First thing in the morning is not when you might usually want to pucker up, but kisses were given out in abundance by many women in Times Square early on Monday. That's because they were smooching for a cause at Maybelline's and Cosmopolitan's fourth-annual Kisses for the Troops event in partnership with the USO. The playful affair called for women to kiss a postcard that would be sent overseas to our armed forces, with $1 donated for every kiss collected to support troops abroad and in New York City, where many are helping with the Hurricane Sandy relief effort. On hand to collect the colorful smacks were actress Rose McGowan and Maybelline spokesmodel Jessica White, who both have family members serving in the military. We chatted with White about her involvement with the event, what it's like to appear on massive billboards and, of course, what lipstick she chose to wear to give away her kisses.
Why did you choose to get involved with this event today?
My father was in the Vietnam War and I have a brother who is still in the Army. So I come from a very military-influenced family. I'll do anything I can possibly do to support [the military], and this is my second year involved [with the event]. The important thing here is that every kiss is donated for a great cause. I read the card I did last year and I really meant what I said about how there are very few great men in this world, but these troops dedicate their lives and leave their families. And that is the greatest sacrifice. If there is anything we can do, we should. Kiss away!
What do you think these kisses bring to our troops?
A sense of reason of why they are fighting for us. And just a hope to come back home. It really does work. The cards make every single second count and help them know that they have people here who are caring for them. This kind of care is greatly appreciated and needed.
You're wearing a beautiful shade of plum lipstick today for this event. What kind is it?
Thank you! This is actually from the Maybelline collection. It’s Color Sensational Lipcolor in Party Pink. And then I topped it with the lip gloss Color Sensational High Shine Gloss in Raspberry Reflections.
And is this the same color you are wearing in your Color Sensational ad?
Yes! That’s why I chose it today. I was just talking about that ad. When I saw the really big billboard in Times Square, I was like, "That is such a great lip color." The one thing I really love about it is women of color don’t really explore a lot of different colors. So with Maybelline, the brand took a lot of risk and used me as the person to show women that you can wear this kind of color. A lot of women who are darker wouldn’t necessarily wear bright colors, and I tell them, "You can try this!" That’s the beautiful part about Maybelline.
Why do you think women of color aren’t as exploratory with different shades?
I think that it’s not really taught in a lot of households that you can be more exploratory, and that you can wear brighter colors and it looks good on you. It’s just really about taking a risk. But I get so many fan letters [about that ad]. My fans tweet me, "Thank you so much," or "What color was that?" or "I want to wear that color." So that’s exciting.
What's it like to see your face on a massive billboard and in magazines?
I was just saying as we were driving by today that I wanted to get out and take a picture. I have had so many billboards over the past 15 years of my career and I’m still like a little schoolgirl whenever I see one. It just reminds me that I was a young girl who came from a little town in Buffalo, New York, and all of a sudden I’m on huge billboards in Times Square. I am so blessed and so lucky and it never gets old.
Being from a small American town, what was your perception of beauty when you were growing up and how has that changed over the years?
Well, the reason that I started modeling is because of Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell. I remember the very first time I saw Tyra Banks on a CoverGirl commercial. I sat back and I thought, oh my God, there are women that look like me in the fashion industry. That hugely changed my perspective of what beauty was. 1999 was when I started modeling, and at that time being dark-skinned wasn’t really necessarily the most attractive thing. But it’s really grown and come so far. Now all of a sudden it’s the most amazing thing to have dark skin and to celebrate your fuller lips. But I think that it’s really all skin deep and the most important thing is embracing yourself emotionally. That's when your beauty really does shine through.
It’s incredible that you looked up to Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell as your model icons, and then a few years later Tyra came out and called you "the model of your generation." What was that like?
I cried. I told Tyra that the one thing I want to do is be a role model and be responsible. And I truly do believe in being a role model and learning how to be responsible, but to still have fun and be who you are and express yourself creatively the way you need to. The one thing I don’t want to do is do something that will affect another young girl. The power of being a role model is so amazing. Had I not seen Tyra Banks, I would have never been in this industry. So that’s the power of being responsible.
What are the beauty products you can’t live without?
Maybelline first and foremost. I really don’t wear a lot of makeup when I’m not working. But I do always leave the house with a Maybelline lipstick or lip gloss. Get really big shades. Then just add some lipstick and you’re good to go.
What about skin care? You obviously have very beautiful skin. How do you take care of it?
Right now I’m using Devise Beauty, which is my product and is coming out next year. It’s a skin care line. It has a new technology. And I kid you not—and I’m not just saying this because it’s my product line—but I really think the world is going to be surprised.

Photo: Courtesy of Maybelline