Amplifying the power in HER voice because today’s woman is #BeyondCapable

Amplifying the power in HER voice because today’s woman is #BeyondCapable

Why Katherine Mason’s Counter to Cancer Is “Painted with Lipstick”

How one simple act of defiance started a series that seeks to empower others.

For Houston-based visual artist Katherine Mason, something as small as a tube of lipstick can have a large effect on someone’s life. 

In 2013, Mason’s friend was diagnosed with breast cancer and began suffering the side effects of the aggressive treatments. As her hair began to fall out, she felt less comfortable in her skin.

“I learned that she was struggling to feel beautiful and feminine,” Mason tells HerPWR. She adds, however, that her friend eventually found a solution: applying lipstick before her chemotherapy sessions. This simple act helped provide confidence and a sense of control, countering  the narrative of powerlessness that cancer tried to force upon her.

“That small act of defiance had an incredibly powerful effect on her state of mind and, therefore, overall experience,” Mason says. And it made her friend’s medical outlook seem more hopeful. As her body began responding well to treatment, her doctor said it was because she felt “more positive and more beautiful in her skin.”

That is the power Mason discovered in a tube of lipstick. And now, years into her career, she is harnessing it to support other people going through their breast cancer journey.

Blending artistry with advocacy

From an early age, Mason’s interest in the arts was apparent, trying different mediums of expression–watercolors, pastels, and acrylic paint to oil paint. She even used to get in trouble for using her mother’s lipstick during her artistic escapades.

After studying art in college, she reached a point in her career where she was looking to challenge herself with a new medium. “I had also really been interested in figuring out a way to create a positive impact with my art,” Mason tells HerPWR. 

Eventually, her lipstick paintings gave her what she was looking for. More than a source of livelihood and artistic fulfillment, it became a medium for empowerment, resilience, and healing.

Through her series called “Painted with Lipstick,” Mason has been using lipstick to create artwork for two key  goals: to raise money for efforts against breast cancer and to show support for the people struggling with the disease.  

Using her own collection of lipsticks, Katherine rendered the first piece of her series called “Devastated.” It is a painting of a woman experiencing the emotions of a breast cancer diagnosis while hugging her knees to her chest. 

Following “Devastated,” friends and family began donating their lipsticks to her cause, making the series grow. Mason’s new lipstick paintings featured images of hope and empowerment, including intimate paintings of body parts. This served as a reminder that the beauty of women’s bodies is not just defined by their breasts. She has also rendered images including a rose in full bloom, a broken heart stitched back together, and a detailed pair of boxing gloves.

Eventually, people from across the U.S. began supporting Mason’s work by contributing lipsticks, which were often sent as tributes to loved ones who have experienced cancer.

“The more lipsticks I received, the more inspired I was, and the more determined I became to be a platform for these women,” Mason shares.

She also received  letters sharing unique stories from women about their breast cancer journeys, which she found worthy of being told on canvas. This gave her a greater sense of purpose in what she was doing. 

To date, Mason has used more than a thousand tubes of lipsticks in different colors, ranging from luxury brands such as Estee Lauder and Yves Saint Laurent, to more affordable drugstore lines. 

For Mason, each painting is not just a piece of art, but a reflection of the women whose lipsticks were used to create it. “Since all the lipstick I paint with [now] was donated, I work with many lipstick tubes that once belonged to women from all over the country,” she muses. “Many of these women have battled, or are currently battling this disease.”

In one painting commissioned by a breast cancer survivor in Las Vegas, Mason created a floral piece from lipsticks given by her collector’s family, friends, doctors, nurses, and surgeons. The painting represents the love and support her client received during her battle with breast cancer and how she emerged from it both resilient and strong. 

While Mason considers her advocacy journey to be in its early stages, she harbors ambitious goals for the future. She dreams of having a solo show in New York, but until then, she is focused on growing her series. 

Currently, she is collaborating with the National Breast Cancer Foundation where she donates 20 percent of her proceeds from each sale. She also plans to become an ambassador so she can contribute to breast cancer education and services in her community.  

In the future, Mason hopes to develop an art therapy program for people undergoing breast cancer treatment to help them experience the power of the arts: how it can encourage healing; how it can inspire those who feel low; and how sometimes, one can accomplish big achievements with tools that are both small and common—like a tube of lipstick.

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