By Emily Smibert
Every Friday night as a child my brother and I would stay over at my grandparents’ house, and every Friday night, five minutes before my grandfather would come home after work and walk through the front door at 5:15 to take us out for dinner, I’d stand with my grandmother, my chin barely above the ledge of the long deep mahogany vanity, and watch her get ready. I’d study how she’d carefully apply her lipstick, blot her lips, and powder her nose. How she’d spritz one pump of Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew perfume on the nape of her neck, reach for my hand and give it a squeeze while winking at me in the mirror. To me, she was the pinnacle of elegance, grace, and everything I’d long to be.
I can recall sneaking into the bedroom before her to go through the top right drawer, unwrap a stick of pink Trident bubblegum from the pack always ‘hiding’ in there and examine each tube one-by-one, mentally cataloging them while blowing bubbles. Magentas, pinks, beiges, burgundies, and dusty rose after dusty rose, I’d line them up on the seam of the cream crocheted vanity runner, the scents of roses, honeydew, musty Kleenex, and bubblemint swirling from the drawer into what would become the definitive scent of my childhood. I loved that room.
Every holiday and birthday, or sometimes ‘just because,’ I’d be gifted her “free with purchase” mini makeup pouch, filled with whatever samples and goodies the lady at the beauty counter had given her. I still have them all, and if I looked hard enough, I bet there are a few tubes of dusty rose from those early days in my old bathroom drawer at my parents’ house.
In a way, lipstick has always echoed my life in some way or another. From those early days where friendships were formed over collections of smell-so-good-you-could-eat-them Lipsmackers, to first kisses shared while wearing marshmallow-scented angel wing pink sticky lipgloss, when I subconsciously switched to lip balm throughout the duration of my darkest days battling depression, to the signature matte dark burgundy I wear today, lipstick has always been with me.
I think to some extent, my journey with lipstick and life always complemented one another. That perhaps, finding my perfect shade has been in some way transcendent to me finding myself, and becoming the woman I am today.
What began as dipping my toe into MAC’s signature shade of magenta, ironically and wonderfully named ‘rebel,’ for a night out to celebrate a friend’s birthday the summer I interned at a magazine in New York, acted as a catalyst for my sense of self both internally and externally. Somewhere along the way, I gained the confidence to delve into deeper colours, just as that summer signified the start of my editorial career and how through hard work and perseverance, I find myself today a managing editor at a nationally circulated magazine in Toronto, Canada.
Lipstick has always been with me.
Even now, 20 years later, my grandmother’s bedroom still smells of roses and honeydew. And though the tubes may be fewer, the colors less vibrant, and seemingly less used, I still rummage through her top right drawer for a touch-up or quick glide of color whenever I’m in my hometown and stopping in for a visit. I still blot my lips with whatever wrinkled and pilling tissue she’s been using and left there, and give myself a wink.
My grandmother taught me to love myself first, to choose to find the confidence to present myself to a world that isn’t always nice in whatever manner I choose with grace and dignity, and for myself and not for the approval of others. And for that, I will always be grateful.