First published on Black Ballad website (paywall) on 9 February 2018.
Most of us remember when we lost our virginity. Perhaps you were 16-years-old in your boyfriend’s box room or a few years older in a nightclub toilet cubicle? You’ll probably be able to tell me about the lucky guy or lady – their name, how they smelt, how it ended.
But what about the first time you tried on lipstick? Can you recall who you were with, where you were standing, your chosen shade? It’s probably not as vivid as your first fling, right? Especially if, as research from 2014 suggests, the average British woman in her late-twenties started wearing make-up aged 14*. Given that a lot has changed in four years and the rapid rise of blogger and social media influence in the last few years, it is more than plausible to believe that today’s girls and young women started wearing makeup at an even younger age.
My first memory of wearing lipstick is one of my most vivid. Not because of any trauma or drama. But because it happened 6 weeks ago – on 28 December 2017 to be exact, not long after my 30th birthday. Wearing lipstick has changed my life. But before I get into all that, let me take you back to (near) the beginning.
I’ve always been a late bloomer when it comes to ‘embracing my femininity’. While my friends at secondary school were rocking handbags and glittered eye shadow, I was firmly in pedal pushers and relying on jeans pockets to carry my things. Like most teenage girls, I craved male attention. When I struggled to get any interest, I felt ugly and rejected. I responded with defiance, deciding to focus on my strengths (mostly academics) and to never do anything to try to please men. In my mind, experimenting with make-up would have undermined my new-found strength, making me as superficial as the boys who shunned me. So I avoided it completely.
Even when, aged 19, I introduced mascara and clear lip gloss into my beauty regime, I still maintained my anti-make-up views. Yes, I might have been getting more male attention but this only ‘proved’ my argument: make-up was pointless. I didn’t need it to be happy and I didn’t need it to get a man. So while my friends were living that Mac life, I was free to spend my coin on more profound pleasures. No lipstick for these lips.
And then Fenty Beauty dropped last September.
From the models – with their subtle, yet striking, beauty – to the brand’s story – I was hooked and began following the campaign keenly. When my mum mentioned, in passing, that she and my younger sister were going to Harvey Nichols to buy some products, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. “Woah! Are you feeling OK?”, was my mum’s reaction followed by more questions about my reasons for going and my plans once I got there.
When the three of us walked through the doors of Harvey Nichols on 28 December, I had no plans to buy anything. While my mum and sister tested foundations, I hung out by the lipstick counter, drawing a rainbow of swatches on my hand. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing – neither did the nearby security guard who was now taking a keen interest in my movements (or was I being paranoid?).
Thankfully, a make-up artist had also been watching me and suggested some lipstick shades. The first one looked awful on me, as verified by my mother and sister who were looking at me with shaking heads and screwed lips. When the same thing happened with a second lipstick, I was ready to just buy a Fenty Gloss and go.
Sensing my disappointment, my mum instructed the artist to try a brown lipstick with some gloss and brown lip pencil. Once the artist had finished, I looked in the mirror and what I saw shocked me. I looked beautiful. An absolute snack, in fact. I turned to my family to see if they agreed. “Yes, you look good, girl”, said my mum, as my sister put both her thumbs up. Smiling from ear to ear, I paid for my lipstick (PMS in the Mattemoiselle range, if you were wondering) and left the store on a high.
Walking around Knightsbridge, I couldn’t stop admiring my reflection in the shop windows. Other people were checking out my fabulous lips too, including my boyfriend, who showered me with kisses and compliments when I got home.
Fast forward two months and I now own a lip liner, which I bought by myself and wear make-up most days. Looking back, I see that I let male rejection stop me from fully exploring who I am and I’m now committed to unlearning my unhealthy views about beauty.
My Fenty escapade forced me to examine myself. And I loved what I saw. A must in a world hell-bent on denigrating Black womanhood. So yes, I will always cherish my lipstick virginity story. Much more than my ‘real’ one, anyway.