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How To Speak Truth To Power With Come-Hither Hues Of Fuck You

The color, the formulation, the sensory memory of application and wear, the ritual procedure and experience of lipsticks serves both to cement and evoke memory.

Today, let’s talk about lipstick. Lipstick and 2016.

I entered 2016 at a low, looow point, though you’d never know it to look at me. When it comes to looking good, I know my shit.

Sometimes looking good helps, even when you’re dealing with serious stuff. Lipstick is a powerful tool: a shield, a summoning, a relatively easy-to-apply armor!

I spent the latter half of high school in the early 2000s so devoted to a vivid red that, when I returned to attend a football game post-graduation, a former classmate failed to recognize me in a different shade. In the spectrum-straying decade since I’ve become fascinated with tracking my lipstick preferences, looking to past selfies as hindsight-enabled investigative emotional divining agents. The color, the formulation, the sensory memory of application and wear, the ritual procedure and experience of lipsticks serves both to cement and evoke memory.

Plus, the act of slappin’ on mouthpaint most often occurs — even only if briefly! — in a moment of rare, socially-sanctioned *particularly* self-focused feminine contemplation. I get a lot of thinking done in the few seconds it takes me to smear on some lip goop, is what I’m trying to say, though, as with the creation of artwork, it often takes me months or more to understand and articulate the precise shape of those thoughts.

Lipstick-reading doesn’t always make sense, of course. It’s impossible to practice on other people, being entirely subjective and dependent on interiority. When deployed on oneself, however, it often makes TOO MUCH sense, and I just can’t fathom why I couldn’t understand what I was trying to tell myself at the time. (Yes, non-lipstick people, I know this is dumb and there are thousands of better ways I could spend my time, but I require a fluctuating minimum amount of frivolity in order to function optimally. In order to respond to cosmetic-focused disdain appropriately, I must borrow from the preferred parlance of my elementary school years: BITE ME.)

I soldiered through early spring of ’16 in two shades of grey and gray. Hold it in, keep it on, move it forward! You got this, Culp.

Spring Proper was a continual vacillation between red and nude, followed by return to gray when the weather grew uncomfortably hot.

The breaking periods, the liminal spaces: those are almost always bare-lipped. Not by design — too on-the-nose, right?? I just can’t stand the feeling of anything but chapstick when I’m in that headspace. My hair faded.

In May I had to pull my own bullshit together so I could help out a friend in need. It was a red and purple month: red and purple, purple and red, crimson and aubergine, most often at the same time.

The red faded out in June, when I bought myself a vivid violet matte lip cream as a reward for taking myself to the doctor to get some much-needed healthcare. Therapy lipstick!

Mid-summer was hot and pink.

Everybody in the United States has to wear red lipstick on the 4th of July. It’s in the Constitution or something.

August in East Tennessee is too hot to be tolerated. My hair came off, and so did my lipstick.

More than the actual ambient temperature, the *idea* of autumn ushered in a strong inclination to green and blue lip tints. I was trying to will the heat away with cool hues, I think.

In September, shit got real in therapy and I had to start unpacking and organizing some ish I’d packed away for a very long time. It was also, perhaps consequently, a fantastic month for FACE. I do so hate feeling vulnerable, and aggressive shades of lip armor are fortunately quite flattering on me.

In October and early November I rocked blue, blue, blue near-constantly as I prepared to vote for the first woman president of the United States.

But we all know how that turned out.

I’ve been feeling quite apocalyptic since, like most people who are terrified of losing healthcare and civil rights. This pervasive sensation of dread has manifested itself on my face mostly as total absence of product, punctuated by instances of almost antagonistically harsh makeup. Basically, either too despondent to care or so desperate to express my anguish that I’ve just gotta beat my face to show it.

I don’t know what the future holds, though based on the events of the past months and week I assume it’s likely to become very dark. It’s difficult for me to suss the role of beauty in the coming years. It feels trivial, though I know it’s sustaining and provides me with a replenished sense of strength. It also feels fraught. I don’t WANT to look like Melania; I would rip off my own hair like a wig before being accused of attempting to emulate Ivanka. I loathe the notion of beauty as a *requirement,* as a bland, beige, old-bigoted-white-man-appealing state of existence that suffocates.

Still, I can’t escape the notion that the way I look is important. The value bestowed by my outward appearance has been apparent to me since I was small, and I’m well aware that sometimes — maybe even most times — the things I have to say are enforced, undermined, perhaps even superceded by the way my face looks when I say them. Therefore, by god, my face better say the things I want it to, even (especially!) when my words can’t speak for me or others choose to ignore my voice.

My face better say the things I want it to, even (especially!) when my words can’t speak for me or others choose to ignore my voice. Click To Tweet

Bold lipstick colors are not a revolution. They can, however, serve as an emboldening agent when it comes to speaking truth to power, a straight-shot spine-stiffener that aids in standing aright when the world would crush. As usual, I ain’t recommendin’ shit in this supposed makeup “tutorial” column — you should wear or not wear what you please; you should utilize the cosmetics that serve your own psychic purposes! (Ask me personally if you want the name of a specific color pictured here.) And as for me…well, I don’t know man. Ask me next week. This is my first lipstick of 2017.