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Girl Smarts 'I couldn't embrace red lipstick until I made this major life change'

New experiences open up a world of possibilities. An introductory beauty adventure? Especially so. As children, it helps develop our taste.

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'I Couldn't Embrace Red Lipstick Until I Made This Major Life Change' play

'I Couldn't Embrace Red Lipstick Until I Made This Major Life Change'

(PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF LIZZY GOODMAN)
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"The problem was, a bold red lip was an announcement to all that you cared. That you were trying."

New experiences open up a world of possibilities. An introductory beauty adventure? Especially so. As children, it helps develop our taste.

But as adults, changing an aspect of our physical selves often symbolizes something bigger about the women we are...and are on our way to becoming.

In our January/February 2018 issue, we asked six writers to explain how these moments transformed them in ways that go far beyond lipstick tubes and hair dyes. Here's one woman's story:

Dolly Parton famously said that her look was inspired by the town tramp, whose "piles of bleached hair, red lipstick, nails and cheeks and high-heel shoes" made her look like a movie star to young, plain Dolly, all skinned knees and dirty bare feet.

As a fellow country girl from Corrales, New Mexico, I can relate to that extreme view of glamour.

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The girls whose look I idealized growing up were my older, naughtier babysitters. They used curling irons and clouds of Aqua Net to transform their thick bangs into stiff forehead waterfalls, wore bright blue Wet n Wild eye shadow, and, in what seemed like the height of freedom and daring, sometimes just went ahead and painted their lips the brightest possible scarlet red. And went out in public like that. During the day.

I was a good kid. A studious kid. The kind of kid for whom bright red lipstick would surely—based on what I'd learned from watching 90210—serve as a gateway drug to... who knows what? Detention? Pregnancy? Certainly it wouldn't look good on my college applications.

And so I refrained, all through middle school, and high school, and even college. By then, I was wearing makeup, but I was a rock girl—an English major by day and show-goer by night.

So it was all black eyeliner and multiple layers of Great lash mascara. Red lipstick still seemed like a bridge too far. The problem was, a bold red lip was an announcement to all that you cared. That you were trying. That you wanted to be looked at and paid attention to.

At 20, that felt like a threatening statement, both because it risked undermining the image of seriousness I was so desperate to project to the world (and to myself) and because it meant saying out loud that I liked myself. Or at least that I liked some parts of my face.

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But by 22 I was coming home from my job as a second-grade school teacher with the back of my hand striped with shades of red; there was a Bloomingdale's not far from my subway stop, and I'd duck in there after class to experiment.

By 25 I was wearing red lipstick every day. I could credit a boyfriend who encouraged my inner pinup; I could credit my first roommate, with her bottomless drawers of products and equally endless patience in teaching me how to apply them; I could credit Yeah Yeah Yeahs front woman Karen O, with her gloriously punk smeared-red pout; but really, it's New York City I have to thank.

When I moved here after college, it was the first time I'd ever been in a place vast and varied enough to accommodate my whole, multichanneled self. I no longer had to choose between smart and pretty, between wanting to be a respected writer and wanting to have flame-red Nars Heat Wave permanently tattooed onto my lips. New York taught me that more is always more.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of Women's Health. For more great advice, pick up a copy of the issue on newsstands now!

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