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This College Student Is Using Red Lipstick To Tell Women They're Powerful

What makes you feel powerful?

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This is Aditi Kulkarni, a sophomore at Swarthmore College and the founder of the Red Lips Project, a photography-based Tumblr dedicated to "reminding women why they're powerful."

Since the project launched in September, Kulkarni has photographed dozens of anonymous women, all of whom don red lipstick and answer a single question: "What makes you feel powerful?"

"Some of the most iconic images of women I've seen in my life, both growing up and as a photographer, involve red lipstick," Kulkarni told BuzzFeed, describing her inspiration for the project. "I don't wear makeup. But people who wear red lipstick always look so confident and bold."

"I want to bridge the gap between power and femininity, and show that women can be powerful and confident and feminine too."


The majority of the women featured are friends, classmates, or professors of Kulkarni's, but as the project has gained more momentum she's started reach out to strangers she sees in parks and on the streets. In case they don't have lipstick with them, she's sure to carry around a tube.

"Some of the women haven't put on lipstick for years — the first reaction is 'it's so bright!' and they want to take it off," said Kulkarni. "After they get used to it I think people really like the way it looks, but it's a really bold color for a lot of people. People are really surprised by it."

"I would say that being 40 and not really caring what anyone thinks about you anymore is pretty empowering."

Courtesy of Aditi Kulkarni

"This is the first time I’ve had lipstick on in many, many years, and it's liberating as a person and as a woman to not have to think about all the time what you look like or what other people are thinking about you. It makes it a lot easier to live your life that way."


When asked how she would address critics who think women shouldn't need makeup to feel confident, Kulkarni said she believes women are intrinsically powerful.

"Symbolically I think red lipstick has a lot of significance, but it's by no means a way to achieve power; it's just a reflection of power that's already in a woman," said Kulkarni, adding, "The real heart of the project comes from the quotes women share."

"I think what makes me feel powerful is my laugh. I have a really loud, forceful laugh and you know how people talk about standing in power poses? I think laughter can be like that, where your laughter fills your space and you feel bigger and stronger."


Kulkarni, who is studying chemistry and psychology, thought of the project this summer. She wanted to show off her photography skills while also empowering women, and was inspired by Karyn Washington's #DarkSkinRedLip project, which was a Tumblr featuring pictures of women with darker complexions rocking red lips.

She officially began the project in September, but says she was "really scared to do it." Her friend Madeline Conca, who was also the first woman featured on the blog (pictured below), was instrumental in publicizing the movement and inspiring her to commit to it.

“Love is what makes me powerful."

Courtesy of Aditi Kulkarni

"Whether it’s the unconditional support I get from the most important people in my life or the ways I give back to them and the community around me, the ability to love and be loved is what centers me. The more grounded and more confident I am, the better I am at extending beyond myself. And the love that I’m surrounded by is what enables me to reach higher and become the woman that I want to be.”

Kulkarni's goal for the project would be to gain enough momentum that she could travel the world interviewing women from all different cultures and backgrounds and asking where they find their confidence and power.

"Women's empowerment is a worldwide issue, and I would love to hear from people with a wide range of experiences," said the photographer.

“What makes me feel powerful is all of the hardships I’ve gone through in life and all the struggles my family has been through. The things that have scarred me in life make me feel powerful because they’re representation that I’ve made it through."

Aditi Kulkarni

"My mom passed away about a month ago now, but I’m still here. I’m still going forward and that’s just a reminder that I am powerful and I’m going to make it through anything.”

Kulkarni hasn't featured herself on the Tumblr yet, but said she finds her power from the Red Lips Project.

"This project is what makes me feel powerful. It gives me the ability to make a difference in a way I didn't think I could."

Then, she added, "Also, Beyoncé. I always feel powerful when I look at her or listen to her music."