Eyelash extensions made me feel ridiculous: more reflections on objectification and the feminine beauty ideal

I know this is a fitness blog not a beauty blog. But body image is a popular topic for our readers, and lots of body image/objectification stuff links up with normative femininity and the feminine beauty ideal. And I’ve been reflecting on that for a few days because I got eyelash extensions and they made me feel ridiculous. I also know that there are lots of things going on in the world that make it seem really odd that someone would go out and get eyelashes extensions. I mean who does that at a time like this? It’s hard to make sense of how we might choose the various distractions that might get us through these times. Here’s my story.

The salon I get my hair done at had a special last week on eyelash extensions. Now, I’m not one for getting lots of salon type things done. But mascara is one of the three types of make-up I wear regularly (the other two being blush and, less frequently, lipstick). And the events of the week had left me demoralized. I called the salon. The receptionist, whom I’ve known for over a decade, was over the moon about how great everyone’s eyelashes were looking with the extensions.

I booked a two and a half (!!) hour appointment for last Saturday morning to get my lashes done. I started having doubts when I got there and they showed me examples from some of the people who worked at the salon. Their eyelashes looked incredibly dramatic. But they work in a salon. So they can get away with a dramatic look during the day. I work at a university, in the Dean’s office. Let’s just say that when your eyes “pop” like that because of lash extensions (which is, I found out, the whole point of lash extensions – not just so you don’t need to bother with mascara but to make your eyes POP), it’s a bit more unusual in an academic setting.

Nevermind, the bubbly lash extension practitioner assured me. We can go lower key than that. I worried a bit when she checked the box for “sophisticated” over “natural.” I wasn’t really sure what that meant when applied to eyelashes. I lay down on the treatment table and settled in for the next two and half hours while she painstakingly glued extensions onto my existing lashes, one at a time.

Finally, it was time for the big reveal. And I have to say, it shocked me. My lashes were longer and more noticeable than any amount of mascara ever could make them be.

extensions

[Photo description: This colour photo shows a close up picture of Tracy, a woman of colour with short blond hair, smiling and looking upward, after her eyelash extensions. Her dark brown eyelashes are very long, touching the upper part of her eyelid]

I was meeting a friend for lunch and a movie right after I got them done. When I saw her, I felt the need to explain why my eyelashes were so long. The next day, when I went running with Anita and Julie, I felt even more self-conscious. I mean, I admit that I sometimes do use waterproof mascara rather than no mascara for sports, but not usually for a Sunday long run and definitely not to that degree. You can’t have eyelashes looking like that and not feel like the only appropriate place for you to be is a dance club, or maybe the salon.

And finally, the real kicker were the several meetings I attended on Monday at work. And Tuesday. And now, as I write this, it’s the end of the day on Wednesday. And I still feel as if my eyelashes are highly inappropriate.

This has got me thinking about normative femininity and how it can take away our power. I mean, Bambi eyelashes are one of the hallmarks of the feminine beauty ideal. Like long hair, a slender “figure,” delicate hands, big eyes..you can add to the list as you wish…long eyelashes that you can “bat” for attention scream femininity. But it’s a type of femininity that can be objectifying to such an extreme degree that I for one have difficulty even taking myself seriously when I exhibit it in certain contexts.

One of those contexts is my work environment. I am in a position of authority and I want to be taken seriously. And when people are literally commenting on your eyelashes (even if they mean it as a compliment), well, it just feels to me that maybe there’s a time and a place to have dramatic eyelashes that people notice, but my workplace is not it.

Another is when I engage in fitness or sport activities. We’ve blogged before about how nice it is to have a protected realm (other than home) where you just don’t need to think about looking sexy or cute or feminine or anything like that. See excellent Sam’s post “Play Hard, Look Cute!” and mine on “What’s So Bad about Pink Anyway?

Anita, Julie and I had a little altercation on the path when we were out for our long run on Sunday morning. It had snowed and there were some icy bits. We were running three abreast, which is not really recommended because it does mean you cross the yellow line and potentially get in the way of the people coming towards you. So we admit this. But when a couple of guys coming the other way shouted “C’mon, share the path!” (fair enough) and then followed it with “You bitch!” that was just a little too much.

On the way back, one of these guys approached and stopped us as he too was coming back the other way. As we talked it through — him reprimanding us for being across the yellow line, which we admitted and apologized for, me pointing out that nevertheless, “you bitch” was thoroughly uncalled for — I couldn’t help thinking “how is he even taking me seriously with these eyelashes of mine?”

Now I’m not saying that women with long eyelashes aren’t to be taken seriously. I’m saying that the trappings of normative femininity mean that, in the current social context, certain markers of it make it more difficult to be taken seriously.

Some women can rock it and still demand the right kind of attention and exude authority. Not me. So I’m taking them off–I’ve got my steaming bowl (because you have to steam them for 10-15 minutes) and my coconut oil (because the oil deteriorates the adhesive) and I’m hoping for the best (because I did read somewhere that it’s risky to do it at home because you could rip out all your eyelashes).

What this little experiment has taught me is that I will not be going in for anything more permanent even if I need a distraction from world events. Dipping my toe into the waters of salon treatments like lash extensions was enough to remind me that I’m not all that enthusiastic about the full range of attributes associated with the normative feminine ideal.

About Tracy I

Writer, feminist, vegan, triathlete, sailor, philosopher, sometimes knitter.

18 thoughts on “Eyelash extensions made me feel ridiculous: more reflections on objectification and the feminine beauty ideal

  1. Sophia says:

    I hope the removal went okay! I think it’s like red lipstick – you feel like everyone’s staring at you until you finally get used to it. I’m surprised that you felt you couldn’t be taken seriously with this marker of femininity – I understand that many people write off feminine women as airheads, but since you’re clearly not I wonder why you felt it took away your power. I find beauty ideals and the beauty industry so intriguing and contradictory. I never really know how I feel about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tracy I says:

      Maybe you’re right and it’s like red lipstick. I do think it’s interesting to think about the various lines we draw and why. I mean, it’s not as if I’m totally gender neutral in the way I present myself. So why indeed would eyelashes push me over the edge? Thanks for your comment.

      Like

  2. Sam B says:

    Have you taken them off? Now I’m curious to see them!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. drspeedy628 says:

    Well, first off, those lashes look great on you and I am spitting envious. Please take care with removing them as gappy eyelashes are a pain.

    I’m blonde (still) but, with age, my brows and lashes have got paler and thinner to the point of invisibility. Until I was about 50 I got them dyed, but one day the beauty technician said my lashes were too gappy to look good when dyed. Same thing happened not long after with my brows. So now I have this sort of ‘basic’ pale face without visible brows or lashes around my pale grey eyes. People occasionally seem to assume my hair is a wig and I’m post chemo (I suspect if I was, I’d not bother with a wig).

    While I’m neither a ‘girly’ woman nor particularly vain, I do usually end up applying makeup (liner and brow colouring-in) just to make my face more ‘complete’ when I have a client meeting. As I don’t actually like wearing stuff around my eyes, I often question myself on why I feel the need to use makeup for these occasions. There’s no good answer, I’m not sure it even gives me confidence – I’ve got to an age where even ‘imposter syndrome’ seems to have evaporated and I am fully cognisant of my abilities when it comes to my technical field (as an aside: I’m now so confident, I wear pink, even when working with engineers*. For years, I thought wearing frivolous colours would undermine my credibility and stuck to navy and black). I think it is because I feel it makes other people more comfortable if I look ‘normal’; sort of an extension of wearing smart clothes in client meeting – they’re mainly with men in science and tech*, I’m not sure they’d even notice. So I have to conclude that I feel, and I assume others feel, more comfortable if I look as expected.

    * Apologies for the implied sexist generalisation here. I know some men do notice these things but, honestly, the ones I work with mostly have difficulty telling the difference between my office clothes and the lycra gear I cycle in unless it’s obviously fluoro.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tracy I says:

      These are great observations. It’s all so complicated, the way social attitudes affect us as individuals. What we internalize and what we can feel confident about. Thanks for your input. And I still have the lashes for one more day. I chickened out about removing them.

      Like

  4. Jean says:

    It is simply fun to do temporary stuff. Like Hallowe’en masquerade.And we all like that type of fun.

    It’s when a person feels they must put on the cosmetic trappings all the time, every single day…mascara when jogging, yoga, cycling for fitness (not to work)…ok. Look, seriously, what for? Who’s going to notice?

    For previous posters: since I’m not blonde and have been blessed with black hair but very little eyelash natural fringe, I have never worn eyeliner nor mascara since I was 21 yrs. old. I’m 58.

    Mascara made my eyes feel tired. So I dropped it. It just didn’t make me feel “better” no matter how “good” I felt. Like too much botox in a face where you can’t smile fully.

    I’m saying this because there are still women who won’t bike because of helmet hair.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I really don’t like salons myself. My personal style is so anti-feminine I feel like a fish out of water at them. I don’t wear any makeup except eyeliner. Sometimes. I don’t know how to style my hair, heck, I don’t even comb it every morning. I used to like nail polish but not so much anymore. As an Indian, I also have a lot of hair on my arms, and a nail technician commented it was “time for me to get a wax.” I know she was trying to make money but I still glared at her.

    Like

  6. Sam B says:

    That’s part of the reason I hate salons. Mine has started hosting Botox parties and I’m appalled. I’m envious of your lashes though. They’re a no go for me, as is mascara because of my cornea disease.

    Like

  7. Andie Shabbar says:

    Hope you get those lashes off safely!

    For me, I find performing femininity and presenting as a femme with black lined eyes and bright red lipstick quite powerful. But only because I identify as a queer feminist at the same time. Presenting as femme (i say present because I actually identify as butch– oh the wondrous binaries we cross and inhabit!) in heels and makeup makes me feel more in command. Admittedly, that may have something to do with being barely 5 feet tall and frequently getting mistaken as an undergrad under 25 when I’m without makeup. But more to the point: while the way I make up my face and style my clothes plays into the ideals of femininity, my politics certainly do not, and that contrast is, for me, subversive. However, now that I am in a relationship with a cisman (and I am a ciswoman), I am finding it less exciting/political to smack lipstick on and go out for dinner than I did when I dated a woman and a transman. During those times, lipstick and lashes were foreplay, not so much now. Two other points… first, in my younger years I was a goth, and that required A LOT of black eyeliner amongst other … decorations. I also found that dressing goth was an empowering experience, a subversion of feminity in its exaggeration and refusal to blend in — feminity (or at least makeup) in your face if you will. Second, at the same time, I would never wear makeup during a sweaty activity such as working out, hiking, camping…and I cringe at the idea of wearing pink on a motorcycle- even though someone could argue that the contrast between feminity and masculinity in those instances could be subversive!
    PS: I too am envious of your lashes! If that’s sophisticated, I’ll be going for drama!… is that the next level up?!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. calijones says:

    Well, not that you asked for my opinion, but if I may share, as one who has only ever seen this one photo of you, I think your lash extensions look natural. My mom and sisters have all had eyelash extensions and they were very gappy. I’ve never done it myself for many of the reasons you mentioned in your post but also because I’d hate to start feeling like I “needed” them. Anyway, the most important thing is how you feel about them, so if you want them gone, get rid of them! 🙂

    Like

  9. V says:

    My preferred mascaras are Lancome, Dior, and most recently MAC. Any of those paired with a lash conditioner will give you excellent results. But what a waste of time & money in taking off those extensions. That’s ridiculous. Own your choices, and don’t go second guessing and worrying about others or world events, which is yet another waste of energy.

    Like

  10. ainsobriety says:

    I never wear mascara. It is the ultimate smudge problem for me.
    Actually, I wear almost no makeup.
    I do get my long hair blow dried Every week because my stylist is my friend and it looks so much nicer than if I do it (which usually becomes a messy bun).
    I would say I’m averagely girly…

    I like how the eyelashes look on others. But they require constant upkeep. I tried that with fake nails and I just didn’t have the interest.

    The picture here looks very nice. They don’t look like Bambi…maybe a few more days is needed to actually decide.

    Whatever you choose, Be gentle removing them!

    Like

  11. Kathryn Holder says:

    I thought you looked great. I don’t understand all the fuss about not feeling like you were in a position of authority because of your eyelashes. I think it is a very shallow thing to worry about in the long run. I would just enjoy them til they grew out on their own or had to be removed. If people aren’t taking you seriously that is their problem, not yours.
    Of course now this is coming from someone who didn’t let her first husband see her without mascara for nearly 5 years 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Kim Solga says:

    Tracy, I’m with Cali: to my eye, which has been shaped by looking at my own naturally quite long lashes for my whole life, your extensions presented as natural. But that is, of course, the point: women are taught to police their own bodies, and see only gaps and flaws.

    My own experience with makeup is fraught, like so many women’s experiences: in my case, I always resist make-up, and there are many occasions where I feel anxious about it. Not at work – that has never bothered me, and likely for the same reasons your lashes at work concerned you, since we’re in the academy and the dress/gender code is loose and somewhat inclusive – but in social settings. I’ve been dating these days, and I fret that men want to see the “made up” me in order to be interested. But then, of course, they’d have to quickly get used to the not-made-up me once they were interested! I’ve decided instead to opt for the feminine things I enjoy on dates – great shoes, fun dresses, the earrings and necklaces and rings I love – in the hopes that the girly things that give me pleasure will be both sexually enticing and also a great window on what to expect for anyone who wants a second date. But it has taken me a long, long, long time to get here. A friend who suggested I wear makeup on dates back in the fall literally drove me to tears.

    Fraught territory indeed.

    Like

  13. tjgiven says:

    I think that the photo shows a woman who is not afraid to have a little fun with her appearance all the while retaining professionalism.

    Like

  14. Chris says:

    Same story, i felt and looked so stupid with them, i dont have a photo but it didnt even fit to my face… Gosh never again

    Like

  15. BusinessXmum says:

    Thank you for your post!

    I run a beauty salon and specialise in applying eyelash extensions. Your post was extremely insightful and I appreciate hearing your opinion. I wish you had been able to enjoy your eyelash extensions but from your post I understand they aren’t for everyone.

    Thanks again 🙂

    Like

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