Adventures in the Lipstick Jungle

I never got the hang of most makeup. Eyeliner remains largely a mystery to me. I can’t put on eyeshadow without looking like I have suffered severe bruising. I don’t get my eyebrows waxed or plucked or whatever it is other people do (I’ve heard threading is a thing?). I don’t wear or own perfume. The most makeup I ever wear is tinted moisturiser, mascara when I’m feeling particularly fancy and lipstick.

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)


7 Comments on Adventures in the Lipstick Jungle

  1. Your Blogger says:

    Totally agree with that last bit. It reminds me of when Mr Bean tried to get through the perfume section of some department store once. That’s pretty much how feel each time I walk into Myer or whatever. Those places smell like the chemistry labs from first year.

    Also important: I never noticed how much Mr Bean sucks.

  2. Rachael Rachael says:

    You know, I feel the opposite about lipstick and makeup and socially-coded-feminine clothing. I feel very, very vulnerable when I dress and present in an a way that I know others will interpret as more feminine. For example, I love wearing heels but I have to feel pretty safe and confident to feel comfortable in them.

    When I feel insecure, I find that I then choose to dress in a more “masculine” way, wearing pants and preppy jerseys or blazers (although I never look very masculine because of my body’s shape, it’s about the presentation for me).

    Actually I hear a lot more women saying that they feel the way you do about lipstick and feminine accoutrements, so I think I am in a minority here.

  3. Clare says:

    I totally agree with the last part! I’m the only one in my group of friends who doesn’t wear make-up or whatever it is women are supposed to do with their eyebrows, so whenever I walk through the makeup section with my friends, I feel inferior to the people working there and to my friends. Like, oh God, don’t touch anything, you’ll knock it down, look normal, oops you broke that eye contact too soon. Funny in hindsight, but so awkward at the time.

  4. Connie Connie says:

    I read somewhere that the expectation of women to perform femininity is not just the performance, but also that the performance needs to seem like a natural state. As if wearing makeup and knowing how to apply and buy it is genetically coded or something. I’ve always found it weird that people automatically expect me to know this stuff.

  5. Claire says:

    Are you me? I never graduated past the “foundation, lipgloss (sadly not pro enough for lipstick), mascara” ensemble. One day, I’d like to learn how to do eyeliner, but there is something seriously unnerving about trying to colour in the edge of my eyelid with a pencil.

    I’m lucky in that I got labelled “weird” from a very young age, and so I got to opt out of a lot of the crap that goes with high school, but still, part of me wishes I’d taken advantage of the six year intensive course in BEING A GIRL. There are things that my 22 year old self would now like to know, but I don’t know where to start, and I gave away my Dolly collection long ago.

    And do not get me started on department stores. Great post!

    • Caphesuada Caphesuada says:

      Thanks! I feel like it’s hard to learn about this stuff because you feel like you already SHOULD know. Maybe I would look awesome with eyeliner and will never find out! (Tragedy :P)But I’m going to try and be braver in the future and find out… maybe!


Leave a Reply

0 Pingbacks/Trackbacks }