Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lipstick Adonis

     Am I alone in my assertion that one of the true tests of a serious relationship seems to be whether or not you can get your boyfriend to try on your lipstick at least once during the course of your romance? In my opinion, it's an indicator of how comfortable you are with each other, a barometer of your mutual playfulness. My sister, Emi, regularly subjects Carl, her husband of 25 years, to beauty treatments, like Mary Kay Satin Hands and mud masks, which leads me to believe he probably enjoys pampering himself. Outside of Halloween, I don't know if she's gotten him to put on her lipstick. At last report, Haley, my son Nick's girlfriend, has only been successful in convincing him to let her paint one of his toenails. This really didn't surprise me. Nick's dad never permitted me to glamorize him, either--the only makeup I'm aware of him ever having worn was camouflage grease paint during turkey hunting season.
     Brad initially resisted my attempts to decorate him, but after about ten months of dating, he gave in. First, he agreed to pose in a red Afro clown wig. He said the hair reminded him of a children's show he watched growing up in Michigan called Oopsy the Clown. That's when I first started affectionately referring to Brad as Oopsie (I didn't know how to spell it!). About a month later, we flew up to Columbus, Ohio so Brad could meet Emi and Carl for the first time. They live in Bexley, in a funky turn-of-the-19th century Sears catalog house with a teeny tiny room upstairs that Emi has designated as "the make-up room." It has a custom-fitted twin bed, a small closet, a window seat with storage, and a vanity chest crammed full with an impressive array of products. Brad was sitting in there with me one morning, keeping me company while I applied my mascara, when I finally convinced him to let me put some of Emi's lipstick on him. He wasn't exactly thrilled with the idea, but being a good sport, he complied. The tomato shade on his lips complemented his blue eyes, but looked startlingly grotesque in the context of his facial and chest hair. It wasn't a good look for Brad, who from now I'll refer to as Spartacus. Satisfied that Spartacus had ventured out of his comfort zone to indulge my silly whim, I handed him a box of Kleenex to wipe away the lipstick, but not before snapping a picture of his awkward glamour.
    Emi and I used to love dressing up our little brother, Peter, as a girl when he was a toddler. We sometimes needed him to play a girl in the variety shows we put on for Mom and Dad, but more often than not, it was just for the sheer pleasure of seeing him transformed into "Mona." We'd put brown leotards on his head for pigtails, outfitting him in a frilly shirt, vest, and skirt, completing the look with a pair of saddle shoes. Peter was always very cooperative; I think he liked the attention. He was a darling boy and girl. Despite the fact that much of Peter's early childhood was spent as Mona, he managed to grow up a regular guy, clearly defying the notion that "pink is for girls and blue is for boys." What a bunch of hooey! Mona, sans leotard pigtails, is immortalized in a dramatically shadowed black and white photograph taken by my older brother, Leszek (LEH shek), displayed for posterity's sake on a wall in Mom's dining room.
    As a medical student, I did a preceptorship in a pediatrician's office in Perry, Georgia. I examined the kids first and presented my findings to Dr. Dan, who would then re-examine them and prescribe any necessary treatment. One morning, I was trying to get a three year old boy to cooperate with an otoscopic exam. He was flailing and screaming, and his mother was of little help. This was back when the Telly Tubbies were popular, and in an attempt to calm him down and engage him so I could look inside his ears, I jokingly observed "Oh my, I think I see a Telly Tubby in there!" His sourpuss mother immediately informed me, "Them Telly Tubbies carry purses! They're all gay! Timmy don't watch them Telly Tubbies." With a mom like that, who needs enemies?
    Gender-bending 70s glam rockers like David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Iggy Pop made it socially acceptable for guys to wear makeup as a form of self-expression. I adored Freddie Mercury's early look: the eyeliner, the cool shag cut, the black fingernails on his left hand. These were looks emulated by boys and girls alike. I saw nothing wrong with it then, and I see nothing wrong with it now. I think our society is ridiculously hung up on sexuality, an attitude which is propagated by residual puritanical beliefs and a fear of those who are different from us, fueled by our own insecurities. What are we so afraid of? When you consider how tribal men have festooned themselves with war paint, tattoos, and piercings for millenia, and how even our forefathers adorned themselves with powdered wigs, it seems silly to equate a guy's desire to embellish his features with a problem in his gender identity. Nowadays, there is no shortage of mirror-loving manly men running around with Botoxed foreheads and chin implants. We all want to make the most of what we've got. Whether you call it vanity or self-improvement, cosmetic enhancement has never singularly been a woman's thing; our men have just gotten a lot more sneaky about it!

Brad, aka Oopsie aka Spartacus, 2008 

Lipstick Adonis, 2008, posted with Brad's permission :-)
Peter as Mona, 1972

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