My favourite adjective-come-verb in the English language is: to disarm (adj. Disarming). It’s such a lovely compliment to call it “a disarming smile.” as in: Your countenance has moved me in such a way that I’m dropping my weapons/I didn’t see you coming and you knocked the wind out of me/I didn’t have time to put up my walls/we could’ve been at odds but instead you’ve won me over. You disarmed me. This is the story about my fight with beauty and how lipstick of all things, is what eventually disarmed me.
Before I learned that editing was an actual step in the photography process, I was praying for a day when I’d reach the level of fitness required to make my my hips disappear. I believed them when they said shaving was the reason I had “dots” on my legs (and not, you know, because I’m Black?!). I was already past puberty when I realised that African Americans wore weaves (I really thought that they just had longer straight hair over there). It took way too long to realise that nobody (absolutely nobody) looks like the magazine covers and that celebrities also wear spanx and have cellulite and that it takes a literal team to look like the ideal of beauty. I kid you not, I thought that models were well-behaved kids who never played roughly and therefore didn’t have any scars (I actually remember falling off my bike aged 7 and crying because there was going to be a prominent scar on my leg that effectively disqualified me from ever being professionally photographed for an reason ever). I was a late bloomer in many ways but I’ll never get those years of wanting something that doesn’t exist (at least not without help) to materialise on my poor little body back. That was a war I waged on myself based on our the collective omission that (external) Beauty as we know it is, essentially, a myth. How free did you feel when you found out? Today is not the day we unpack eurocentric beauty standards (but that day is coming) . This story ends with the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow after years of a literal downpour of beauty myths. It’s all made up.
Did you know that humans have pores and that it’s allowed?! And I’m still not sure under eye cream isn’t a scam but I know this: The rest is genes (and to some extent, money/a visit to a doctors office). The game is unbelievably rigged and we’d all be having a much better time if we told each other these Secrets early on. This life thing is a lottery and there are things you have already won just by being born. Instead of fighting your body for what it can’t do or carrying it around as a list of imperfections you can’t change: cash in your genetic lottery and let them live side by side with your imperfections (some people get a full house and we pray that those people know that they’re God’s favourites). What’s your winning hand? I got cellulite and that non-dainty stretch mark variant that comes with dark scars and easy bruising (regardless of my size). I inherited my grandfather’s knock knees and the softest (not in a good way), coiliest, comb-shy, growth-shy natural hair but in that physical mix I also got a radiant smile, DD breasts (sigh), strong thighs, sexy legs, full lips, pretty nails and fantastic skin. And baby, I’m taking it all to the bank.
It’s time we made up with makeup (I’m talking to you 19 year old Ntoetse). It’s been weaponised for so long and we need to disarm it with the truth: it’s just a tool and it’s part of our arsenal. It can make up for your genetic makeup if you want it to, it can help you express yourself, become someone new for the day; it may play up your strengths or just make you feel beautiful but what we are not going to do is feel guilted into waging wars against ourselves anymore. Put down your arms. I was a career tomboy for so long that I thought I was too late to the party (at the time I also thought it was my duty to hate classic femininity in all its forms but that’s a separate chat), but as I come into the fullness of my creative side I’ve embraced fun with eye shadows, bold lip colours and random shimmery shit. It’s been such a wonderful experiment in expression. I’ll never fully abandon the gold corners and blue eye-make that is my signature (thank you Michelle Ori for your royal blue mascara!) but it’s liberating to colour outside the lines.
And while we’re getting things messy, allow me to share with you the gorgeousness and magic (the thesis) of smudged lipstick. Just as surely as you can’t keep your eyes open during a sneeze, it’s equally impossible to have a wildly wonderfully excellent time AND concentrate on not smudging your lip colour. Smudged lipstick, like dirty sneakers and frequent failure, is a proxy for a life well-lived. If you can remember not to smudge your lips while eating it, that burger wasn’t really that great. I’ve seen lipstick fiends give up and remove the lip colour entirely while endulging in a delicious creamy delight to reapply later (like my friend Chiko who has a Mac lipstick collection so prolific that she can actually trade in empties?! I don’t think I’ve ever reached the bottom of a lipstick stick).
Have you ever stood on your tiptoes for a goodnight kiss and then another (and another) at the door only to be walked to your uber door and repeated this exercise (much to the driver’s chagrin) until you absolutely had to go because you’re already 2 hours late to see the girlfriend you made Post-First Date plans with? When asked by said friend ‘how was your date’ the only worthwhile reply is: I had lipstick on this morning (PS: what I actually said was “my lipstick didn’t smudge itself”).
If I start the day with lipstick and don’t take a picture immediately, the window is closed (Chiko would say: just reapply friend! And I’d refuse. Sorry girl). I can’t eat ice cream joyously without a dot of pink ending up on the tip my nose. I smile so wide sometimes that it ends up on my teeth. It’s why I adore this picture, I was having a day so wonderful I couldn’t stop Smiling. And it shows, on my teeth (this pic is also an example of the disarming I was talking about earlier).
In conlusion: Smudge. Your. Lipstick. You can always reapply. Life is much more interesting when you blur the lines anyway. Make it up as you go.