Put on a Little Lipstick

As a twenty something recent college graduate back in the mid 1990s, I wore my feminism and my Mary Tyler Moore "You're Gonna Make it After All" mantra every day. I just didn't wear any lipstick.
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As I was rushing to head out the door to my dream job interview with the magazine company -- the same company that published all those magazines I had read my whole life, something made me pick up the ringing phone in my apartment. It was my 88-year-old grandfather calling to wish me luck on the interview.

"Thanks," I said. "I love you, but I have to go. I'll call you later"

"OK, Rach," he replied "But be sure to put on a little lipstick" he added and with that hung up the phone.

I smiled and giggled to myself, ran back into my bedroom in my very first New York City apartment that I shared with my very own three roommates, grabbed my barely used Mac Twig lipstick from on top of my Pier 1 wicker dresser and did the best I could to apply the dark pink/brownish lipstick with a slight satin finish on to my naked lips. I looked in the mirror, felt a bit like a clown posing as a grownup and was out the door, down the elevator, off to midtown and to the interview.

I nailed the interview, got the job and loved working at the magazine company for many years. Eventually, I left the job and New York City to go to graduate school in the Midwest where I'd live with naked lips for several more years.

The grandfather lipstick advice story became a little famous in my family and circle of friends. I very quickly recognized that my grandfather was probably one of the few people in the world (and probably the only man alive) who could give me that advice without sounding completely sexist and offensive. Common sense rules did not apply to him; a well-respected retired doctor and snappy dresser who wore a bow tie and sport jacket nearly every day of his life. He was also, I believed, my biggest cheerleader. He could dish out the lipstick advice and I could choose to take it -- or not.

As a twenty something recent college graduate back in the mid 1990s, I wore my feminism and my Mary Tyler Moore "You're Gonna Make it After All" mantra every day. I just didn't wear any lipstick.

I wasn't trying to be some kind of non-makeup wearing martyr or anything like that. In fact, it was quite the opposite. I always loved fashion, read the magazines (many of the same ones I worked on), was up on the trends and often followed them. I wore eye makeup to help make my almond shaped, blue eyes look a bit brighter and blush to help add some rosiness to my pale freckled cheeks. I subscribed to the belief that you should wear makeup to make yourself look like yourself -- only better and also like you are not really wearing makeup at all. To me at least that meant no lipstick.

Lipstick -- that was for another generation, or maybe another kind of woman like my mother, who never left the house without her Estee Lauder coral lipstick perfectly placed on her perfectly pursed lips. That particular shade is forever etched in my mind as it managed to find its way onto my cheeks, onto my mother's half drunk glasses of iced tea and onto tissues strewn on top of the kitchen garbage can. Lipstick just kind of went with her and her bright, cheery and grownup face. She often re-applied her lipstick throughout the day most especially after a meal while still sitting at the table blotting her lips on the napkin (even linen napkins in restaurants) leaving her signature lipstick kiss behind for the waiter to clear her place.

It was my mother in fact who bought that Mac lipstick for me shortly after I had graduated from college. She seemed pleased that I showed an interest in that particular shade as we passed by the cosmetics counter one day while shopping in one of our favorite stores. The Mac Twig seemed fairly muted and harmless to me. I conceded to the fact that a little lipstick wouldn't kill me.

So I wore the Mac Twig on occasion -- like for a fancy dinner party or out on a date, and yes on that early morning job interview at the magazine company. Still I had my own little rules. I never ever re-applied, and in most instances, I wiped some of it off while en route to wherever I was going.

When I got married, the lipstick (a slightly brighter shade made by Trish McEvoy) made it down the aisle with me but not out on the dance floor later that evening. I almost never wore lipstick after I had my babies as I played the role of the harried young working mom whose own mother became sick much too young. I remember feeling accomplished on the days when I managed to apply some sort of lip balm and pull my hair back just so. I did wear lipstick to my grandfather's and then my mother's funeral out of respect for each of them and perhaps because I felt like it was the grownup thing to do.

Over the years, I always meant to apply some kind of lipstick as I followed those magazine trends and acquired lip pencils, stains and glosses, but those products rarely saw life beyond my dresser (now antique wooden having upgraded from the old Pier 1 wicker one.) But the lipstick just never felt like me and the life I was living -- raising kids, working, doing my best to be a good wife, mother and friend. I was more than content with the roles that I played in my lipstick-less life.

These days it seems I can go for hours on end without seeing another human being in my role as freelance writer as I sit in solitude at my computer day after day. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of my dark screen saver during a moment of writer's block or simply a pause. There is no one more surprised than me to see the middle aged women staring back at the screen almost always wearing lipstick.

I'm not sure when applying lipstick everyday became a thing for me. A few years ago, I cleaned out the expired barely used shades and glosses from a top my dresser replacing them with new ones that I finally felt comfortable in.

I think about my grandfather a lot now and of course my mother too. I think he'd be pleased to see that I finally took his advice and she'd be happy to know that I followed her lead.

I'm not sure exactly what happened that caused this seismic shift on my lips. It's like my face grew up and finally looked legit enough for lipstick. Or maybe it was me? I was the one that finally grew up.

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