I began researching warpaint for a class in my second year of college at Sussex County Community College. I don’t believe in astrology (or anything like it), but I am interested in the symbols of different cultures. The origin of warpaint can be linked back to Native American tribes who painted their bodies with iconic colors and symbols in preparation for rituals, dances, or battles. Native Americans painted themselves to display power and influence.


I began to research on war paint, and found that colors and symbols represent different things. For example, the color red symbolizes blood, success in war, and at times, beauty. Black represents strength in preparation for war. Colors like green and blue respectively represents harmony and confidence. Undoubtedly, war paints are beneficial when trying to intimidate opponents and camouflage during battle, but the symbols painted sometimes reveal fighting styles. A few commonly used symbols are hand prints, and zig-zags. While hand prints symbolize success in hand-to-hand combat, zig-zags represent quickness and agility.

hand-print lightening

I realized that these symbols have become a part of current culture as well. However, given the context, they don’t mean the same exact thing. In modern culture we see that hands are used as a sign of friendship- showcased in daily interactions such as hand shakes and finger painting (I have a 6 year old sister, so it’s totally acceptable to finger paint at age 23). Zig-zags, on the contrary, are symbols of lightening, used on electrical fences or seen on the famous animated superhero, Flash.

While these symbols have changed over the years, lifestyle demands and resources have changed. When Native American tribes created war paints, they needed to use resources from their land to create different colors. It became a sign of affluence and resourcefulness. Instead of eating berries for nourishment, tribes used them to make a red-colored paints because it was a part of their uniform. The most decorated tribes-men and women were seen as the most affluent.

Paint has made a bit of a transition. Why? Because modern culture doesn’t need paint to show skills in hand-to-hand combat. Instead, paint is seen as a symbol of creativity, emotion, art, beauty, and youth. We no longer have the demand of expressing affluence through paint- unless it’s bound to a frame and nailed to a wall.

We do, however, need to be respected.

So, what exactly does it mean to “put on your Warpaint?”

Warpaint is something that we put on every single day. Some people go to stores and buy the highest-priced item on the rack with all of the finest accessories in hope that it would gain them more respect. Presentation is a part of Warpaint, but it doesn’t quite capture the phrase. Warpaint is more of a shell than anything. Collectively, we all go to battle each day. (I am thankful that I never had to fight for my life, but to those who risk their own, thank you.) Instead of being about what we wear, it’s about the preparation- mentally and physically- we equip ourselves with to build a mentality that leads us toward our goals.

Warpaint is less of a superstition, and more of a ritual. We wake up each morning and go through our cleansing rituals, nourishing our bodies and minds, and prepare ourselves to conquer the day. It’s been proven that we cognitively link our senses with experiences. Not only what we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch, but also what we eat and do (I suppose there’s some overlap). Being an ex-athlete, I’d prepare by stepping up to mid-court and jumping as high as I could. I may have looked crazy, but I once landed, I was focused. Searching for the cue that brings you to the proper state of mind is the most difficult task. If you are extrinsically motivated, look for something to guide you. If you are intrinsically motivated, find a cue that brings you to focus.

Warpaint is found in preparation. There’s been a lot of talk about what success is built upon. Some say it’s built upon “failure,” “presentation,” “hard work,” “commitment,” or “perseverance.” With that type of claim, it’s hard to say what fuels success because success is defined, and found in so many ways.

We know that failure builds success because you can learn from your mistakes. Presentation is also a good way to give and receive respect, which sometimes is an important part of success. Hard work, commitment, dedication, and perseverance, however, are directly related. Ironically, the higher level of pain, stress, and agony experienced while working toward a goal, the higher level of commitment you have to the said goal. As commitment grows, along with your ability to handle difficult situations, the more willing you are to persevere through given tasks.

All of the preparation we go through to reach our goals become a part of our Warpaint. Warpaint isn’t worn. its prepared. It’s not painted, it’s carried through the trying times of our lives.

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