Etiquette & superstition: eyelashes

I’m just back from a week’s vacation, and while my original plan for today was to catch you up on some of the wonderful places I’ve been and people I’ve encountered, a couple of things happened that changed that plan. First, Helen Gurley Brown died.

Helen Gurley Brown has always been such a character of conflict for me. One the one hand, she championed female sexuality and women in the workplace. On the other hand: “I would like to put in a good word on diarrhea. The pounds melt away.” She wrote this at age 71. And to me, that seems like a sad thing for a 71-year-old woman to say.

And then today, Phyllis Diller died. Like HGB, Phyllis Diller wore wigs and fake eyelashes, used a theatrically heavy hand to apply makeup, and was a very vocal fan of plastic surgery. But unlike with HGB, I never felt sorry for Phyllis Diller. She had a braying, ridiculous, self-loathing persona onstage, but I always knew that she wasn’t serious about it. The above sad quote would have been a great one-liner coming out of Phyllis’ mouth.

Rest in peace, ladies. I hope you two are hanging out right now discussing hairpieces over ice cream and cocktails. Don’t worry, Helen; nobody gets fat in Heaven.

ETIQUETTE: (from The Cosmo Girl’s Guide To The New Etiquette, 1971) “Men say they hate false eyelashes… that means your false eyelashes shouldn’t look false. Avoid a gummy glue line or exaggerated spikes. Apply liner carefully to bridge any gap between the real lash and the fake.”

SUPERSTITION: It is a good omen for you to have downward-curling lashes on your right eye if you are a man. If you are a woman, this is not a very good omen. Don’t trim your eyelashes while the moon is in its waning period, or they will never grow back. If you lose an eyelash, put it on the back of your hand, make a wish and throw it over your shoulder. Alternately, you may put the eyelash on the tip of your nose, wish and then blow it off. If it doesn’t blow off, your wish will not come true.

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  1. It’s funny, but my whole self esteem (or lack thereof), once hinged on eyelashes. When I was eleven, I was getting ready for a performance and hadn’t applied any makeup, yet. An older girl, with a shiny sheet of blond hair and a willowy physique came up and said, “Wow.Do you have any mascara on?” She said it dreamily, coaxingly. I thought she was giving me a compliment. “No, they, uh, they’re natural,” I stammered, trying to smile, totally flabbergasted that this beautiful girl would compliment me. But she changed her tone and snapped, “Yeah? Well you really need some.You look awful.” I was crestfallen. I can’t exactly explain why she had so much power over me, but from that moment on I truly believed that I was profoundly ugly. I started to wear mascara everyday, even if I didn’t wear any other makeup. It’s true enough, I’ve got wimpy eyelashes, but my perception of the whole thing was so twisted. I was convinced that I looked mannish, even when I started developing tits in the fifth grade. I know it sounds like a stretch, but I swear I can trace every disappointing teenage sexual encounter I’ve ever put up with in horrified silence back to whatev broke inside me that one stupid day. When I was in my very early twenties, I was a street canvass manager for Greenpeace. Out of nowhere, in walks the willowy blond girl, now a willowy blond drop dead gorgeous woman. I was her boss. When we went out on the street each day, you were supposed to get at least one new member to sign up by handing over their credit card right there on the street. It wasn’t easy work, and we all had a hunch that pretty Anglo Saxon folks would snag the most members. Most days, we each got 1-2, I was considered pretty damn good and sometimes I got three and a few times, even four members. When (let’s call her Sarah) Sarah went out on her training day, she got seven members. I want to say that I had finally grown up and stopped thinking about it, but at that point, I still heard her words nearly everytime I looked in a mirror. So, I decided that I needede to say…something. “Sarah, you probably don’t remember this, but when we were kids…” She looked horrified when I told her the story. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “My mother used to say things like that to me all the time. I just lashed out on everyone around me because I was so hurt. Actually, I was just thinking that you turned out beautiful.” I felt lighter than I’d felt in over a decade. It’s remarkably stupid, but it felt like an evil spell had been reversed. Even after her record breaking performance,Sarah never came back to work. She did, however, end up in an award winning play with my baby sister, and we remained friends. Last year, she came down with cancer. During her chemo treatment, she lost all her hair, even her eyelashes. Somebody told me it was karma, but I couldn’t begin to feel smug about it. I know too well what it’s like to feel scared, and what it’s like to feel ugly, so I rallied around her, kept up with her progress and her treatments. Her hair is starting to grow back in, now, but instead of coming in silky in straight, it’s wildly curled. Mine is starting to grow-in silver. I’ve put on forty pounds. But I don’t always feel ugly anymore. There are days when I feel totally okay about being me. I often wonder if women like Phyllis Diller feel okay about themselves. It seems to me that she couldn’t possibly have. I think about Phyllis and Joan Rivers…There’s some deep kind of shame going on under the weight of the makeup and the knife. And yet, my god, I’m so damn serious, I think I’d trade my nascent self acceptance for the ability to be funny any day. I know they’d agree. Funny trumps all. From time to time, I get crazy and apply fake lashes. It’s always a frustrating, humiliating process, but when I follow the lash etiquette the results are shockingly transformative. Being human is weird. Sometimes, the lashes and the makeup and the wigs, they don’t obscure us…they give us a screen, a safe way to open up and allow ourselves to be ourselves. It’s like that for me when I put on clown drag. The little bit of zany, my only shred of funny, it comes out when I’m all made up. I know, this comment is all over the place, but it’s nearly four a.m. and I guess your post brought up all kinds of stuff for me. Eyelashes. Huh. Yeah, being human is weird. Weird, but wonderful. Rest in power Helen and Phyllis. I hope the mascara in heaven is pretty fucking great.

    • Wow – an incredible story, Tamara. You have a good soul.


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