Week 6: What’s in a name?

 

Last week’s challenge was a revelation. I love wearing red lipstick. You should try it. You really should.

I know many women shy away from it because it’s bold and bleeds and it’s hard to find the right shade. But to you I say, Be Bold. Life is too short not to be. Just make sure you wear a lip liner and try a variety of them in order to find the shade that suits you best. At Sephora, you can have your Colour IQ done, which helps to narrow it down. Or, just try on shades you like that match the undertone of your skin (I look best in reds with blue or yellow undertones). Experiment. Play. Have fun. Find your signature red and impress the hell out of everyone, including yourself.

Now, apologies that this week’s blog is a bit late but I had emergency dental surgery and therefore a painful and crooked smile for most of the week. I have been very good and haven’t bought a new lipstick during this entire experiment, until this week. From my bout with the flu (In which I lost. Terribly.) straight into a root canal, I needed a pick-me-up. So I bought a new lipstick. If truth be told, I bought three.

As I browsed the various makeup displays in MAC, I started to get overwhelmed very quickly. Usually, shopping is my jam, but MAC lipsticks come in over 200 shades, so I had difficulty narrowing my choice until I made my final selection. It was a choice between MAC’s classic bestseller, Rubywoo, a retro matte red, and a sexy dark matte aptly named Diva. I found myself equally in love with both, but was drawn to the latter, because the name started to tip the scales in its favour.

Apparently, in the lipstick world, names are a big deal. A very big deal. Much time is spent around the drawing board or the executive boardroom or the lab coming up with marketing campaigns around the names of lipstick or entire lines because women will buy lipstick they never even intend to wear, simply because the name strikes a chord. If I could have my dream job, it would be naming lipsticks and nail polishes. I would have lines bases on my favourite books, poets, movies, vacation spots, and pizza toppings. Really. They would sell like gangbusters (I’m not sure what gangbusters are, but they would sell just as well).

I made my purchase (you can never go wrong with Rubywoo!) and headed to Sephora to further my knowledge of lipstick names. Many brands have similar ideas—I saw lipsticks named Naked and Merlot and Flirt and Desire and Perfect Red multiple times, across various brands. Depending on which demographic a certain brand is marketing, you see names like “Classic” and “Hollywood”, compared to “Bae” and “Queen B”.

So, I decided to make a list of the best and worst names I could find. For the record, all the shades are luscious and beautiful and gorgeous. But the best names are truly marketing genius and I would buy them without even flinching, while the worst are, well, ridiculous at best and just EW at their worst.
The Top 5 best names (in no particular order)

1. Spice Spice Baby (Too Faced)— You’re already singing it aren’t you? I bet this lipstick is perfect for when you need stop, collaborate and listen.

2. Lady balls (Too Faced)– I don’t supposed they could just call this matte red lipstick Ovaries, which is more appropriate, if not catchy. But this made me giggle and I would love to give it to all of my friends.

3. Poe (Kat Von D)— The English major in me loves that this dark navy lipstick is named for Edgar Allan Poe. I would have the perfect lipstick for when I want to be dark and broody and existential-like.

4. Heathers (Anastasia Beverly Hills)— Considering the body count in this 80’s classic teen movie of the same name, a brownish oxblood matches perfectly. Also, I would buy any lipstick that would make me look in the slightest bit like Winona Ryder.

5. Mrs Roper (Too Faced)– This is just too much awesome. I hope this bright tangerine colour comes with a matching muumuu.

And now for the WTFs.

1. Catnip (Anastasia Beverly Hills)— I get the idea; lipstick is definitely like catnip for me, but I wouldn’t want it the real thing anywhere near my mouth.

2. Wolves Mouth (Kat Von D)— I just don’t understand. Is this supposed to be cutting edge? For animal lovers? Werewolf enthusiasts?

3. Melted Chihuahua (Too Faced)— Wait, what? Ew. Just ew.

4. Roach (Urban Decay) — I like it when lipsticks are actually named for the colours of things they actually resemble. But a lipstick by the name of a creepy crawler is beyond ick.

5. Man bun (Tarte) — She looks quizzically at the name. She scratches her head. She moves on. This one definitely is designed to appeal to Millennials, and will probably sell out.
Romeo (or rather Shakespeare) asked the question, and argued that,

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I agree. When it comes to your next purchase, don’t choose because of a name or the packaging or the marketing. Choose the best one for you. Or ones, like me this week.
(Alright, alright. I bought four.)

 

 

Week Five: the week in which I make you remember cheesy pop lyrics

Apologies but there was no lipstick for me this past week. A bout of food poisoning slash norovirus slash a month of not sleeping took its toll and I was M.I.A. most of the week. I wasn’t actually missing of course, but missing from society in general whilst confined to my bed. And so, when the most severe bouts of misery passed, like any good scientist, I compiled research.

This consisted of me, fuelled by a steady diet of gingerale and saltines, and the occasional bit of green Jell-O (honestly that’s how it’s spelled), camping out on my couch and watching old movies. I paid particular attention to the prevalent use of red lipstick in films and the actresses whose careers have been defined by it.

As I sat watching All About Eve for the third time in a row, the movie I wish most in the world had been filmed in colour so I could most appreciate the fierce fashion of Bette Davis (which matches so deliciously with her character), I started to think about how they, along with their contemporaries, influenced all the women who watched them, and wanted to be like them. Who didn’t want to be Lauren Bacall when she asked Humphrey Bogart if he knew how to whistle, or Vivien Leigh in a game of wits with Clark Gable? In fact, actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood (you know, all the ones Madonna lists in her 90’s dance pop anthem Vogue. Go ahead, see if you remember them all. I’ll get you started: “Greta Garbo and Monroe…”) represented glamour, as symbolized most the red lipstick they so carefully applied in between takes and before publicity shots. They weren’t just beautiful and glamorous and feminine, but strong, intelligent, and nobody’s fool.

However, Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe were hardly the first to use red lipstick as not just a fashion statement, but one of feminine power. Young Aboriginal women in Australia would use red ochre on their lips during puberty rituals. Cleopatra and other Egyptian women of high status during her time were fierce proponents of red lip paint, and it was normal to be entombed with multiple jars of it for use in the afterlife. Queen Elizabeth I made the use of bright red lips with pale white skin fashionable in Britain, during a time when only actors had worn it onstage.  Sufragettes considered wearing red lipstick standard operating procedure at their rallies as a veritable middle finger to the male status quo who enjoyed telling women how to be women. There is no doubt that the use of red lipstick is, and has always been, empowering.

However to some, red lipstick is used as a tool to vilify and degrade women for being, well, women. For example, only prostitutes wore red lipstick in Ancient Greece and Rome. It was a veritable Scarlet letter for women who were seen as “less than” because they were forced into sexual trade in order to survive (but not the men who paid for their services of course). Its use was condemned in Victorian England, as the Queen herself deemed it “impolite”. Even in the 1920s, the New York Times advised that red lipstick should be applied “cautiously”. I’ve never liked that newspaper.

If you’re like me, and I suspect you are, you love being told what to do (insert your own sarcastic laughter here). If you read my blog from week two, you can see how I reacted to a man who thought I was being impolite. Maybe it was the same reaction Hilary Clinton had when she was called a nasty woman? Or the collective reaction of rational women everywhere when they read about it.

Again, it seems there is no middle ground. The Madonna-Whore complex wields its ugly head. Either a woman can be virtuous, polite and deferential, or a sex crazed fiend on whom respectable people frown upon.

I know which one I would rather be.

So this next week, is dedicated to red lipstick. Well-behaved women rarely make history I am told, so this seems right up my alley.

elizabeth
Elizabeth Taylor, Cleopatra (1963)
ava
Ava Gardner, The Barefoot Contessa (1954)
rita
Rita Hayworth, Blood and Sand (1942)
Lucille Ballcirca 1960 
** H.L.
Lucille Ball (1960)
bette
Bette Davis, All About Eve, publicity shot (1950)

 

Month One: A review of my not-so-scientific experiment

As a teacher, I could have been a bit more stringent with my scientific process. I could have followed the method more carefully, or conducted controlled experiments, or even kept a detailed journal of my observations, data, and analyses in order to provide you with accurate information, more definitive evidence, and clear conclusion.

Thankfully, I am not a Science teacher. I am an English teacher, which means I prefer interpretation to analysis, poetic meter to data, and journalling as a writing tool which is in of itself more a journey, than a destination.

However, because I called this blog The Great Lipstick Experiment, please allow me to present my findings to you with a science-y type of conclusion, but completely devoid of any and all scientific language.

Ready? Set? Go! (props to M— for teaching me the correct phrasing here)

  1. Wear lipstick.
  2. Wear the shit out of it.
  3. Choose a signature colour or experiment (Oops! That’s science-y) play with colour until you find your groove.
  4. Don’t be afraid to stand out. Because you will. From someone who sometimes likes to go unnoticed (thank you for not laughing out loud, or if you did, I will choose to believe you didn’t), wearing lipstick every day will change how people see you.
  5. I am not a proponent of saying certain people can’t wear certain colours, whether by age, skin colour, or even gender. However, I found personally, the older you get, the better it is to use colour. Nudes make me feel washed out, and don’t bring confidence to the table. I would love to believe I look as good as J.Lo in a nude lip, but that, my friends, is a pipe dream.
  6. Don’t choose a colour because it looks good on someone else. Find a pallet you’re comfortable with as a starting point, and branch out from there.
  7. It hurts me to say it (just a bit, really), but drugstore brands just aren’t as good as fancier ones. That doesn’t mean I will only pay $54 for an Armani lipstick (but I would), but in my experience, the ones with a higher price point have deeper pigment, wear longer, and just feel better on the lips.
  8. Moisturize your lips. Wearing lipstick every day can dry them out, especially if you are wearing liquids or mattes. Smooth lips will ensure better application and using less product. I use Bite Beauty Agave Lip Mask, but sometimes just vaseline. I also use Fresh Sugar Lip Polish which gently exfoliates. While I’m on the subject, I encourage you to stop your lip balm addiction in its tracks. Most of the ones that lurk at the bottom of our purses or smell good enough to eat actually have chemicals in them that make you apply more (yes, Chapstick and EOS, I’m talking to you!). At first they feel nice and moisturizing, but that’s only if you apply it six or eight times a day. I stopped wearing them and now my lips are less dry.
  9. Always use lip liner. Not in a 90’s Salt n’ Pepa kinda way that is darker than the actual lipstick (however, if you choose to go retro, then Do You!). I prefer an invisible (clear) lipliner and I love it. It stops dark and bright colour from feathering and bleeding. Most makeup lines have them: I have three from Bite Beauty, Make Up Forever, and Sephora respectively.
  10. Apply lipstick properly. First, use a lip balm to smooth and even out your lips. Then, outline your lips with a clear lipliner or a colour that matches your lips, NOT the lipstick. When applying the lipstick itself, use a lip brush. You will use less and it will stay on better. Finally blot and pop your lips. By this I mean put the tip of your index finger in your mouth and pull it out. This will remove excess lipstick and you won’t get it on your teeth.

Got it? Good.

As with even half ass scientific experiments, the story doesn’t end here. I still have samples, and a love for lipstick, so I will keep wearing it and keep writing. The experiment will evolve as a good experiment does, to include next steps, and new directions.

Are you excited? Me too! Let’s get science-y!

Well, you know what I mean.

 

Week Four: You like me! You really like me! (Please like me…please like me…)

I made my friend and work colleague join Pottermore today. For those of you who are unfamiliar (shame on you! if you are), Pottermore is the be-all-and-end-all of the website of the Harry Potter book series and impressive fandom. I digress.

My new bestie just simply HAD to be sorted into a Hogwarts House. You know, to help solidify our friendship. We had taken part in a workplace professional development thingy (warning: not an actual technical term) called “True Colours”, which I still maintain is a rip-off of the Hogwarts model. We were both Blue in the former —emotional, caring, nurturing people (no, really). So surely in the latter she was also a sweet little Hufflepuff like myself?
Nope. Surely not.

M: This thing says I’m a Slytherin? What?! Because I like f*@king dark things? I answered three f*@king questions!
Me: Well, M-  five minutes ago you just said you hated people. That’s pretty much right up Slytherin’s dark alley.
M: (mutters) Not ALL people.
**crickets**

The reason I am telling you this anecdote is not only is it amusing (to me), but because of how we sort ourselves isn’t always (nay, rarely) how others might do. We judge each other in a seemingly infinite number of ways. Sometimes it’s to be exclusionary (intentional or not), but I think, more often than not, to find people more like ourselves. It’s so difficult to make friends or make true connections as adults. Remember how easy it was in kindergarten? You just waddled up to some random child, sized each other up, and were inseparable by the end of recess. Sometimes, with barely even a word spoken. Why do we join groups? Make children join playgroups? Play team sports? Enrol in programs? Why do we surf the internet reading the not-so-private if not mildly entertaining blogs replete with random thoughts of complete strangers (you know who you are)? We like people like ourselves. And not just people who enjoy an authentic Margherita pizza (if you don’t I don’t want to know you) or have the same shoe size or taste in books. We like people who share those quirky and nonsensical qualities (except to those who possess these foibles) that we always thought set us apart, or in some cases, the things that we thought made us weird. Once we find like-minded people, we feel liberated to let ourselves become a bit more vulnerable, a bit more known.

Even in the lipstick world, you can be sorted. Apparently, the shape of your used lipsticks can indicate personality. This, according to numerous women’s magazines, including Good Housekeeping (a grocery store stalwart since 1885!) and Cosmopolitan (practically every issue has some sort of ridiculous tawdry fun quiz like “If your Vagina had a name, what would it be?”). The whole point of Women’s magazines, (under the guise of selling copies) is to make women feel empowered, accepted, popular, and liked. So, in the grand tradition of these popular, if not respectable magazines, I will attempt to sort you into your particular lips houses. Or, as the fashionable French might say, Châteaux.

How is your lipstick worn?

Close to its original shape: Surprise! You like to follow the rules. You are well-balanced, reserved, and a little self-conscious.
Rounded and smooth: Steady and even-tempered, you are the one that goes with the flow. Skilful peacemaker. Generous and well-liked. This is my lovely mother’s shape. She is all that and a bag of chips.
Rounded tip, to a point: You are lovable and social. You need people around you. You are a doer of things, and anything that gets you attention. A bit stubborn, but aren’t we all?
Sharp angle, one side: This was my dear gramma’s lipstick. I cam confirm she was high-spirited, outgoing, talkative, and energetic. Yes she was stubborn and liked a good argument for argument’s sake, but she was Irish, and we all must find pleasure where we can.
Sharp angle, both sides: You are curious and spiritual by nature. You’re open to different viewpoints and live life to the fullest. However you crave attention and may suffer from an ego complex.
Flat top: Direct, sharp, moralistic, dependable, conservative. Loves a challenge.
Did you find yourself? Apologies if they sound a bit flighty and horoscope-y, but in the pursuit of the truth, I even consulted the fashion oracle. VOGUE. VOGUE is infallible (which is why I use all caps). Well, it used to be before they put Kanye’s wife on the cover. The American Issue and Anna Winter are dead to me now.

I will leave you in suspense of my own lipstick shape, but those of you who know me personally may hazard a guess. I bet you’ll get it wrong, because I, nor anyone else, really fit into a little slot, no matter how hard we try. But it is in the trying we find ourselves.

postscript: If Cosmo hasn’t ever had an article entitled “If your Vagina had a name, what would it be?”, they totally should.

 

 

Week Three: You’re never fully dressed without a smile

Question: Why do we tell others to smile?
As I walked past a construction site this week, I was told to smile.

Fuck off! I thought to myself. It’s 7:30 in the morning and I haven’t had coffee. I said nothing and kept walking, as most women do when heckled on the street, even though my insides were screaming. Who the fuck do you think you are? You don’t know me. Are you so threatened by a woman that she has to smile to make you comfortable? Or do you just need to be a fucking Alpha Male in front of your friends? It’s not my job to make you feel better about yourself, asshole.

This may seem like an over-reaction, even in one’s head, but it’s not the first time I’ve been told to smile. And the thing is, I smile a lot. All the time. Ask anyone. People at work call me Sunshine, for chrissake. I will oblige you with a smile on the regular, without prompting, without reason. That’s just how I roll.

However, this week, it has been difficult for me to smile. I refused to celebrate my birthday, the first since the passing of my father. How can I when there is one less person in the world who is happy that I was born? I have seen his smile on every birthday. So it didn’t feel like it without it.

I mean, it’s okay not to smile, right? Especially if the only reason you’re smiling is to hide how you’re really feeling inside.

So, this week, I let my lipstick do the talking. It obviously didn’t work for the construction worker, but it did for me. People saw my lipstick instead of what was hiding behind it, allowing me to feel what I wanted without having my sadness written all over my face.

I also watched Annie. On repeat. You know you’ve hit a rough patch when you’re taking advice from an 11 year-old fictional ginger orphan, but if she can sing her heart out despite living under the deliciously evil Miss Hannigan (Ugh Carol Burnett is a genius!), then I can get up every day, put on my lipstick, and head out the door with a smile on my face.

Because fake or not, a smile releases endorphins, strengthening your immune system while reducing stress and anxiety levels in yourself and others. It makes you appear more attractive, trustworthy, and sociable. Creating a feeling of positivity around you is contagious, and we all need a little positivity in our lives.

Answer: Because we need one. It’s everyone’s job to help those around us through those difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible moments. Otherwise, what’s the point? Even though I felt like crying all week, I took strength from those around me.

Maybe that construction worker was having a really no good day, and needed an endorphin release…

Well, he could’ve just smiled.

 

Week Two: The Lipstick Effect

There is a theory that, even in times of economic crisis, consumers will still splurge on  small luxury items. In fact, these purchases will actually increase. For example, in a market downturn no one wants to buy a Mercedes or go on an exotic holiday, but most are willing to spend five bucks on a daily cappuccino or, in my case, a new red lipstick.

Despite one of the reasons for my experiment being to actually use up the thousands of the lipsticks I already own (a slight overstatement of course, but not that inaccurate), I had to stop myself mid-purchase more than once this week from adding to my extensive and varied collection.

Because, you see, it’s so very easy. Walking through a store which contains a makeup counter is like navigating a mine field—except these mine fields of course are far less lethal and much more pleasing to the senses. Bright lights, modish music (not too loud), the air filled with delicate scent, and row after row of pretty colours in pretty tubes in pretty packaging. Now, I may not be able to afford those $595 Rag & Bone boots I tried on that are so hip yet understated and comfortable and would go with everything (I still may go back and buy them…), but I can and must buy that new lipstick that will put a spring in my step for under $30. That the trade-off, right? I feel like I just saved $565 plus tax, thank you very much. I am excellent at math when shopping is involved. I can easily convince myself that this shade of mauve is slightly different from the other forty-two shades I already own, and it looks so fetching with my skin tone that I must simply must have it. (As a side-note, when choosing the correct shade, if you don’t test it on your lips in-store, then you should try it on the pink pad of your thumb. The skin there is most similar to the colour of your lips. That’s one of the reasons why we have drawers of lipsticks that looked great at the time, under fluorescent lights or on the back of your hand, but look terrible once you get it home).

And so, back to one such mid-purchase. Tube in hand, I awaited my turn, calculating the number of bonus points I would get and how I couldn’t wait to unwrap this little gift from myself. The anticipation was almost palatable. It would be my new go-to lipstick. I’d wear it to work, on first dates and to that uncomfortable family event but would look fabulous because I’d be wearing Urban Decay in Rapture. I would be invincible.

Except, my bank card had other ideas. The mag strip was damaged and so wouldn’t work. No matter how hard the teller and I took turns inserting and swiping and inserting again (there’s an indelicate joke in there somewhere), the lipstick remained on the counter and was tragically not going home with me that day. My credit cards were left at home because me with a credit card is dangerous for a number of reasons which could fill another blog entirely.

So I thanked the impeccably styled sales associate and left without my prize. I mourned the defeat for a moment, but took in stride. After all, the future was bright with the thousand shades waiting for me at home, just waiting to change my life. And of course, I had the new colour on my lips anyway since I had tried it on, and so for a short time, until it wore off or it found its way onto the rim of a glass, I would cherish my new little luxury.

 

The Great Lipstick Experiment

This history of lipstick is as rich as the creamiest of a perfect Chanel red. One of the earliest uses of makeup was in Mesopotamia, more than 5000 years ago, where crushed gemstones were used to colour one’s lips and sometimes the eyes.

My introduction to lipstick was decidedly less glamorous. I used Fun Stix and Candy rings to stain my mouth between changing the outfits on my Barbie and holding court at tea parties.

I remember watching my mother religiously apply it every day, and checking it whenever she was in front of a mirror. I don’t want to give the impression that my mother was vain, she was just a product of her time. Like her mother before her, she felt naked without her lipstick. I would sometimes sneak in the bathroom, open my mother’s side of the medicine cabinet, and clumsily apply her latest hue to my own mouth, only to wipe it off moments later in a fit of disgust at the heaviness and the waxy smell, but maybe more so at the fear of being caught.

But now as a grown woman, I have a love hate relationship with lipstick. It can be ammunition on a hot date or armour during a tough meeting at the office. But lipstick can also be a stressful smudge mark on the day. The endless search for one that will stay on my lips longer than it does on my coffee mug. Endless touchups throughout the day. The effect on an already dwindling bank account. Becoming fluent in a language that includes words like matte, gloss, shine, and shimmer. Deciphering colours based on names like Phoenix and Hot Stuff. Do I blot? Do I use a lipliner? Do I dare disturb the universe? Quel stress!

Now armed with a Sephora Red VIB card, my lipstick collection has grown out of control. My makeup drawer is a veritable treasure chest of pretty samples and tubes which, like most collections, are items I covet more than use.

And so in an effort to use my spoils of shopping war, I have decided to actually wear lipstick every day for a month or until I run out of colours (so, um, forever) and chart my progress, observations, and experiences. At the very least, I will free up some space in my bathroom.