
I swallow hard, because I realize in that moment that earlier, when I thought I didn’t know the “why” of it, I’d been lying to myself.
“Yeah, red lipstick only belongs on rock stars and movie queens. I’m not a rock star. I’m not a movie star…” My voice trails off and the lump in my throat is so large I can barely swallow now.
“And?” she prompts.
“I’m overweight. I’m not allowed to wear that kind of thing.”
I start to cry.
“You know that’s not true, right?” she asks, gently. She hands me a Kleenex.
“Yeah, I know.” I use the tissue to wipe the tears from my cheeks. “I know that in my head…but it’s hard for me to believe otherwise when all I ever heard from my mother and my grandmother was ‘We’re overweight. We shouldn’t wear things that bring attention to us.’ Like, we didn’t have a right to be seen or heard just because we didn’t fit into a size 10 dress. I always felt like I wasn’t allowed to feel pretty, like I was being punished for just being who I was. It was ingrained into me and became part of my internal dialogue, and after forty some years, it’s really fucking hard to change that, you know?”
“Yes,” Victoria replies. “So, what do you think will happen if you do wear red lipstick?”
“I’m not sure I can,” I answer quietly. “I don’t feel like I’m allowed to draw attention to myself like that. I don’t know that I’m even worthy of that kind of attention.” I make a frustrated noise and more tears well in my eyes. In my head I know the words I have just spoken are complete and utter bullshit, but I still believe them.
“You are worthy,” Victoria assures me. “You can wear red lipstick if you want to, and regardless of what you might think, the world will not end.”
I laugh a little. “Yeah, I suppose not.”
“So, do you think that this week you can maybe just buy the lipstick? You don’t have to wear it right away, but just buy it, and have it on hand.”
“I think I can do that.”
I end up doing it on my way home from the appointment. I stop at the Walgreens just down the street and buy a tube of Revlon Cherry Blossom. I take it home. I stare at it in my hands for nearly half an hour before I realize that I need to wear it, because it will empower me. It will be a first step in overcoming all the stupid bullshit that my mother and society made me believe about myself when I was just a child. Beliefs that I am still carrying around with me.
Three weeks later I find myself applying bright red to my lips in the rearview mirror. I’m parked in the church lot, and service is due to start in half an hour. My church community is a safe space. I know no one will tear me down here. Still, I sit there for nearly ten more minutes, fretting, before I get out of the car and head for the entrance.
By the end of service enough people have mentioned how good the color is on me that I’m actually starting to believe it.
I wear red lipstick. The world does not end.