Lipstick Kisses

This post was inspired by the Identity in Balance series at Balancing Jane. Go check out all the amazing posts on this topic!

The writing prompt from Balancing Jane:

We all wear many labels. Some we wear our whole lives, and some shift as our relationships to those around us change. We are mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, teachers, students, friends, feminists, Democrats, Republicans, daughters, sons, employees, bosses, and a host of other identities that weave together to make us who we are in any particular time and space. Sometimes those identities easily merge together, but often there are excesses in the overlap, spaces that might confuse us, spaces that make it challenging to figure out who we are. Balancing Jane maintains that it is in those spaces that we find out the most about ourselves, that when we are forced to simultaneously own two labels that we might not have placed together we figure out what we stand for. It is also by inhabiting those spaces that we learn to appreciate other people, for if we can be more than one thing, then so can they, and that means that our preconceived notions of them are always–at best–an oversimplification.  

Pick any two labels that you wear (by choice or necessity) and reflect on how they intersect. Start with I am _________ and _______.

I am a feminist mom, and I wear lipstick.

To be clear, I am not interested in the question of whether feminists can/should wear lipstick. We can; I do.

What I am interested in is what it means to put on lipstick in the morning while my 5 year old daughter stands next to me in the bathroom, wanting just a couple more minutes with me before I leave for work. I love these moments together. Sometimes I tickle her nose with a fluffy powder brush. Sometimes she asks me for lipstick kisses, and I press my lips to a tissue for her. I find them behind the couch, in her bed, tucked under her plate when I clean up the lunch dishes. She holds them tight for a few minutes at the start of the day, when she’s missing me, and then they drift out of her hands.

She loves princesses, sparkly shoes, tiaras. She loves dinosaurs, frogs, digging for worms. So far, so good. I worried that going to preschool would mean immersing her in gender roles and norms, but she hasn’t let on that she has much of a sense of toys or colors being only appropriate for boys or girls. But she has asked to wear makeup.

“Can I wear blue sparkly eye make-up to preschool?”

“Nope. It’s for grown-ups.”

She pointed out that one of the girls in her class wears blue sparkly eye make-up. “She’s not a grown up, Mom. She’s 4 like me.”

“Every family has different rules, sweetie, and in our family, blue sparkly eye make-up is for grownups, or maybe for dress up, but not for school.”  She wasn’t satisfied, but she let it go. I went to pack my laptop; she went to the toy room. She reappeared by my side with her Ballerina Barbie doll.

“Ballerina Barbie wears blue eye make up.”

“Yup. Is she a kid, or a grown up?”

“A grown up.”  Pause. Then the kicker. “But I bet if she had a little girl, she would let her little girl wear blue sparkly eye makeup to preschool.”

I could not have imagined that there would be a moment when my child would compare me to hypothetical mother Ballerina Barbie and I would come up short. But there we were.

We have tried hard to provide options, not restrictions when it comes to gendered toys: Barbie AND dinosaurs. But I wonder about what she is learning from the ways I perform gender and femininity, from my lipstick kisses. Is this how she sees beauty? Am I setting her up to see herself as inadequate because on some level, I see myself that way? How much will she think pretty matters?

I’ve lived a lot of different versions of femininity. I wear lipstick most days now, but I haven’t always; but this is the only me she knows. How much will any of it matter to her, my lipstick, my shaved legs, my unshaved armpits, my perfume? I know what beauty looks like and feels like in and on my own skin.  I want her to know those things too. I’m worried the lipstick will distract her. I’m worried she’ll waste time feeling ugly or unlovable, the way most teenage girls do, the way I did. I’m a feminist mom, and I wear lipstick, and I want to raise daughters who know they are gorgeous through and through.

4 Responses to Lipstick Kisses

  1. This is tough right? It goes deep. It speaks to you wanting to maintain your own identity but also worrying about the evolution of your daughter’s. Can you reflect on your own process? What you saw as a child?

    My mother never wore lipstick (which probably made me think she never wore makeup at all) and I noticed. I didn’t even think about make-up until I was much older (maybe even out of college) and I never thought make-up was needed to make you pretty. My mom was/is beautiful in my eyes and little girls want to be like their moms. But let’s be honest. As an adult I know my mom never wore lipstick because she doesn’t like it. She wasn’t trying to make a feminist statement.

    These are complicated questions you have raised here. Just the fact that you are thinking about it all means you are a conscious and aware parent. THAT is priceless – no matter the color of your kiss.

    • Thanks!! My mom definitely wore make up when I was kid, but I wasn’t particularly aware /engaged with that as a kid, and her rules for my makeup were fairly reasonable, even to my teenage self. It never really felt like an issue either one of us were invested in– maybe because there were other, much more deeply fraught issues? I think I’ve been so aware of it as a parent because D is so interested in the process, in standing next to me on the step stool while I put make up on. And there’s a certain amount of pleasure in those moments for me, but I think as a feminist I’m a little suspicious of that pleasure and connection– like, am I just intentionally being oblivious to the ways I am schooling her into the patriarchy with my lipstick? Which sounds a little heavy-handed, I know. But then I walk into my college classrooms and I see so many young women who are so deeply insecure about their bodies and their brains and their identities, and I feel just desperate to use any tool I can to give my girls more confidence, you know?

  2. I do. I’m just starting to feel it with my own daughter but I think about it constantly.

  3. Pingback: What Lauren Learned About Identity & Work via a Craft Disaster (aka “Do it, start it, FUCK THIS IT’S NOT WORKING!”) | mama nervosa

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