Have you ever watched those films back when people went to war, and  they would smear paint on their faces?  I have. Growing up, I have seen  indigenous communities be depicted as wearing war paint (though we know  that Hollywood likes to make anyone who is not-white seem like savages  and dangerous); yet I have also seen basically anything that young Mel  Gibson was in that depicted wars and warfare.

This gesture of painting one’s face, even within the fictitious guise  of Hollywood, has always fascinated me. I have been entranced by the  idea of war paint, since I first saw it ritualistically and dramatically  get smeared on warriors faces. Furthermore, when I moved to the South,  and started getting racialized by white people, my understanding of  oppression became intimate. Moving to the South means learning a certain  set of defense mechanisms that mirror the aforementioned war paint.

So every morning before I go out, I put on lipstick and the colors  usually match my mood. But my intentional application of said lipsticks  is my version of war paint.

When I smear these pigmented sticks on my lips, as an immigrant brown  Latina in the South, I am preparing myself for war. And this is not war  as we would understand it, but rather a metaphor for what it means to  be a non-white person in places like Nashville, Tennessee.

The subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle racism disguised as  well-intentioned curiosity consistently has left me feeling disarmed,  vulnerable, and therefore exposed.  I remember when I first moved to  Nashville and being out at a bar attempting to enjoy myself, and a white  man rubbed my exposed shoulders while asking, “Is your skin really this  color?” He assumed I had tanning spray on, or had laid on a tanning  bed, because he had never seen someone with my skin tone before, and in  his “well-intentioned curiosity” he had managed to other me.  This was just one example of what I experienced when I first moved to a  predominantly white city. These disarming comments never get old, and I  never grew accustomed to it—rather I learned a particular kind of  survival tactic. I have learned to arm myself, to adorn yourself  accordingly, and lipstick is one of those armaments.

However, this transition of learning new coping mechanisms has taken  my years to learn because I am also unlearning my own biases against  heavily made-up women. I did not grow up wearing lipstick, other than  the occasional night out as I grew older. And if I ever did wear  lipstick, I felt self-conscious.  I grew up in a conservative church  where women’s clothing, makeup, hairstyles, and even mannerisms were  heavily monitored and controlled.  All these things were reflections of  our souls, or at least that is the theology that we were told. Good  things were blessings from God, bad things were punishments from the  same God, and how women functioned were reflections of their souls,  husbands, dads, God, etc. Essentially, if you loved God then you did not  need outsider-affirmations, because God was all you needed.

So when I began to realize that I wanted to wear lipstick, I carried  this strange (yet very much learned/taught) shame that was given to me  through this church. As I grew older and attended seminary, I realized  how much the particular theology I was taught about women was actually  bad and even dangerous. Realizing how policed I was growing up by my  church has made me more determined to reclaim these things that were  weaponized against me.

Furthermore, within my own personal growth and radicalization I began  to gain the confidence to finally wear makeup on a regular basis, and  to wear lipstick on a regular basis. And then somewhere along that  journey, I discovered the power of makeup, and specifically the power of  lipstick: the power of femme armor. I discovered how to create and  curate a version of myself that helped me manage life in the South as a  brown Latina immigrant from Nicaragua.

Now I am adamant about upholding and elevating makeup as war paint,  as it is the reality of tons of femmes who have also framed makeup as  war paint.  Interestingly, how someone approaches a Latina wearing  anything red says more about that person than anything else. The spicy  Latina stereotype depicts Latinas as fiery, and thus associates us all to  the color red. So I learned to pay attention, and I have learned to  adjust my behavior according to how people react to me wearing anything  red.

Red is my color, and I have a feeling it will always be my color. Red  lipstick is an homage to the tired spicy Latina troupe, but it is also  my middle finger to those people who sexualize me without my consent  simply because I am Latina, simply because they have never been exposed  to someone like me.

Racism comes from places of ignorance, but that does not mean that I  am going to be the one to constantly educate people how to approach me.  Simply because I exist does not mean that I must have my own body and  features weaponized against me...

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