By Andrea “Andy” Hargrove
How do u feel after putting on lipstick in the bathroom mirror before walking out the door? A ritual you may have seen someone performing before you were “allowed” to participate. After a few conversations, we all agree it’s a certain something about lipstick that revs up our personal power at any moment of any day. I see it as an act of optimism towards yourself and how you want to show up in the world. Disclaimer: I am not selling lipstick, I just wanna talk about how it makes us feel. How it made the women marching Fifth Avenue of New York with red lips for voting rights in 1912 feel. Or how in 1945 how it made the people suffering on their sick bed feel human again. Or walking into a room to pitch your idea to investors.
My left brain questioned the validity of lipstick’s connection to personal power. In fact, a recent Harvard journal extends “the lipstick effect” with a connection to academic achievement. Lipstick is magical. It’s not about just a look; Lipstick has a contagious feel. We paint our lips with colors called Savage, Vendetta, Clapback, and the list goes on to describe this initiation of personal power we unleash.
The open diary of Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin at Belsen Concentration Camp moved me to write this post today. His vivid words told real horror stories about people in captivity during World War II. He went on to tell a story about a large delivery of lipstick from the British Red Cross:
“I believe nothing did more for those internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity."
The mission of the British Red Cross is to mobilize the power of humanity so that individuals or communities can deal with and recover from a crisis. The audacity of red lips in the midst of trauma changed the narrative of this special group of women. I get to resound a moment of personal power in a place designed to destroy any trace of hope. As defined by Barack Obama,
“Hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the task ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. It's not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it.”
Lipstick may not be your thing but it really does carry a certain something for generation after generation to express something big in a small way. So next time you catch a feel from witnessing someone wearing a bold lippie, there is probably an inspiring story behind those lips.