The first time my mama caught me trying to cut off my lips, I was 10. Kids called me “bubblicious lips” and “Wanda” so much, I don’t think they knew my real name (and I hate Jamie Foxx to this day). As far as I was concerned, performing this minor surgical procedure in our tiny bathroom would make it all go away.
My mother, fearful and frustrated, tried to remind me of everything I’d heard in Sunday school and children’s church: God made me just the way I am, and God makes no mistakes. Of course, as mothers do, she also tried to tell me the boys who picked on me secretly liked me, and the girls were just trying to fit in with the crowd.
Her pep talk made me put the scissors down for the moment, but it didn’t change how I felt about myself. I was a chubby, big-lipped black girl. I would never be beautiful. In high school, everyone told me that using the darkest liner possible would make my lips look smaller, and that I should stay away from colors and glosses.
When I got to college, the only reason the size of my lips wasn’t a source of ridicule was that men foolishly thought they made me more sexual. By then I was in my 20s, and yet still wishing my mother hadn’t walked in on me that day so many years before.
So I completely understand why Instagram user and Muslimah Grace Boye (also known as @n0bleprincess, pictured above) thought she couldn’t wear Fenty Beauty’s Stunna Lip Paint in “Uncensored” because she has full lips. Big-lipped girls aren’t supposed to do colors—especially not red.
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There is something about a red lip that signals power, fierceness, elegance, sensuality, agency, ownership—everything people who are told they are not beautiful should not have. And so we hide behind nudes and neutral colors, so as to not bring too much attention to ourselves. This is not to say we aren’t fly in our neutrals and that we don’t slay with our liners. However, if we told the truth, some of us exclusively use them because somewhere along the way, we began to believe the people who told us we couldn’t wear anything else.
This is precisely what led me to create Red Lip Theology. So many things exist to tell black women that they are not beautiful. At every turn, we’re sent messages that say we should hide in the shadows and allow the beauty that makes us black women to be desirable on everyone but us. I needed the 10-year-old girl still inside me to be reminded that she is a good creation and some of God’s best work. And it had to be a “red lip” theology.
Growing up in church, I was taught holy women don’t wear red—that was a color reserved for Jezebels and ladies of the night. Somehow, a red lip signaled that a woman’s sexuality and salvation were in conflict, and she was letting the devil win. But the more I learned to love me and my body, I knew that wasn’t the case.
I remember the first Sunday I wore red lipstick to church; I was handed a tissue. No words were exchanged, but I knew what it meant. And I couldn’t comply. I couldn’t go back to the days where I believed I was ugly and the best thing I could do was be invisible. God gave me these lips; they were created to hug the richest of reds. The world will deal. I even went to Sephora the day “Uncensored” came out and played in it all day. No, seriously: All day.
So I rock “Uncensored” and other red lippies like it to work, church and every place I see fit to affirm my beauty and power in this world. Using the #RedLipTheology hashtag for initiatives like “Red Lip Revival,” where we pair a red lip look with our favorite Scripture or inspirational message on social media, is all about countering the negative messages we receive daily that our bodies are not appropriate for public consumption.
Because it’s not really about our lips being too big to wear red lipstick; it’s about the fact that we would dare to show up and be present in this world. Whether they are passing us tissues down the pew or telling us to purchase jet-black lip liner (which didn’t make my lips look smaller, by the way), we are told to be invisible and to fade into the background. You can search for tips and tutorials on how to make your lips look smaller, but there are some of us who choose to be seen.
Every time I wear a red lippie or make a bold lipstick choice, a sister always tells me she wishes she could do the same. I ask her why she can’t. She tells me she’s been told that her lips are too big, too thin or not shaped properly to carry off the look. Someone told her that her complexion is too dark or too light for that particular shade. We are constantly being told something utterly ridiculous designed to dim our light and confidence.
But we are beautiful, and there is a spirit of sisterhood rising within this current beauty industry moment reminding us of that. I felt it the day Fenty Beauty launched, and black girls everywhere were “Yaaaas Sis”-ing each other every time the light caught that “Trophy Wife” glow. I feel it every time I scroll through social media and sisters are celebrating our creativity and downright sorcery when it comes to these dope cut creases. We are wonders to behold, and if it takes wearing red lipstick every day until we realize it, let’s stock up.
I don’t think my mother knew that Red Lip Theology was in store for me the day she told me to put down those scissors. She was a mother who just wanted her daughter to know that she was beautiful. And on the days I don’t necessarily feel beautiful or confident in myself and I reach for that red lipstick, I know it’s not me doing it. It’s that 10-year-old girl inside me reminding me that I’ve been through worse than today and I will make it.
With God and a red lip, I can make it through anything.