My initial reaction was to just wonder why. I don't really want to criticize young feminists, but this seems so... heteronormative or something. Traditionally, in western culture, red lips are about looking sexually appealing to men, no?
Then I figured, this must be a "thing" that I just don't know about. And I found out that the idea comes from this tumblr called The Red Lips Project.
The idea, according to the about page on the tumblr:
Women are intrinsically powerful. But I realized that many of the women in my life don’t always have a space to express their power. I wanted to create a project to change this and give them that space.
As a photographer, I have always been fascinated by the imagery of red lips. To me, red symbolizes power; it is a sign of strength and courage. This was corroborated further when rapper A$AP Rocky stated that dark skinned women shouldn’t wear red lipstick. He certainly wasn’t the first to say this and he certainly won’t be the last. This inspired a movement where women of color posted pictures of themselves wearing red lipstick. These pictures were just one way in which women were able to fight back the beauty norms and instead revel in their own ideals.
When I saw these pictures, what stood out to me was how powerful each woman looked; they had all maintained their individual identities, but the underlying power behind each picture was the unifying element.
I took inspiration from this movement to create The Red Lips Project. Each woman I photograph is asked the question, “What makes you feel powerful?” My only other request is that they wear red lipstick as it serves as both an aesthetic and symbolic unifier. Every other detail in the photograph is the subject’s decision.
The Red Lips Project serves to remind women everywhere of their intrinsic power. I find this to be a therapeutic process for both myself and the women I photograph; we don’t always take time to pause and remind ourselves why we should feel powerful. I hope in exploring this blog you too can find ways to remind yourself of why you are powerful.So, I gather there's a critique in this project about a rapper who said that dark skinned women shouldn't wear red lipstick. From reading what he said (here's [a version of?] the interview and an article about the interview that has the quote where he says dark skinned women shouldn't wear red lipstick, and also an article about how he responded to criticism about what he said from women of color) he's not making a feminist critique of makeup, but more saying that he doesn't like it much.
This complicates things, doesn't it?
My reaction is still that red lipstick doesn't feel empowering to me. But having read some critiques and responses of the general idea (not specifically aimed at the rapper's comments) (here's one from Essence (2014), and here's one from Essence in 2016), I think there's a whole lot of thinking I haven't done about lipstick, especially for women of color.
I don't know if my students have, either. (The college feminists here tend to be pretty white, and overall, this isn't a campus where most white students are really thoughtfully critiquing racism.)
What are your thoughts?
(I don't wear make-up, and am unlikely to notice if someone else is, unless it's really sparkly or something; I'm also very bad at noticing what people are wearing unless it's a really strong color that appeals to me. The bonus is that you can wear the same thing to see me every day and I won't be bored. The downside is that I probably won't notice when you've put on an especially wonderful outfit and look especially wonderful in it. I try to dress myself so that my clothes are reasonably clean, weather appropriate, and won't get me arrested. So far, so good on the arrest part.)