An Interlude

Apologies for deviating from my Lipstick Chronology schedule so soon after announcing it, but the last couple of weeks have been challenging. My grandmother passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly nine days ago, at the age of ninety-six. Between processing that shock and conducting a job search in a new field, I haven’t had a lot of energy for blogging, but I hope to return to regular scheduling next Friday.

It’s fitting that the next review in my queue will discuss a Revlon lipstick, since my grandmother wore Revlon lipstick for most of her adult life and, in fact, bought me my first piece of real makeup when I was about twelve: a clear Revlon Moon Drops lipstick with that heavy, flowery, distinctly geriatric scent. Grandma told me once that her father, an immigrant from Lithuania, had been reluctant to let her attend a coed public high school in Brooklyn because the female students wore makeup, which suggested to him that they were “fast.” But she wanted to go to that high school, and she prevailed, as she usually did—and started wearing makeup, too.

Later, against her husband’s wishes, Grandma got an MA in English at Columbia and became a high school English teacher. She and I were very different people, with very different worldviews and values, but our love of English literature always connected us (as did our shared birthday: we were both Scorpios).

Grandma and her parents in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, c. 1940.

I’ve been thinking recently about how beauty rituals link generations of women, even women who, like my grandmother, my mother, and me, have relatively little in common with one another. I’ve been thinking about W. B. Yeats’s poem “Adam’s Curse,” in which a woman tells the male speaker, a stand-in for Yeats, “To be born woman is to know— / Although they do not talk of it at school— / That we must labour to be beautiful.” Yeats isn’t exactly a feminist icon, but he gets at something important in this poem: living as a girl or woman necessarily means existing in relation to beauty standards, and we each have to decide how to negotiate that relation, since we can never truly escape it. (The male speaker misses his friend’s point entirely, chiming in that he knows exactly how women feel, since he has to work hard on his poetry, too: “It’s certain there is no fine thing / Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.” Typical.)

More lipstick soon. For now, stay well, and I’ll try to do the same.

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