My Life in Lipstick

7 years ago

A month after my mother died, I went into her bedroom to go through her things. It seemed as though she was simply away, although, except for periodic surgeries that kept her in the hospital for a few days, my mother had not spent a night away from home for at least eleven years.

In the mirror above the dresser, I saw myself opening her drawers and touching her clothing, like a thief or a tabloid reporter. On her dresser, there were perfume bottles, doilies, photographs, piles of paper, ephemera, and a small, round mirror on top of which were arranged a few long, golden tubes filled with waxy lipstick.

The story of lipstick in my life is like books, or my first love, or college- integral. I remember my grandmother putting it on in quick, delicate dabs to her small mouth before she left the house. My mother reapplied immediately after meals, she kept a tube in her glove compartment, another in her purse.

I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until I was thirteen, and then, the rules were specific -- no mascara (not even when I was much older -- my mother thought it would ruin my eyelashes), nothing on my skin, only eyeshadow (perfectly socially acceptable in the early 90’s), and something on my lips.

I wore lip gloss at first, the kind that came in fat, pastel-colored tubes and tasted like melon and wax. In high school, my friend and I discovered Carmex, which came in a round blue container and made our lips buzz. I don’t remember when I started wearing actual lipstick, but as soon as I did, I could not stop. I’ve become my mother in that sense. I still don’t know what color I wear, just the number on the bottom of the tube (914C) and I never pay more than two dollars for it (unless I’m stocking up). I’ve been known to wear the same pair of pants for a week at a time, but not being able to find my lipstick elicits panic.

It’s not strange that three generations of Jewish women were and are self-conscious about their mouths; there has scarcely been a second in the last 31 years when I haven’t obsessed over what was going into or coming out of mine, or what should have been. In the end, this sweaty palmed nervosa that comes with not knowing where to find an inconsequential plastic tube is the weirdest kind of genetics, but it is mine.

by Chanel Dubofsky

Photo Credit: PawPaw67.

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