On the landscape of my face sit two mountain peaks: the twin pink summits of my top lip. They rise sharply, creating a defiant Cupid’s bow; they make a mouth more suited to a bygone era.
I hated my lips when I was younger. Too pointy, too small, too neat. An austere companion to my rounded cheeks, un-angled nose and unruly curls tumbling around my face. Early make-up experiments avoided the mouth because I struggled to respect its geometry and like a child I could not keep in the lines. Glosses and lipsticks slid out and over, lipliners only made those peaks more severe. Lipstick was not for me, I decided, lipstick was not my thing.
But when I was 21, that all changed. It was the early 2000s and a friend had introduced me to London’s alternative gay scene, where we danced at club nights named Nag Nag Nag and The Cock at now-long-gone Soho hotspot The Ghetto. Dress-up was encouraged and make-up was another portal to express ourselves.
So it was that one afternoon, before a big night out, we walked through the hallowed doors of Mac’s Soho store and I found my lipstick soulmate. Her name was Ruby Woo. She was the perfect shade – a blue-hued red that balanced my rosy cheeks and popped against my pale complexion. Best of all, Ruby Woo was matte. It did not slide. The colour stayed put. It did not creep outside the lines.
Putting it on for the first time was transformative – and its power has not waned since. A slick of bright red jolts you back to iconic old Hollywood, yet it's undisputedly modern too – this is a shade that refuses to let you hide away. My lipstick is warpaint and luxury and comfort and magic in one – it is a benevolent bullet of red-hot confidence I can carry wherever I go. I have worn Ruby Woo most weeks since that inaugural outing in Soho. She’s come with me to job interviews and meetings, to birthdays and dinner parties. I wore Ruby Woo to my wedding, even though someone told me brides “should wear pink”. And when a best friend died, I wore it for his funeral – I knew he would have wanted me that way.
Yes, I flirt with different shades: a berry tint here, a fuchsia gloss there. But Ruby Woo will always be The One. As age changes the map of my face, these peaked lips of mine morph slowly into something softer, but I shall never turn my back on lipstick.
A smear of rouge taught me to highlight what is unique, it helped me subvert the “flaws”. Lipstick might seem frivolous to some, but to me, it really can set you free.
Read four other 'made-up' stories in the midsummer issue of Oh Comely, out now.