On Friday, Feb. 23, I walked from Parrish to one of my favorite places on campus: the Women’s Resource Center. As I got closer, I could see the strings of light hanging in the windows of the second floor contrasting with the darkness of the evening. When I entered, I was greeted by the comfortable vibe radiating from the WRC.
I walked up the stairs to see people strategically placing lamps on the floor and spreading lipsticks out on the table to the sounds of Beyoncé. A photographer walked around the room, testing the lighting to ensure the area was ready for all the photos that were about to be taken. I had entered the Red Lips Project.
The Red Lips Project was founded by Swarthmore alumna Aditi Kulkarni ̇̕17 after her sophomore year. The project came from simple beginnings, later developing into the powerful movement that it is today.
“I felt like in my life, there wasn’t necessarily a space for me and my friends to kind of be open about how powerful they were, and I didn’t like that, and I wanted to see that change. I’ve always been really interested in photography and I’ve loved taking pictures of my friends,” Kulkarni said, discussing the conception of her project. “So it sort of just started with me wanting to take pictures of my friends and I thought that red lipstick was a really powerful way to show off the intrinsic strength present in all women.”
On Friday, however, there wasn’t just red lipstick; there was a multitude of shades so those who came could choose the color that best suited them. After applying their chosen color, often with the help of a friend, Kulkarni would then take the attendee’s photo. Once the photo was taken, they would then move on to one of the most moving aspects of Kulkarni’s project.
The next portion of one’s participation in the project is perhaps the most difficult. After having their photo taken, attendees would be recorded answering a single question: “What makes you feel powerful?” This seemingly simple, succinct question is incredibly thought-provoking and can bring about incredible answers.
“I loved the photos. But I didn’t want it to just be about the photos,” Kulkarni explained. “I wanted it to kind of show their stories, so I thought that a quote about what makes them feel powerful accompanying the photo would be the best way to kind of showcase that.”
During her time at Swarthmore, Kulkarni’s project had to slow down due to the hectic nature of college life. After graduating, she was able to bring the Red Lips Project back to life. Though having more time to pursue the project was important, Kulkarni was also strongly motivated to create a space for women to feel powerful as a result of the election and the topics of discussion that are so often on the news. Kulkarni also spoke of the Me Too movement and the inspiration it provided to her, especially since their goals are similar.
Citlali Pizarro ̕ 20, the diversity peer advisor for the WRC, played a key role in bringing the Red Lips Project to Swarthmore for the relaunch. Pizarro has been working with Kulkarni on the project, giving her feedback and ideas.
“It reminds me of all the strong women in my life,” Pizarro said, discussing the project’s meaning. “It reminds me of [Kulkarni’s] strength, it reminds me of the strength of all the women who raised me, and it keeps me grounded.”
Pizarro shared one of the powerful women she sees in her life, her mother.
“She’s an incredible woman who is incredibly powerful. She is a curator of art … and [is] into art as resistance. She taught me that art can be super powerful,” Pizarro explained.
Her mother’s passion for the arts has trickled into Pizarro’s life as well, as seen in her love of theater, poetry, and spoken word.
The importance of the space was lost on no one. For some, the experience was deeply personal and reflective. For others, it was empowering and joyful in its nature. Regardless, having the space was a powerful moment for everyone involved.
“A big part of my identity is that I’m a feminist,” shared Alliyah Lusuegro ̕ 20, who attended the event. “So I think being empowered and showing others through this social media project different, diverse faces of women who feel beautiful is a really great thing.”
Kulkarni’s goal of creating a space where women could feel empowered was undeniably reached on Friday. Even if you didn’t have a photo taken, the joy of everyone in the room was palpable. Seeing people’s eyes light up when they saw their photo was an incredible thing to witness. What made this event even more amazing was seeing that female-identifying people of all races came to the event, further showing that representation in the arts and in life matters.
Kulkarni hopes to see the movement grow and gain back the momentum it had during her time at Swarthmore.