The other day I was eating burgers with the mayor’s chief of staff—a smart, low-key woman who has been in politics for years—when she said, “My friends won’t stop talking about their eyelash extensions. They keep telling me to get them.” And I thought: really? And then I thought: I bet Rahm Emanuel never had this conversation. And then I thought: only in Dallas. Which is apparently the sequence of thoughts required to land me in a padded chair at the Lash Studio in West Village, feeling the faint, hummingbird flutter of a teensy-tiny fan as it dried the adhesive on my Hollywood glamour lashes.
I’d been noticing eyelashes for a while. How could I miss them? Some women’s eyes were practically wearing toupees. This wasn’t just a Dallas thing. It was a marketing blitz that included lash-blast mascaras, growth serums, celebrity-brand falsies, and, surely somehow, Kim Kardashian.
The beauty industry is wildly entrepreneurial, and, having convinced women to thread their brows, wax their honey pots, and plump their lips, it was only reasonable that our peepers came next. “Ladies, are you TIRED of those puny lashes?” Of course we were. We watched Mad Men. We loved Adele. We had two X chromosomes and a beating heart and the fragile hope that some man might look at us one day and see Rita Hayworth.
But Dallas took it to a new level. The flirty, doll-eyed look was so common that I suspected any female with remotely elegant lashes was getting hers done.
“I get doctors, judges, college students,” said Shannon Sturdivant, who opened Lash Studio in 2009.
It was Saturday afternoon, and she was using two long tweezers to apply one half-moon extension to each natural lash on her client’s lids. I assumed the process would be dramatic or gruesome somehow, but it was more like watching someone paint a grain of rice. A full set can take between one and three hours.
Extensions were invented in South Korea, a culture with a fetish for Western eyes (another story, another time). The trend arrived in Dallas in 2006 when a woman named Anna Phillips opened the Lash Lounge in Colleyville. What might have seemed like a fashion blip at the time proved to be booming business. The Lash Lounge added new locations while competitor lash bars staked out their own spaces. Countless med spas and hair/nail salons began to provide the service. Estimating the number of Dallas places that offer extensions now would be like guessing how many restaurants serve frozen yogurt.
Why are they so popular? They’re novel and safe, and they’re a relatively low-stakes way to transform how you look for $100 to $400 plus monthly upkeep (not cheap but cheaper than Botox, cheaper than therapy). Women attribute all kinds of power to their extensions. It makes them look more rested. It makes them look younger, sexier—even skinnier, which is hilarious when you think about it. Except beauty is never rational, because how we look is an extension of how we feel, and that is a knot of self-esteem and the surprising mental boost provided by a clingy skirt or a low-cut top or lashes that swoop to each side. If you believe you are a stone fox, then your chances of looking like one improve. Of course, so do your chances of looking like RuPaul.
And so it was time for me to submit my virgin lids to a taste of the lash. After Sturdivant finished with me, at parties and coffee shops where people oohed and ahhhed over my eyes like a rare jewel, people asked the same questions: did it hurt? (No.) How do they come out? (They fall out naturally, over four weeks or so.) Would you do it again?
That’s tricky. The lashes looked amazing, but there was something weird about staggering to the bathroom at 6:30 am and seeing the eyes of a screen siren staring back at me. Hanging out with friends in my sweats, the lashes felt distracting and conspicuous, like I’d just finished my shift at Baby Dolls.
“They look pretty,” said my mom’s friend. “But I think you look prettier without them.”
How much glamour is too much? When are we enhancing our beauty, and when are we detracting from it? These are big questions. I wrestle with them all the time. But I’ll tell you one thing. When Sturdivant handed me a mirror after she’d finished the lash job, my heart did a little back flip. And what I thought was: Rita Freaking Hayworth.
If it was a lie, it was a good one.
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