Lipstick I love. I love the nice little shiny tube it comes in and the way it smells. I like the greasy feel of it on your lips (something which sounds terrible). I like getting the colouring in just right and then smacking my lips at myself in the mirror. I put a little bit on my finger and use it as makeshift blush and any leftovers I use to slick back flyaway hairs (this was not a technique I learned in any women’s magazine but it works).
Sometimes when I am at home by myself I put lipstick on just for fun. Putting on lipstick before a job interview, or a first date or even just on one of those days where I feel like just leaving the house might be impossible, makes me feel like I can do anything! (I feel, just a little, like those American footballers who smear black paint under their eyes before the game, ready to win!)
I realise that for many people, being “femme” is complicated by very serious issues, that it and its gatekeepers are mentally and physically dangerous. Many trans people are confronted by violence from (formally recognised or self-appointed) gatekeepers when they perform or embody their gender identity. For me, a straight, cis gendered, white girl growing up in Australia, it was just insecurity – assisted by high school bullies – that complicated my relationship with being femme, with what being a girl or a woman meant. As a teenager I strongly believed that you only got to wear short skirts, low tops and “girly” shoes if you were hot and popular. I was neither.
My boobs weren’t big enough, my hips weren’t curvy enough, my hair wasn’t straight enough. I talked too much in class and not enough the rest of the time. In general I wasn’t enough. Boys at my school firmly believed that the worst thing you could call a girl was a lesbian and it was clear that that was the opposite of feminine. Gender lines were very fiercely guarded. In grade 9 I bought a backpack for school, it was grey and purple. One of the popular boys recognized that it came from the “boys” side of the overpriced surf shop in town. I remember being deeply mortified by this knowledge, blushing furiously with embarrassment.
So when my mum taught me about makeup it was a little bit scary, because I kind of felt like I wasn’t really allowed to wear it. I remember that every time she helped me with my makeup I would blot most of the lipstick off. When I think about makeup I always think about my mother. She still hasn’t given me the advanced lessons (eyeshadow, how does it work!?) but she taught me about lipstick.
I have a very strong memory (not just one either, memory on top of memory) of what my mother would smell like as she kissed me goodbye, leaving me with a babysitter when I was a child. There would be a quick whiff of perfume and then smacking lipsticked lips against my cheek, a jangle of jewelry. It is at least partly because of her that I have never bought a tube of lipstick. My mother would (and still does, when I go home) invariably have some lying around that she had deemed “not a colour that really does anything for me” and which she will happily pass along. (My mother does this with other things, tshirts and belts and scarfs, to such a degree that I suspect she is just covertly buying me stuff, but I see no reason to object).
These days most of my skirts are short, I still don’t wear high heels, but only because they hurt my feet when I do, I think my hair is pretty great (and my boobs too!) and as I said at the start I love a good coat of lippy, but I still can’t bring myself to buy my own fucking lipstick. The reason for this? To me there is probably nothing as terrifying as the makeup counters in department stores. Do you know what I mean? They always seem overly warm so that your face will immediately go pink and your fingers clammy upon entering their white and pungent depths. I think they put something in the air that makes your hair messy. And EVERYTHING is reflective, so you bet you are going to see your pink, sweaty face and flyaway hair.
The floors are always slippery, to give an extra hint of danger. And the people, the people who work there! The women always seem perfectly perfect. They don’t just have hair (like me) they have hairSTYLES, and God do they know how to use eyeliner. I know, it is completely unproductive to judge myself against other women. The world is not divided into girls who like reading and those who like makeup (for a few years in high school I was pretty sure it was, but it turns out I didn’t know everything then).
But the cosmetics section of David Jones makes me forget that. I posses everything I need to march up to that counter and buy that tube of “Burning Sunset” Loreal lipstick, but I suddenly feel like the money in my pocket is useless here, I don’t know the right words, I am probably not even WALKING right… Am I alone in feeling this way? Should I just give up and buy lipstick online? Won’t you hold my hand while I buy lipstick at a department store? (To be sung to the tune of this)