I’m Starting To Wear Lipstick

I’ve recently begun behaving like a woman. Until now, I’ve watched football and worn sweatpants to bars and I don’t fix my hair and when boys make crass jokes I have crass comebacks on the ready.

But lately, just in the past year perhaps, I’m becoming a woman. I do things I once shunned. I saw women in their mid-twenties who had cats and drank red wine and wore lipstick and took bubble baths as at fault for their womanness. The world doesn’t take those people seriously, I told myself. If you want to be taken seriously, you do not listen to Sarah McLachlan.

Here’s the thing, though: Sarah McLachlan is great. So are bubble baths, and just the other night I put on the reddest red lipstick ever, poured myself a glass of wine and watched Practical Magic. That’s a Sandra Bullock movie, in case you didn’t know, and dammit, it’s good.

(Originally I wrote that the movie was “good fun,” because no one wants to make the case that a movie about sister witches who find true love and break a curse that kills their husbands is a good movie. I’m giving this up.)

I’ve never dated a man who liked lipstick. I have a fascination with it, even in all my un-girliness. I keep trying to wear it, and it keeps not working out. But this time will be different, I’m telling myself. I wore lipstick to work today. Pink lipstick. Like Betty Draper. If Betty kisses Don and gets lipstick on him, he doesn’t get upset. I want to date a man like Don. Real men don’t mind lipstick, I’ve decided.

I’m listening to chick music as I write this. I remember telling my friend Lesley Anne that her taste in music is what was depressing her. It’s all those wretched women, heartbroken and pathetic, singing about their pathetic heartbreak, I told her. How could listening to that make anyone feel good?

But it does! Those women, the ones in the chick bands and chick flicks and chick lit, those are the product of something real. A woman sat down in front of some recording medium, opened a vein and bled for us. Their voices tremble, and they mean it.

It’s not about feeling depressed, then. It’s not even really about what the songs are saying. It’s about finding my tribe. Those women feel things, really feel them, and they put it into words. They write songs about loving a man who doesn’t love you back. They write, and then it belongs to them and you can’t see it your way anymore.

It’s not an easy thing to do, this writing. Nora Ephron gave birth to a child and two months later found out her husband was cheating on her with her friend. That woman, Nora, the one that happened to, wrote one of the best love stories in modern times. She wrote funny essays about moving back to New York City after leaving him. She wrote about purses.

The point is that she kept living, and that she didn’t try to hide her pain. She felt it, she wrote it into stories, she made it funny, and she made money off of it. She donated it to us, so we could consume it and talk about it and feel it, too.

Until this new phase kicked in, the question I’d always asked is, why can’t a woman watch sports and drink beer and be crass? Who are men to have sole dominion in the world of sweat and muscle and loud crowing?

Lately, that question has changed. Now it’s something more like, what’s so wrong with lipstick, anyway? Why can’t I like to sit and watch romantic comedies? What’s wrong with taking time to get ready, and maybe wearing a dress?

It’s new territory, and for some reason I feel like it’s opening up my world. No longer must I disavow womanhood, or whatever that is, in favor of something I think is perceived by others to be less weak.

Is that the problem? Is being a woman equal to being vulnerable and weak? Because that’s not so. Melissa Etheridge can scream out in pain on a song, but it doesn’t mean she’s pathetic. She’s strong because she took that time you broke up with her, wrote it down, played her guitar and made a million bucks off of it. I wish I’d made a million bucks off every break-up. Jeez.

Being a woman makes me want other things, too. I tend to date the friend, you know? I meet some people, we are all friends, one of the friends starts to stand out, and then we date. He doesn’t open doors, he doesn’t buy me flowers. When we go on dates, it’s really just us going out with the group of friends, like in middle school.

But now? Now, I want more. I want a man. A tall man. A man who takes care of himself. A man I can respect. A man who does the things they do in the movies. The big gesture. Lloyd Dobler standing outside my window with a boombox over his head.

I want to be pretty. No, not pretty – lovely. I want to walk into a room and command attention, even if only for a moment. I don’t want to stand against the wall and wait for someone to ask me to dance. I want to know how to dress myself well – not like a girl, but like a woman.

I want to be successful. Not because I was pushy, playing at a man’s game in a roomful of men, but because I am me and I’m good at what I do. I want to be the best at it, which means I have to work hard, and I do.

I want to have adventures. I want to go to all the places I dreamed about going, and see things, and taste things, and throw rocks into the oceans. I want to fly in planes and walk through cities and buy the wrong street food and really get the experience.

“I want the fairy tale,” Vivian says in Pretty Woman, and the woman I’ve been hiding in my head whispers, “Me too.”

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One Comment on “I’m Starting To Wear Lipstick”

  1. lesley says:

    Clearly I was on to something all those years ago with Sarah McLachlan…I enjoyed this 🙂


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