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 then would ask if I could wear the color up an down the block before removing it. I was a born bright-lip exhibitionist. I would sneak into my mom's, or my grandmother's make-up drawers and would slather colors on my face and lips until I felt satisfied. It took a lot of applying until I felt that click of satisfaction. But when it was right, I 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." and so 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 to school picked me up for school, my friend's mom said "Well, you sure have something on your lips.' and I proudly tossed my hair and responded 'YEAH I do."

When you're young enough 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 when many girls who start apologizing for themselves (but that is another story for a different kind of day).

I reckon I looked ridiculous, but I was happily ridiculous. I was 'me'--or rather, trying to find myself. I felt fabulous, even if no one thought I was fabulous.  I rocked over-the-top lipsticks straight through my school-days. Orange to pinky-tan to a matte deep plum called 'Perfect Mystery' 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 quickly. It was 1993-4 when that transition occurred... when Perfect Mystery brought it all together for me. That and a mix tape given to me by a boy I met at an Art-camp I 'summered' at a few years. The mix tape contained a decent mix of The Stone Roses and Primus and Ani DiFranco. I can still see an emotional snap-shot of listening to 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 smize was, or had a million photos of ourselves plastered on the internet. I had my review-mirror and my best friend telling me I looked cute.

There were the hours of searching in grocery stores and beauty supply stores and weird small town department stores. Standing alone in the aisles of the Consumer's IGA, with my mom or dad or brother anxiously begging me to hurry up. Staring, thinking about who I wanted to be that next week.  At grocery stores trying on 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 new colors at that point were fun.)

When 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 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 they were perfectly loud. Because I began to assert myself as a person then. Because these products were going to play a very important role in my life, I just didn't know it yet.

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AuthorSarah Graalman