MONA AHUJA | 13 JULY, 2017
Don't Shy Away From Red
The colour red is known to be a very manipulative colour. It is the colour of our blood, and hence, a poignant reminder of life and death. Today, the colour is associated with power, aggression and even promiscuity. Think of terms such as “red light district” or the stereotypical portrayal of a forward (for lack of a better word) woman. She’s usually depicted wearing red clothing, with bright red lipstick and long, perfectly manicured red nails.
One of my earliest childhood memories was when I snuck into my mother’s dressing room, and draped myself in her red dupatta. I smeared on her red lipstick, and walked out proudly into the living room where my parents were entertaining a few important guests. Since as long as I could remember, I had been drawn to the colour red … I loved red dresses, little red riding hood, juicy red apples and mouthwatering red watermelons. I thought my mother looked her best in a red saree, perfectly complimented with neatly applied red lipstick.
Armed with this confidence, I walked out into the living room, proudly displaying my outfit and make up, not realising at the time that the dupatta was clumsily draped and my lipstick entirely smudged. I vividly remember, even after all these years, the look of frightful shock on the adults’ faces. My parents were visibly embarrassed, and my mother jumped up and ushered my out of the room. I was given a big talking to, and although the objection was more to me barging in dressed inappropriately, for me the entire incident became a lesson in the power of the colour red.
Over the years, this perception was reinforced. I watched movies where the devil was depicted in red, and angels contrastingly in white. I read about Adam and Eve and the forbidden red apple. And as time went along, I came across ‘red light districts’ and the connotation that red has with all things illicit.
I grew into a shy teenager, and my love for the colour red was forcedly pushed to the sidelines as I chose more neutral hues for my clothing and makeup. When I saw a girl with bright red lips, I felt a mix of envy and judgement, with my brain quickly fitting her into a box that was created by my prejudices and insecurities. I noticed that men often did the same thing. They always noticed that one girl… she would usually wear all-black… something tight-fitting… with red lips provided a definitive pop of colour. They would oggle and laugh, making jokes to themselves. I don’t want to be treated like that, I’d tell myself. Red only invites trouble.
When you look at the feminists of the 60s and 70s, you’d notice that the movement incorporated a denial of femininity. Check out protest photos and you’re likely to notice oversized t-shirts, baggy pants, hardly any make up. Women who took care of themselves were looked down upon as being conformists.
As I grew up and entered my early twenties, I chose an identity of an independent, strong woman. I read up on feminist literature, and eschewed high heels and dresses in favour of sneakers and tank tops. I equated this choice, for some reason, with the quest for equality, often looking down upon my classmates with their perfect blow drys and mascara-d lashes.
Over time, however, I realised that feminism means being comfortable with who you are, and recognising that that who is equal to everyone else. The feminist movement too has seen this shift, with the term now encompassing everything womanhood can be.
A few weeks ago, I decided to break my own brand of conformity. On a Friday night, I put on a pair of skinny black jeans and top, tied my hair into a top bun, and carefully put on a coat of deep red lipstick. It was the first time that I wore red lipstick since that awful experience as a child all those years ago, and the very act of applying the colour gave me a huge sense of confidence.
I walked out, thinking of five year old me -- and channeling the exact same confidence I had when I walked into the living room. This time, I wasn’t met with looks of horror, but instead, showered with compliments for pulling off the look.
I realised that feminism isn’t relegating yourself to a stereotype, but rather -- challenging all preconceived notions. That girl with the perfect blow dry, she was pictured at a pride protest last year. And that one with the perfect nails, she writes on gender issues for a leading newspaper. And this one with the bright red lips, she’s confident and no longer afraid to show it.
PS: It doesn’t hurt that red is the colour of revolution!