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.
[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.