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Paint it Red

I remember the first time I wore lipstick to a track meet. My teammates asked me with a concerned look: “Why are you wearing that?” as if I had made a mistake. “Because I want to,” was my reply. I didn’t feel like explaining I was wearing this not for others, but for myself. It was my secret weapon. It was my confidence booster.

I had always liked looking my best on race day— wearing my favourite running shoes, matching warm up gear and a little bit of makeup. “Look good, feel good, race good,” is what I thought. In high school I had a coach question why I was wearing makeup to run. He said I don’t need it and asked: doesn’t it clog your pores? (Side note: I was wearing mascara.) My response: “Well, if I was going somewhere important I’d want to look and feel my best. The track is important to me, so when I step on it, that’s exactly what I do.” Fast forward to my junior year of university in 2016, the Olympic year. It was the week before the NCAA championships. I was nervous. I felt an immense amount of pressure to perform well leading up to the Olympic trials. I felt like I needed something to boost my self-confidence. I had worn lipstick in the past to a few track meets, but nothing that really stood out.

There I was, looking at the red lipstick in the makeup store. It’s funny how such a simple moment felt so transformative. So many thoughts ran through my head as I contemplated this bright red lipstick. “Am I bold enough to wear this?” “What will people think?” “Will I give the wrong impression?” It took me about 15 minutes of picking it up, putting it back, trying out other colours, then making a choice. I said to myself, “I love this colour. I want to wear it and I’m going to wear this I for myself, no one else.” I felt transformed, like I had gone from regular Sage to “race-ready Sage.” Who knew that a small tube of red lipstick could become armour? I continued wearing the red lipstick that year from NCAAs to Canadian trials to the 2016 Olympic Games. I had no idea that when I put on the red lipstick at the Olympics it would have such an impact. After racing the 400-metre hurdles at the 2016 Olympic Games, I received over 20,000 followers and thousands of messages. So many people were inspired by something so simple as lipstick, and, of course, some totally got the wrong message. It seems that the same bold choice that makes you seem confident can also sexualize you. Danielle Decker discusses this issue in The Undeniable Power of Red Lipstick. “In a world where being overtly sexual is still a liability for women, those who choose to highlight their lips with loud colors proclaim their indifference to this liability,” she writes. The comments I received upset me. I don’t seek out attention. I questioned my choice once again of wearing red lipstick. I felt people were paying more attention to my lipstick than my running performance. Then my grandma sent me this picture.

The women in my family were all wearing the red lipstick to support me in the semifinals of the Olympic games. I had never felt more supported or motivated. So what do I care about more, trolls on the Internet or the power of red I had ignited in my supporters? Every time I step on the track with my red lipstick I now feel empowered. I believe that we all need out secret weapon, whatever that may be. Something we do for ourselves to feel ready for the world because when you feel confident you give yourself the power to become the best version of yourself you can be.