The Enduring Love of Bright Lips

Sarah Graalman
3 min readJul 29, 2017


I first felt that I could be my own person when I realized I could put something bright on my lips. I was allowed in elementary school to wear lipstick when performing in plays or dance recitals, or I could ‘play’ if I asked properly, and would ask if I could wear the color up an down the block before removing it. I was a born bright-lip exhibitionist. I’d sneak into my mom’s make-up drawers and would slather colors on my face and lips until I felt satisfied. It took layers until I felt that click of satisfaction. When it was right, it was brain-buzzingly perfect.

Upon my entering 7th grade, I was told “You can pick ONE make-up product, and put it on here at home, and then that is it.” I decided on an Estee Lauder orang-ey pink and I put it on and on and on and on and until until it was probably a centimeter thick. When my ride picked me up for school, my friend’s mom said “Well, you sure have something on your lips.’ I proudly tossed my hair and responded, ‘YEAH I do.”

When you’re young you don’t give a whit. You like the strange things you’re drawn to, regardless of how silly others may think you look. You are what you are, unfiltered. At least I was. My most confident years were those before 13 or 14, which is the age many girls start apologizing for themselves (but that is another story for a different kind of day).

I’m sure I looked ridiculous, but I was happily ridiculous. I was ‘me’ — or rather, trying to find myself. I felt fabulous. I rocked over-the-top lipsticks straight through my school days. Orange to pinky-tan to a matte deep plum called ‘Perfect Mystery’ that I STILL fantasize about. I went from a teenyboppy girl who liked bright things, to a girl in flannels who liked dark matte lips pretty within a few years. It was 1993–4 when that transition occurred. Perfect Mystery brought it all together for me. A mix tape was given to me by a boy I met at an Art-camp one summer. The mix tape played a mix of The Stone Roses, Primus, and Ani DiFranco. I can still arise the emotional snap-shot of blaring that mix-tape, putting on a dark matte lip, and thinking “This is being grown-up now, isn’t it?” This is before we knew what a smizes were or had a million photos of ourselves plastered on the internet. All I needed was my review-mirror and my best friend telling me I looked cute.

There were the hours of searching in grocery stores and our one small town department store that had a single makeup counter. I’d linger endlessly in the aisles of the Consumer’s IGA, with my family members anxiously begging me to hurry up. I’d stare longer, thinking on who I wanted to be that next week. At grocery stores, trying on shades wasn’t allowed. You had to imagine what the color would become on your skin. You had to take a leap of faith. You had to know you were about to spend 3 dollars or 4 dollars on something that MAY be a disaster *it was never a disaster, because all colors were fun, somehow.

At the department store, I bothered the sales-girls. I talked to them like they were gurus who held the keys to the universe — as though they’d tell me some secret about some color and a new world would unfold for me. They knew how old I was, what my financial ramifications were as a pre-teen, yet they entertained my enthusiasm. I’d tinker and try-on and beg for money to get those long-stared at and coveted cream-bullets. I fondly remember the shade-names. The Black Honey’s and the Perfect Mystery’s and the Ginger Berry’s and I can feel the flush of excitement when I’d open the new tube. Because were perfectly loud. Because they made my brain click. With those loud clicks I began to assert myself as a person. These products were going to play a very important role in my life, I just didn’t know it yet.

Happy National Lipstick Day, y’all.