Kani Kusruti, an actor who was honoured the 50th Kerala State Film Award for her performance in ‘Biriyaani’, is now under the spotlight for wearing ‘Stunna’, the bright red lipstick by Rihana’s Fenty Beauty, at the award show. Now, you may wonder why a red lipstick would be of significance, let alone the talk of the town?
Kani Kusruti has always been vocal about the discrimination she has faced because of her skin colour. In an interview with Cinestaan, she commented, “It is a glamorous industry at the end of the day and discrimination exists.” When photos of her with the award came online, many people decided to poke their noses at the actor and shame her for wearing a red lipstick owing to her dark skin. Kani responded back with an apt comeback.
Historically, dark-shaded women were discouraged to adorn a red lipstick because it was perceived as loud and tacky. But, the idea of red lipstick on a fair-skinned person was considered more classy, beautiful, and tasteful. See the subtle discrimination? Kanu Kusruti sported the Stunna to prove that red lipstick is more than just makeup. It’s an act of protest against the age-old belief that makeup should be based on the “social definitions of class, gender, race, and most directly, sexual mores.”
Fenty Beauty’s universal red lipstick is more than just a lipstick. It’s a reclamation of its history.
Kanu Kusruti even goes on to educate her followers by adding a link to an article titled, “Why Rihanna’s Red Lipstick Line Is So Groundbreaking”. As I read through the article, I was reminded of another article titled The Politics of Red Lipstick that stated, “Wearing rouge on your lips has long been seen as a power move — as long as you’re a white woman. But in the past few decades, women of colour have been reclaiming the shade.”
Red lipstick was an off-the-record symbol of the Suffragist Movement for white women. For them, it was about claiming the public space and making a strong statement about mobility and autonomy.
“The woman who does that is asserting her authority to be in a public space, chooses who she wants to date, chooses to keep her wages. Red lipstick was a marker for these women.”
But you must understand that women of colour were missing from this movement. Back then, women of colour wore red lipsticks if they were performers at nightclubs. Some of them couldn’t even afford it, unlike their white counterparts. When the makeup industry blew out of proportion, it catered to the needs of white women only. It is believed that Carmen Murphy, an entrepreneur, started her own cosmetics line called Carmen Cosmetics because makeup products weren’t available for dark-skinned women. Even then, red lipstick was also considered as a sign of prostitution.
So, there were a lot of politics around ‘red lipstick’.
Kanu Kusruti made a point to question our own perception of skin colour, and the assumptions we attach to it. Colourism exists because we’ve been internalised to think of fair skin as superior, compared to dark skin. This conditioning over the years reflect on our understanding of people, and it’s about time we re-think it.