The Rise and Fall of Lip Gloss

I don’t know why but I’ve been thinking a lot recently about those lip gloss tubes they used to sell at Victoria’s Secret. Maybe they still sell them, but people don’t seem to buy them anymore. No one really wears lip gloss anymore. It’s all about matte lipstick.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I would think that the reason we, as adult women, transition out of glosses to sticks or stains or whatever is because there is something juvenile about gloss. It looks unnatural, it looks girly. It’s sticky and sweet–there’s something wholesome about how sexual that is, how unknowing girls are about their mouths being sticky as they purse their lips over braces-clad teeth.

There’s also something entirely unkissable about lip gloss. (I love make-up enthusiast women. I’m fully aware that makeup enthusiast women don’t give two fucks about what looks kissable or palatable or natural. But some other women do.) Is it possible that somewhere behind in the subconscious parts of our brains, there is an urge to not be babyish anymore, to not be girly but to be entirely the girl next door, rough and tumble but still sexy and strong? The girl next door doesn’t get offended by boys talking about fucking girls. The girl next door makes jokes at other people’s expense but doesn’t care when jokes are made at her own. The girl next door is strong and beautiful and natural and somewhere in the back of the boys heads, they think about kissing her. She is not awkward. She is never wrong. She does not try to be pretty. Her lips are not glossy or sticky or sweet.

I don’t know why I’m thinking so much about these lip glosses, but we used to hoard them in ninth grade. Peach of my heart. Laffy Taffy. Mauvealous. Shades of pink and blush that did not conjure orgasms or vagina lips, just candy. My friends and I in ninth grade were nobodies as far as small town high schools go. Only some of us drank, and rarely. Only some of us had crushes on boys but they were mythical, boys who were so far out of our reach that the crushing was from afar, a game. We played Sims. We read books. We made jokes. We hung out with each other. When we hung out with boys we didn’t kiss them or think about kissing them. We hoped this time they would let us play video games with them. If they didn’t, we didn’t really care.

My best friend at the time was dating a senior boy and she was the first of us to enter the realm of the Cool Girl. She was the first to become a girlfriend, a girl among boys. She held her pee when they were out galavanting. She offered to bring us places sparingly, fearing our silliness might disrupt their ecosystem. She tried on this new identity carefully. When it fell apart, she returned to us, goofy and freewheeling as ever.

But this boyfriend had had a long-term girlfriend that was much older than we were. She was a junior. She and her friends drank Four Lokos and boys liked them. In high school power structures they had the stature to ruin our lives. Which they tried because they believed my friend helped this boyfriend cheat before he dumped her. She didn’t. The real girl who had never said anything, also older. Already a girl next door.

I will never forget one geometry class. (Not one I was present for, but when you’re high school best friends things like physical presence are often implied, filled in by story, don’t matter.) These too-old-for-lip-gloss, push-up-bra-wearing girls sat behind my friend, Emily, berating our friend with the boyfriend. Older girls. Cooler girls. Meaner girls. Somebodies when we were meek and nerdy, book and lip gloss hoarding freshmen. Emily swiveled in her chair and she said something. I wasn’t there and it was six years ago so I don’t know what she said exactly. I wish I could tell you it was a fast one-two punch. I wish I could concoct a John Hughes worthy slap in the face to tell you she said. But I can’t. Because the exact words didn’t matter. All that mattered was the trail of phonemes, tied together sloppily, scaredly, as they breathed their way out of her lungs across the room to these girls. Uncool, Harry-Potter-loving, lip-gloss-wearing, video-gaalgebrame-playing virgin looking up from her x^2 + 2x + 1 to say something to the Cool Girls at the back of the room. Without hesitation. Without getting up. Without waiting. She could have been torn apart too. She could have been added to the Formspring shitlist and she knew it. But she wasn’t. Instead, the Cool Girls shut up. And she went back to her worksheet.

I think about this story now as these friends I love so dearly are now scattered across this country, most at least 3,000 miles away from me. They are no longer awkward virgin nerds and have all grown into beautiful gracious women. They still collect books and sing in silly voices and dance like no one is around. They are the friends who gather around a table in a Chinese restaurant as you talk about someone who’s hurt you and say “I’d love to see him right now. I’d punch him in his face.” They are the friends who microwave you frozen pizza when you drunk cry and don’t ever mention it again. They are not the girls who mention your drunken stupid nights months later in a crowd to watch you squirm. They are not the girls who listen along when a guy asks if he can fuck a girl with one hand and hold a burrito in another. They are not palatable. They are loud and funny and brash. They will yell at you on the phone when you fail to communicate. They will angry text you when you get them sick because you forgot to cover your mouth when you coughed. They will correct the way you pronounce “panini” to the actual Italian, knowing no one cares as much as they do. They will teach you dance moves even though you look like a fool. They want to take you rock climbing even though they know you’re not as athletic as they are and they want to go rock climbing even though they know they’ll pale in comparison to the friend who’s an expert. They want to tell you everything about their boyfriends because they love them and they don’t care that it makes them sound like the popular-boy-dating middle schoolers we never were. They are gobsmacking and strong women. They have opinions. They don’t care if no one agrees.

None of them collect lip glosses anymore. But if you asked them, I think they’d be able to find them all at the bottom of a dresser drawer. I think they would wear them if you asked them to. I think they would still put down their geometry homework for you even if you didn’t ask.

They are not the girl next door. They never had any interest in being the girl next door. I know there must be more girls like this somewhere. The girls who don’t cultivate aesthetics because they don’t know how. The girls who talk in funny voices and lend you their clothes and who open their lives to you like bending back the branches of a tree as you follow them into the woods. I feel like I have recently returned from a journey around the globe. I have sat at the popular table and I have been the girl among boys. I have been on the inside of the clique and on the outside. All I am left with from my travels is a strong memory of those silly, expensive lip glosses and a couple other lingering thoughts: How lucky I am to have grown up with the girls I did. How rare they are to find. How much I aspire to be them, and how much easier it is to simply exist in their presences. How much I treasure the ones I have found, clasped in my palm tightly like shells streaked in purple as I walk down a rocky beach.

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