In my thin dressing gown, I sit nervously in front of the brightly lit vanity mirrors.
My feet tremble in my worn leather boots and the cold air sends shivers down my spine. Three women surround me, pulling my hair in all directions, lining the rim of my eyes with thick black liner. I stare vacantly in the mirror, bored of the seemingly endless process and anxious for what is to come. At fifteen years old, this is my first fashion show, and my increasing awareness of my innocent disposition in comparison to that of the other models does little to settle my nerves. “We’re just about done, we just have to do your lips,” says one of the makeup artists as she pulls off the top of a deep, cherry red lipstick.
As she moves away, I stare at my reflection in the mirror. My feet cease to tremble, the nervous tension in my neck melts away, and the uneasy look in my eyes is replaced with a confident, almost intimidating gaze that seems to say, I have a secret that you’ll never know.
Reveling in a moment I had long awaited, I had changed. I am no longer that frightened, innocent looking fifteen-year-old girl that sat down just a few moments earlier. I fancied the knowledge that while pink was the colour of a girl, red was the colour of a woman. I look back at this moment and grieve the loss of innocence of that fifteen-year-old girl. That day, the lips of a girl desperate to grow up, were painted a shade of enticingly lonesome and unsatisfying red.
My earliest memory of red lipstick brings me back to when I was six years old.
My mother was bathing my sister and me in a warm bath filled with bubbles as she tried to get ready for a special evening out. I always watched her in admiration as she put on her makeup, our French ancestry surfacing in the form of vanity in her every day beauty regime. My mother painted her lips the same way she painted a canvas, slowly trying to avoid even the smallest of errors. Anticipating her usual light pink lipstick, I was surprised when her lips turned a deep shade of red. “Can I try some?” I asked excitedly, watching her with my wide-eyed gaze. “When you’re grown up you can wear as much lipstick as you like” she responded, “but for now your lips will stay that sweet shade of pink.”
I had never seen my mother like this before. I had grown accustomed to her supportive foot wear, worn down jeans with a dirty t-shirt look that had provided a sense of familiarity and comfort throughout my childhood. I was intrigued by her luscious red lips but struggled to understand why in this moment I couldn’t recognize my mother’s face.
My thoughts were interrupted by a wake of water hitting my right arm; my baby sister had slipped in the tub. With piercing red lips, my mother kissed my sister and me goodbye, leaving a print of her red lips on our cheeks. I watched her leave through the bathroom window, yearning for the day my lips would too be painted in a titillating shade of red.
I continued to be fascinated by red lipstick throughout the rest of my childhood.
I spent summer days with the sunshine beaming on my rosy cheeks, as my best friend and I scurried up cherry trees to indulge in the sweet taste of sun-warmed cherries. We would carefully rub the cherry juices on our lips, feeling as though with cherry stained smiles, we had discovered the secret to adulthood. Little did we know, what we had discovered was the childhood gift of imagination. The delicious aroma of melted cherries, accompanied by the melodic sound of childhood laughter was the backdrop to my youthful summers.
When I now think of red lipstick, I can only think of what followed after my lips were painted red in that brightly lit vanity mirror. “Are you with Carmabelle agency?” a short man asked with a headset on and a clipboard in hand. I answered with a light nod of my head. “You need to be fitted, come with me.” I got up from my chair, my legs stiff from sitting for too long, and was led to a fitting room by the man’s cold hand on the small of my back.
I entered the small dressing area. A space formed by a light fabric held up by a dainty piece of string, hanging loosely from the high ceilings, hardly giving me the privacy I had hoped for. Standing next to the clothes rack, I began to shuffle through hangers of clothing, searching for the one with my name on it.
I was startled when the light fabric was tossed aside by a blonde woman who entered with a man style seemed to resemble that of a pirate. “Melissa, right?” asked the man as he too began to shuffle through the clothes rack. Again I answered with a light nod of my head, my mouth refusing to move. I quietly undid the silk tie that held together my dressing gown and let the silk robe slip down my bareback. I waited to be told what item of clothing to try on first, a procedure that had been explained to me by the older models.
What came next can only be described by one word: scrutiny.
Years of yearning to wear red lipstick and all I wanted to do was take it off; the sweet taste of cherry stained lips suddenly tasted sour. Becoming a woman wasn’t nearly as glamorous as I had always imagined. Behind the light fabric stood a girl of only fifteen, wearing nothing but a titillating shade of red lipstick.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Melissa Leblanc/Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Provided by author