A day after the Las Vegas shooting, a good friend of mine, who had cowered at the Mandalay all night, posted a pic of herself on Facebook, and I applauded.
She’s a good-looking woman Lori, and she looks good in pics, but in this pic she looked spectacular. Strong, Resilient, Determined.
She had her war paint on.
A flash of bright red defiance carefully outlining her lips, she looked every inch the Warrior Princess. Xena would have been so proud. I was, and in the month that followed, when everything turned to custard in my own DownUnder world, I had the need to follow her example.
The day after taking my man to the hospital I woke and dressed carefully. I was reeling. My face was wan, my eyes red and bagged, but on my lips, I applied my favourite red lipstick.
In applying the lippy I was screaming to myself, to the world, to God to everyone – I will not lie down and be defeated. I am strong. (Even though I don’t feel it.) I am hopeful. (Even though I can’t always see how it will be OK in the end.)
I. Am. Brave.
And all of a sudden I realised the power behind Rosie the Riveter’s red lips.
And the power of raising a generation’s morale during World War 11 with Victory Red (Elizabeth Arden).
Perhaps, more movingly, I remembered this story about lipstick and the part it played in giving hope to the women in Bergen Belsen.
When the Allied forces freed Bergen Belsen on April 15, 1945, they were horrified by the brutal destruction. Men, women and children were dying at a rate of 500 per day. The soldiers were devastated by what they saw, and Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin DSO who was among the first British soldiers to liberate Bergen-Belsen in 1945 said in his diary
I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere, some in huge piles, sometimes they lay singly or in pairs where they had fallen. It took a little time to get used to seeing men women and children collapse as you walked by them and to restrain oneself from going to their assistance. One had to get used early to the idea that the individual just did not count. One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect.
But after the Red Cross visited the camp – no one knows if the visit was somehow connected with the event that came after – a large supply of red lipstick was donated to the female concentration camp survivors. As Gonin says, it was a stroke of genius.
I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.
Even at the brink of destruction women used their self-expression through the application of red lipstick, to scream – we are still here. We will not simply fade away.
We are still brave.
Then, and now, we can keep going.