I can remember the first time I did it, the butterflies in my stomach, the doubt that sat in the back of my mind as I tugged on my fitted red dress.
It would be a quick, painless experiment, just to see how I like it, I reminded myself. Just one night.
I pinched it between my index finger and thumb, squeezing and twisting gently until it peeked out a smidgen. And there it was — bold, frightening, and enticing all at once. Summoning all of my confidence, I swiped it across my lips.
I was officially wearing red lipstick for the first time in my life, and I was genuinely terrified of what would happen next.
I was 23 at the time, a plus-size woman freshly out of college.
I'd spent the majority of my life hiding behind loose clothes and plain makeup, drawing as little attention to myself as possible.
I was always lucky enough to be surrounded by folks who reminded me of my value. I knew I was a good friend, girlfriend, student, and worker. I knew I was ambitious and goal-oriented. But no matter what anyone said, I never felt beautiful.
Hating yourself is exhausting. When you spend a majority of your time questioning your physical value, the simple task of choosing an outfit to wear feels like an exercise in immediate failure.
It's easier to sweep your hair into a ponytail than it is to blow-dry it — because, in the back of your mind, you feel like it is a pointless endeavor that won't make you feel any better about yourself. At least, this is how I've felt for most of my life.
My talents for self-deprecation cannot be overstated, especially back then.
I shirked off compliments by insulting myself. I actually worried about how "offensive" my appearance was to others; how I was a visual sore spot in a group of gorgeous friends.
I felt disgusting and hopeless. The obvious solution was to lose weight. And so I did.
Twenty pounds lighter, I began to feel more confident; I started wearing colors other than black; and in an attempt to try something totally uncharacteristic, I wore a lip color that wouldn't allow me to blend into the background.
That's when the magic happened. I didn't just feel noticed, I felt worthy of being noticed. It was like taking on a new personality — I wasn't fat, frumpy, awkward Lauren, I was curvy, creative, inviting Lauren.
Behind the simple mask of red lipstick, I felt like people were looking at me because they wanted to, not because I was an unfortunate novelty to gawk at.
Fast-forward past a few stressful years, and those 20 pounds were back, and so was the self-deprecation. It was so terrible waking up and just genuinely hating what I physically looked like. I stopped caring all together.
Enter again: red lipstick. I remembered how fierce and sexy it made me feel. I remembered that any time I wore it, I called myself fewer names and, frankly, gave less of a shit about what anyone else thought.
Since then, I’ve worn several shades of red (and pink and brown and more) and am no longer content to just blend in with the crowd... even if the rest of my body doesn’t feel quite perfect yet.
I wear fitted clothing. I take selfies. I even got a small tattoo of printed red lips on my shoulder; it reminds me that I am worthy of my own love.
Is it superficial — wrong, even — to find validation in a beauty product? Possibly.
But, as someone who spent her life living in the shadow of her her own self and potential, this small boost of confidence is one that I can't take for granted. I'll wear my goddamn red lipstick like a coat of armor, whether to my wedding, to the movies, or a pants-less night on my couch.
I have a long way to go on the journey of loving myself, but I'm getting there, one shade of red at a time.
Oh, and if you’re curious, here are my favorite red lipsticks, in no special order.
Lancome L'Absolu Rouge in Rouge Amour ($30.50)
This replenishing lipstick goes on smooth for even and supple coverage. It isn't as long-wear as I'd like, but the actual feel of the product on your lips is great.
Sephora Cream Lip Stain in Always Red ($14)
Sephora’s cream lip stain is made for long wear, and it goes on bright and vivacious. Personally, I would have liked a little more durability out of this lipstick, but, if you're cool with reapplying, the color is lovely.
bareMinerals Marvelous Moxie in Light it Up ($18)
As a longtime fan of bareMinerals, I can attest to the quality of this perfectly pigmented red lipstick. With a rich satin finish, this color is super vibrant and very dramatic looking.
CoverGirl Outlast All Day Lip Color in Ever Red-Dy ($8.49)
For roughly five years now, this has been my go-to red lipstick for everyday wear. Don’t let the photo fool you, this is a bold red that complements a ton of looks. Once you set it, you can literally forget it until way late in the day. My only gripe with this lipstick is that it dries out my lips quickly and results in a cracked, chapped look if not maintained throughout the day.
NYX Matte Lipstick in Perfect Red ($6)
This marvelous matte is like a gift from the lipstick gods. It's hydrating, it lasts for hours, and the color is poppin'. I usually apply this bad boy twice daily, and that is it.
P.S. Their Sweet Pink color is DIVINE if you want Barbie pink lips.