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Keeping Up Appearances

Updated: Aug 12, 2019

When I was younger--but old enough for people to comment on my appearance directly to me and not to my mother--I was often asked if I had fake eyelashes. I didn't. But boy did I love hearing that. As though I possessed some special quality that was so clearly unusual that everyone from my math teacher to strangers on the street would stop to ask how I glued them in so perfectly.

When I became pregnant with my first child, hormones ravaged my body in ways both good and bad. But most of the havoc was wreaked on my hair; from the crown of my head to the ankles of my legs. My once-blonde hair became darker. My dark eyebrows became lighter. And, for reasons still unknown, my leg hair stopped growing. I didn't have to shave my legs the entire pregnancy. But with the departure of my leg hair, I lost much of my eyelashes as well.

After the birth of my second child, my once admired eyelashes had become short and sparse and, oddly, growing in random directions. They were not nearly as thick and lustrous and uniform as they had been in my late teens and early 20s. I tried every mascara available, and numerous curlers, but alas, the beauty of my youth was fading.

One day, nearly a year ago, I ran into an old friend. Her lashes were the first thing I noticed. Had she had those before? Fifteen years of friendship and I had never noticed them. So I complimented her.

"Oh!" She exclaimed. "They aren't real. They are extensions. They take about an hour at the salon to get them on, but it's so worth it!"

"How long do they last?" I asked, surprised I was contemplating getting a set myself.

"Two weeks," she said.

And with that, I swatted a hand and changed the subject. I couldn't imagine devoting that much time to something that once came so natural to me.

A few months after that, while in the classroom, I noticed that one of my students had lashes that were blowing a slight breeze across the room as she blinked. On a break, I asked her privately if she also had eyelash extensions.

"Nope!" she declared proudly. "Just a serum that helps your lashes grow."

"Do you mind me asking how expensive?" I asked, surprised I was contemplating buying a bottle myself.

"Not at all," she smiled. "But it's almost embarrassing. It's $150 a tube."

And with that, I swatted a hand and changed the subject. I couldn't imagine devoting that much money to something that had once come so natural to me.

But still, I couldn't shake the image of my friend and my student and their Snuffleupagus lashes fluttering about. So I took to Google. And there, I found many brands of eye lash serum. So many, in fact, I couldn't believe I had never explored this option before. So I settled on a $12 bottle from Amazon.

After two weeks of using the serum, my lashes looked longer and fuller than they had in my youth. My husband noticed. My friends noticed. My kids noticed. Suddenly I was back to where I was before, strangers stopping me in the grocery store to ask if I had fake lashes.

But then last week, I met a friend for lunch. As she walked toward me, I immediately noticed her lashes. I didn't say anything to her, but I am certain she is doping. Then I looked around the restaurant. Ladies everywhere with fans of black lashes. A sinking feeling hit me.

This was now an expectation.

Like when high heels were invented and then suddenly it was the bare minimum that women be elevated two inches off the ground.

Or when the invention of foundation garments suddenly demanded we all jack our tits up to unreasonable heights.

Or when lipstick meant that we had to apologize if we lacked color.

My newfound lashes were no longer a call back to the beauty of my youth; they were now a new standard to which I had to live up.

And at 34 years old I'm feeling a bit dragged down by keeping up appearances.

I color my hair, to harken back to the hue of my youth--the color my kids naturally have now. I get my nails dipped in powder that somehow turns hard and keeps my naturally brittle nails from constantly breaking off. I shave my legs. I wear blush and put powder in my eyebrows.

Yet when I watch a movie featuring Sam Elliot--and his wrinkled face, gray hair, and unruly eyebrows--my response is "what a sexy man."

To some degree, I understand how appearance is important. Or, at least how it plays an important role in our life. I make sure to dress nicely when I teach--which usually means a dress or a blazer, hair done, a touch of makeup and some jewelry. There's plenty of studies about how much power you gain by dressing professionally or looking sharp, and the classroom is no different.

I once came to class on a Friday wearing jeans and a university-branded sweatshirt (though still with a touch of makeup and hair done, but no earrings). After class, a few of the students approached to ask if everything was okay. Though I had long suspected my appearance in the classroom was key, that day confirmed it.

The expectations we put on ourselves come from two places: what we were, and what we want to be.

What we were was almost always something we never appreciated. I remember in junior high thinking I would happily trade my lashes if I could get rid of the acne.

And what we want to be is most always set by a universal standard that can't be met. And if it were met, it would simply be raised.

I mean, right now, having long lashes is the minimum. You're no longer special if you have them; you simply meet the expectation. Now buckle up for the next raising of the bar. Perhaps earlobe reductions?

Most of the time, I enjoy getting dressed up. I like putting on enough makeup to make me look rested, but not to cover up my freckles (which were another thing I never appreciated in my youth but nurture like crazy now). I enjoy wearing jewelry and I like my hair when it's styled.

But I'm not sure what to do with my lashes. Should I keep swiping on the goo each night, knowing all the effort will just raise me up to the minimum standard? Or do I free myself of grasping at something I once had?

I dunno. Putting the goop on isn't all that time consuming. And now people are used to seeing me this way. Maybe I should just keep it up for now. Because when I'm 44 I'll look back and wish for the way I look now.

And it will all go by in the blink of an eye.

Everything is Negotiable: The 5 Tactics to Get What You Want in Life, Love, and Work comes out November 6!

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