March musings

Eyelashes are big. Have you noticed? Big as in popular, and big as in enormous. I saw a woman with eyelashes the size of whisk brooms.

This popularity is more retro than new. Remember the false eyelashes we wore for the gamine Twiggy look in the Swingin’ Sixties? The glue was often faulty, and one end would suddenly pop loose. Cleopatra eyeliner was needed to cover a strip of glue thick enough to hold them in place. This look fit the styles of the time, but looked out of place in period movies. Westerns, for example, were odd with rough-and-tumble cowgirls or pioneers wearing 1960s eye makeup.

Eyelashes were big before that. Think of the 1940s glamour of Old Hollywood and actresses such as Lucille Ball or Joan Crawford. The contemporary equivalent of those goddesses of false eyelashes is Kim Kardashian. Elizabeth Taylor was lucky; she had a double row of eyelashes. So do camels, but hers was a rare condition known as distichiasis. It stirred eyelash envy in all of us.

K-Pop idols might lead male celebrities with dramatic eye lashes, but I can think of a number of American male actors with remarkable lashes. Edward Norton seems blessed with naturally long eyelashes, which he used to good effect as a duplicitous altar boy in “Primal Fear.”

Eyelashes have always been big in Disney movies: the flirtatious Lady with her beau Tramp, glamour gals Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck, innocent Bambi, and impish Tinker Bell. A flutter of their eyelashes signaled romance or vulnerability. Still does. The art of batting eyes is as skilled and subtle as the coded “fan language” among Victorian women at a ball.

For drag queens, one set of false eyelashes might not be enough. The stage certainly calls for falsies plus mascara. This goes for all of us wanting to add oomph.

We have been styling our eyelashes since about 4000 B.C. in ancient Egypt, but modern mascara wasn’t created until 1913.

With this eyelash history and eyelash star examples, we can face the mirror with confidence. Eyelashes are big again, not just for special occasions, but for every day. The good news is, the eyelash business has advanced.

We don’t have to rely on a plastic case of eyelashes and glue from the corner drugstore. We have eyelash salons at our disposal and eyelash growth serums. Some believe moisturizing Vaseline helps eyelashes grow longer and thicker. My sister says her glaucoma medication spurred growth for her eyelashes.

We also have eyelash art (oversized wall decals and lashes for car headlights) and eyelash slogans: “Life without lashes is like cake without frosting,” or my favorite, “Good lashes, good mood.” Advertising slogans give us hope, guidance and confidence. Eyelash advertising can join other products guaranteed to make us feel fulfilled. With a good set of eyelashes securely in place, I can face anything the world throws at me. Not only face it, bat my eyes and fling it back. Take that!

This is asking a lot of a body part about 10 millimeters long and designed for protection. Eyelashes grow in three layers and are intended to shield the eye from dust, sweat and debris. Scientists say the ideal eyelash length is one-third the width of the eye.

Camels’ thick eyelashes are protection from dry desert dust. According to Wikipedia — and who questions that source? — human eyelashes are similar to a cat’s whiskers. Eyelashes are sensitive to the touch and when an object comes too near, we close our eyes reflexively. Poor eyelashes; they rarely get praised for their purpose. I hardly ever hear someone say, “Wow, some eyelashes you got there. I bet they really keep the bugs away.”

Most birds don’t have eyelashes, but others in the animal kingdom do. Gazelles have the longest eyelashes, but horses and cows have spectacular lashes. Giraffes, elephants and piglets are not far behind. Who says we humans are the only species to value the beauty of eyelashes?

We are the only one who makes a commercial business out of it. That’s because we consider lush eyelashes a sign of beauty, youth or sensuality. Long eyelashes are often associated with imagination, and in Chinese face reading, long eyelashes indicate sensitivity.

Eyelashes grow in three stages and although 90% are actively growing, some are always falling out. Unfortunately, aging slows or stops eyelash growth. Commercialism to the rescue! A lash salon or growth serum or a box of false eyelashes are at the ready. To quote my favorite advertising slogan, “Life is too long for short lashes.”

Connie Cronley is the author of four books, commentator for public radio 89.5 FM and a columnist for TulsaPeople.

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