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Learning Lipstick

‘…putas llevan ropa de color rojo. . putas pintan sus labios rojos. Llevan zapatos rojos y ropa interior roja…’

The first things I ever learned from my mother and grandmother as a child had to do with comportment. How to sit so that no one could see under my skirt. How to be demure. Quiet. Almost blending in with whatever perch I’d been placed on when company came. How to be a delicate flower; a good girl.

Along with those lessons came hints on colors-and which to avoid. Black was funereal and worn only during somber occasions. My sister and I always wore white to Mass. Maybe, if our mother saw fit, there would be a pink ribbon adorning an Easter bonnet. But red?? Never. No shirts. Skirts. Underwear. Nothing. We were actually afraid of the color. Afraid we’d somehow be transformed into whores if we wore red.

I never questioned it until I became a young lady of about twelve and saw my peers experimenting with makeup. Eyes beringed with dark liner. And the lips! Crimson and berry and cotton candy pinks-I was in awe. Of course there was the one time a friend let me try her lipstick and in my delirium I forgot to wash it off. I think the entire neighborhood heard me holler under that belt that night. I didn’t know what was so wrong about red-and no one was saying anything, except…putas pintan sus labios rojos.

My second run-in with red lips came at the hands of an ex who, during an argument, grabbed me by my face and wiped the lipstick off my mouth. It smeared on my face and I remember crying as he sneered and said what a disgusting whore I looked like with that ‘red shit’ on my lips.

It wasn’t until I went to college and started learning a bit about biology and human evolution that I understood a bit of where this ideology came from. Long story short, my red lips, sweetly rounded little face and wide eyes signaled a primal sexual availability. My red lips, HER red lips-the ultimate come-hither. Pious mamas didn’t want their little girls giving that signal. Possessive boyfriends didn’t either.

Science didn’t help. For years I still couldn’t wear red lipstick. And then something in me Broke…

(to be continued…)

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