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Actress, singer and activist Cyndi Lauper, known since the Eighties as the original girl who just wants to have fun, has a surprisingly philanthropic bent. Not only did she found the True Colors Fund, dedicated to helping
those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, community, she recently signed on with the MAC AIDS Fund—along with Lady Gaga—as a face for the latest incarnation of the charity’s advertising. Here, she explains why the cause is so important to her.
This story first appeared in the March 12, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: How do you define beauty?
Cyndi Lauper: Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s a glint in the eye, the spirit. Everyone has real beauty—makeup just glorifies it a little.
WWD: Why did you choose to become involved with MAC and the Viva Glam campaign?
CL: Because it is a campaign about women—how to protect them from AIDS. I thought it was such a wonderful idea to put together two artists that are in the age brackets experiencing the highest rate of new infections—women my age and Gaga’s are the two groups getting AIDS at a frightening rate.
WWD: What do you want people to know about AIDS?
CL: That you can protect yourself. Lipstick is a great reminder that you should protect yourself. When you slip your lipstick into your bag, you’re reminded to slip a little protection into your pocket. Things happen in the heat of the moment, but is it worth your life? And with the [Viva Glam] lipstick, you’re helping some other kid who already has AIDS.
WWD: What prompted you to start the True Colors Fund?
CL: I worked with many people in the [entertainment] community and noticed that they lacked basic civil rights. Civil rights have to be afforded to every American, no matter what their color, gender or sexual preference. You can’t say this is a democracy if that isn’t the case. There were lots of kids who had the courage to come out to me on tour—telling me that [the song] “True Colors” gave them courage. Sometimes when these kids tell their parents about their sexual orientation, they get thrown out of the house. Every hour, another hate crime is committed against a member of the LGBT community. I am not going to sit back and watch that happen, or watchanyone lose their civil rights. I can’t build a school in Africa—I ain’t Oprah. But I can do this.
WWD: When it comes to makeup, do you have a true color?
CL: Rainbow eyes with red lips.
WWD: What’s your favorite beauty product?
CL: I love lipsticks! I especially love [MAC’s] Russian Red, which I then mix with a little Lady Danger and top with a little gloss. You can shade it like a painting. I also love MAC eye shadows, and I carry Tracie Martyn’s Activator and her moisturizer everywhere I go.
WWD: How do you define success?
CL: That’s a tough one, hon. Success is when you’re happy, healthy and comfortable with the path you’re walking.
WWD: What is your multitasking secret?
CL: I think a certain way. I notice the background and fashion and art direction of things—even when there isn’t an art direction, there’s an art direction. I process a lot of things at once.
WWD: What inspires you?
CL: Everything. What inspires me the most is being still enough to notice the little things that mean the most—my kid, my husband, my dog. People who are courageous enough to follow through on a thought—even if it is outside the mainstream—and create something good, that’s inspiring, because it creates happiness. Joy is something people need much more of.
WWD: Do you have a motto?
CL: Like the Boy Scouts: Always be prepared.
WWD: Which of your songs is your favorite?
CL: Whenever I do a new song and it comes to life, that’s my favorite. I love listening to other artists—I especially love Nina Simone’s version of “Little Girl Blue.” And Lady Gaga—she has the courage to be herself and she is fierce and so talented.
WWD: What has been your favorite acting role?
CL: I’ll always remember working with Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt on Mad About You. And I did a thing for Bones where I played a psychic. Going into it, I thought it was going to be a comedy. Then I learned I was a murder suspect. In my head, I was Rita Hayworth in an old movie. That kind of [fantasy] thinking is what I thought was my affliction when I was younger; now I see it as a gift. Sometimes what you think as a child is your biggest detriment is your biggest gift—you just have to learn to control it. I thank God I was an outcast when I was younger.
WWD: What was the most surprising thing about being on Celebrity Apprentice?
CL: It felt very much like high school. Everyone’s bad stuff came up. I had to put blinders up—I can’t go that route. Others had a problem with the way I think and act and talk, but there are always going to be those who aren’t tolerant.
WWD: What do you do to relax?
CL: My husband and son and I have movie night. We’ve been doing it since my son was very little. When he was 5, he could already say—and appreciate—Kurosawa.
WWD: What is the best thing about being famous?
CL: At first you think that everything is sorted now that you’re famous. But it isn’t. Being famous is hard because of the privacy issues—not just for you, but for your family. You might be with your friends and people come up to you. But there are great things, like being able to use your celebrity to do things for charity. And I am glad I am famous for a skill—I wouldn’t want to be famous for doing nothing.
WWD: High maintenance or low?
CL: Darling, I am high maintenance. I have a suitcase of makeup and brushes and closets full of clothes. I have to have platform shoes. I am definitely very high maintenance!
WWD: Parting advice?
CL: Send money to Haiti, buy a MAC lipstick and get involved in AIDS protection.