How do you enter a room? How do you claim your space, assert your identity, and "own it?" Own who and what you are. Own your ideas, your right to be where you "don't belong." Own your body, your words and yourself. We all do it differently, some of us have yet to learn how to do it at all. But as women and especially those of us who are women of color or women who are chronically ill "owning it" and claiming our space is necessary and important to our sanity and our survival.
Because we are often in places and situations where we feel "less than" or "othered."
At a doctor's office.
At a literary event.
At a business meeting.
In a room full of men.
In a room full of white people.
At the gym.
At a gala or fundraiser.
At the hospital.
If we do not assert who and what we are and what we will and won't accept we can become victims. Victims of micro aggressions, victims of criticism and patronizing, victims of verbal and even physical abuse or discrimination.
I have recently been in many spaces where I needed to make an entrance and assert myself. It's taken years for me to learn how to do this and to do it well, and in some spaces I'm still trying to get better at it. I often feel like an impostor that I'm only faking it till I make it..but hey it's a start!
For example, I am often nervous before a reading (especially at colleges or universities) because I feel like there is an "expectation" for me to deliver a certain type of work, aesthetic, or answer certain types of questions. This still scares me, that people see me as the expert or the professional when it comes to writing. The responsibility of that is terrifying as I try to inspire and engage "new" writers when I still consider myself a new and emerging writer. But, I try and do several things to make an entrance, take up the space I deserve and own it:
1) I dress the part. I wear clothes and jewelry and even make up that is a reflection of how I'm feeling that day and that make me feel beautiful but comfortable! I rarely wear heels to these things because I'm self conscious and hate walking around in them since they cause pain. But dressing in a way that makes me feel confident allows me to exude confidence.
2) Speak only what I know. Instead of trying to tell people what they want to hear, I tell them MY truths based on MY experiences. I let them decide what advice they want to take.
3) I speak to everyone like a peer. I don't act "more than" or above anyone else and I make people feel comfortable enough around me to just chat.
4) I make no apologies for my word, my words, my story or who I am. If it offends you...good.
While there are times when I still struggle with this (I am trying to learn how to own it when I am my doctor's office. Doc's and all their knowledge still intimidate me at times, but I'm learning to be my own health advocate since I know my body best) I am getting better and only hope to continue growing.
"I was a tomboy growing up and I hated the thought of makeup. I did participate in this ritual however when I started going to dances at the Copa Cabana. I felt alive dancing all those cumbia songs. "Juana la Cubana," made my heart beat faster."-J.T.
"I started wearing red lipstick when I was eight or nine years old. No, I was not raised in a brothel; I was born into a theatrical family. Here I am at age 10 about to dance “Waltz of the Flowers,” and though it is not a color picture, I was most definitely wearing red lipstick. When I was a teen, we all wore pink lipstick; red was for old ladies, like you know, women over 30. Of course, I was an actress then, so I did wear red lipstick when I was working. During most of my adult years, I’ve worn many different shades, but I did not start wearing bright red lipstick again until a few years ago. Now it’s the only color lipstick I wear. It makes me happy and looks great with my silver hair."-B.D.
"I have never had the courage to wear red lipstick. I have always liked the color as red is one of my favorites, but haven't worn it for two reasons. First as a dark skinned black girl I was always told that I should avoid red, cause I was too dark for it. Second as a dark skinned black girl with big lips I was double discouraged. It has taken me years to actually like my skin and my lips. I'm going to buy me some red lipstick!!!"- I.G.
It was bold, and feminine, and when she sang you could not HELP but to watch her mouth. It was mesmerizing.
I wasn't as bold, to be honest. My first attempts with red were still lined with brown. And to be equally honest, I don't think anyone even noticed it.
Eventually the brown lines I confined myself with faded away, and red lips became a signature look for me. Always ruby red. A matte velvet pout that makes me feel classic, timeless, empowered and iconic...
And sometimes, I even pop my lips together when I look in the mirror and sing 'Bidi bidi bom bom.'" -C.D.
"I was made fun of for having VERY big lips as a child and, of course, was self conscious of them. Every time I attempted red it seemed to plump them up 3x's bigger so I completely stayed away until very near adulthood. When I published my book in 2010 I did so under a pen name and decided to assume another identity (to hide my own). Red lips were a shot at that - but now I love it. Instead of hiding an identity I discovered the true (really beautiful) me, with a gorgeous smile to boot." - A.S.
"We went to Sephora and she got new make up. Then we sat and played make up in her bathroom. You can't stay in with a full face of make up on so we went to a bar with my parents and laughed at the awful dancing. It was fun!"-C.G.
"I was sixteen
Bathed in Exclamation perfume
Freshly curled hair
a brand new fire red lipstick
We all wore red lips that day
1 tube shared by four
We ran to catch the crosstown bus
to a jam in the South Bronx
Visiting the boys with their Timberland boots,
fitted hats and "Yo shorty come over here" attitudes
which seemed to amuse us Manhattan girls
That night, smiles, laughter and secrets mixed with pigment.
Today, there are smiles, laughter and secrets still." -Vanessa F.
"The first time i wore red lips in public... I was 35, after losing 110 lbs. And I wore it work. A huge global tech company. Everyone kept asking where am I going or who am I going to see. So I went in the bathroom and took a selfie. I wore the red lips for me. I wore them to see what the world would say.."-J.L.
One more Found My Red story coming next week! Special blog post by my friend Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros. Check out her blog: Cisneros Cafe!!
To see my original story of finding my red check out Shades of Red on the Dangerous Woman Project website!