Peggy Keener: Finding your true eye-dentity

Published 6:02 pm Friday, November 17, 2023

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Would you find it particularly weird if someone …. a friend, mate, cousin, enemy …. looked at you up close and declared, “I think you’d look more beautiful if you took a strip of fake hair and glued it over your own god-given eyelashes?” Yes, I’d find that on the weird side.

But this in no way compares to the weirdness of the medieval ladies who traditionally plucked out their eyelashes. This was in the 1400’s when the church (here we go again …. the church) linked any display of hair as an erotic disposition. Thereby, desiring to be church-like in every way, the women proceeded to … yiiikes!!)… pluck out all of their eyelashes and eyebrows. In doing so, it brought direct focus on the forehead which the church deemed to be promiscuously okay. Besides being painful (no kidding), eyelash/eyebrow plucking was in complete disregard of the practical God-planned function of their being there to keep dirt from entering our eyes.

Thank goodness plucking did not persist. Eventually most of the pious turned their backs on the church and declared that long eyelashes and gently arched eyebrows were not only lovely, but also fashionable. They even went so far as to hesitantly declare that all along it looked like, indeed, God knew what he was doing.

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An example of the other extreme—hairiness—would be Frida Kahlo the famous Spanish painter who flew caution to the wind when she naturally sported a full uni-brow that seriously resembled a squirrel’s tale entangled in her eyebrows. She, as well in her nonchalance, sprouted mustache hairs. Secretly I think she thought they turned Diego on.

Do you know what a glabella is? You have one. Everyone has one. It’s the space between your eyes just above your nose. This is where the un-groomed uni-brow dwells. It was Frida’s favorite facial hangout.

Then there was this. In Ancient Rome, along came a fellow named Pliny the Elder who proclaimed that long eyelashes were not only a symbol of youthfulness, but also spoke of chaste character. In his profound wisdom he explained that it was well known that eyelashes fell out in the throes of wild, excessive sexual activity. (Where does mankind come up with these people?) So if you wanted to remain forever good and pure, you maintained your eye baldness. You never dated and heaven forbid, married. Just think if we had listened to his nonsense, we wouldn’t be here because our foremothers would have never gone around town with tainted characters.

Next time you’re in an art museum, notice how bald-faced many of the ancient women were. Then imagine how awful it would have also been to not be able to raise your eyebrows in a moment of surprise or wonder.

By the late 19th century, women were once again consumed by their eyelashes. In a hysterical state of desiring lthem long, some absolutely insane treatments were offered. Foremost among them was the operation that transplanted hair from one’s head to one’s eyelids.

The procedure entailed threading an ordinary fine needle with one long hair which was generally found best to have come from the same obsessed woman. The border of the upper eyelid was thoroughly cleaned. To avoid the overwhelming pain that was guaranteed to come next, a solution of cocaine was rubbed into the eyelid. Then with a few skillful touches, the operator ran the needle in and out of the extreme edges of the eyelids leaving a longish thread of looped hairs. These were then clipped open in careful graduating lengths. (I’m thinking that even Pliny the Elder would have winced while possibly admitting that this was going a bit too far.)

By 1911, a woman named Anna Taylor actually invented the forerunner of the modern day false eyelashes. Skip to five years later when a Hollywood director was not happy with the way his starlet looked. He decried that he wanted her lashes to brush against her cheeks. So in the throes of great decision making, he ordered his wig maker to glue some false eyelashes onto his leading lady’s eyelids using the same glue that stuck false beards onto the chins of his leading men. The result was grossly swelled eyes that barely opened. But, did this matter. No, because her eyelashes brushed against her cheeks!

It is known that such beauty aids became popular in cosmopolitan places like Paris and London. (This did not include Austin, Minnesota, however.)

By 1921, false eyelashes were ubiquitous among all manner of actresses which in turn made them popular among a sprinkling of the masses. This prompted one cheeky journalist to write, “When a fair young thing looks at you mistily through her long, curling lashes, do not fall for it. Investigate! She may have purchased them. And if you’re not sure, try this clever trick …. ask her if she is young and fertile. (I may be wrong here, but I would suspect that this journalist may have been a student of Pliny’s.)

By the 1930s, Vogue Magazine promised they could give their readers eyelashes of “bewildering length”. Then Twiggy came long and in the 1960’s demonstrated how the false lashes could be worn on both the top and bottom of the eyelids. Over twenty different designs were made prompting over 20 million sales.

Things then fell apart with the onset of the au natural trend of the 1970’s. They did not make a hasty comeback until Madonna burst upon the scene with her $10,000 pair of mink and studded diamonds. Now in 2023, false eyelashes are everywhere. Currently they are so long and stiff and strong, that in a pinch they could be used as snow shovels. And try as I might, I cannot figure out how the poor beleaguered weighted-down blink can lift itself back up.