Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pump Up the Volume!

First of all, I have to admit that the quest I set for myself in my last blog was a tad bit of a reach. A week or two to find a book that I found interesting enough to read and write a sequel to wasn't realistic. However I still have the goal, but will shoot for another day.

I was re-reading my very first blog and found a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and thought I would venture forth and look into the consternating subject of why some women who wear so much mascara that their eyelashes are fuzzy and clumpy. Following the rule of “write what you know” I went in search of the history of mascara.

[I would like to take a little pause here to thank all those involved in creating the internet and those who upload mountains of information, no matter how momentous or inconsequential!]

For those of you who are like me and find trivia fascinating, let me share what I’ve learned about mascara. About 6000 years ago the Egyptians were not only practicing hair removal (read Hairy Heroines) they were also wearing mascara along with eyeliner. Crocodile dung was mixed with kohl, water and honey; then it was applied to the lashes with a comb made out of ivory or bone.

Because eyes were considered the window to the soul, the eyes were concealed to ward off evil spirits and bad energy.

You can look at many ancient drawings found on papyrus and pottery, along with frescos and hieroglyphics depicting ancient Egyptians and not a single one of them shows a woman with clumpy fuzzy eyelashes. So, research into the subject continued!

You have to leap all the way forward to the Victorian Era before mascara was used to cosmetically enhance women for beauty. Before that mascara was used by many cultures during times of war, celebrations and in funereal ceremonies. Victorian women generally made their own mascara out of anything from rose water and ashes to elderberries and wax.

Even though most women of a certain financial stature wore the cosmetic, it wasn’t produced and marketed commercially until the early 1900’s. You can bet that there are plenty of Victorian Era people rolling in their graves at this financial oversight!

To be fair, when you go in search of portraits of wealthy women of the mid-1800’s, the paintings are generally of elaborately posed women, and more detail is spent on the clothing and background than on the eyes… yet, still no trend of clumpy fuzzy eyelashes to be found.

For a while I thought I was on to something when I learned that in 1913 mascara was a combination of coal dust and petroleum jelly, a product invented by chemist T.L. Williams for his sister Mabel. She loved it so much, he formed a company for the production and sale of mascara, and hence the company Maybelline was founded. Everyone knows that petroleum jelly is sticky and could clump anything together. Again, a brush or comb like device was used to apply it. BUT then Max Factor came along in the mid 1960’s and invented the wand that is commonly used today. The product is now commonly made out of natural waxes (carnuba or bee), coloring, polymers and nylon fibers! To top it all off an incredible amount of time and technology has been devoted to the issue of non-clumping mascara!

At this point I have decided that this isn’t a product issue; it is an individual’s preference. I was 99% certain of this to start out. While I loathe to stereotype, stereotypes exist for a reason, kind of like tourist traps. The Roman Coliseum is pretty spectacular and if you go to Rome, you ought to see it along with every other tourist. It is an architectural feat, and has incredible history. That doesn’t mean you need to buy a souvenir mug or t-shirt with a picture of the ruins on it.

Generally there is an overall persona of an individual who likes the clumpy eyelash look.

Clacking and popping her gum as she walked across her new carpet she called out, “Gloria, hold your horses! I’m coming. Shesh, give a girl a chance why don’t ya?”

Opening the door in gleeful anticipation, Tanya said, “Whadda ya think? Tell me, don’t you just love it?” Snapping her gum some more, she turned her back on Gloria to lead her into the newly remodeled living room.

“It’s gorgeous! I knew it; I knew when we saw that carpet that it would match the wallpaper perfectly! I just love brown carpet with all the swirls in it! It looks clean forever, you won’t even notice when the kids spill their coke or Johnny’s ashes fall on the floor. It’s perfect.”

Tanya nodded in happy agreement the entire time; she chewed her gum in rhythm with her head bobbing up and down. “It’s perfect! And it matches the sofa so well.” She danced her bright red talons across the caramel colored suede sofa that perfectly matched the loveseat and recliner; leaving a swirling pattern across the fabric.

“Wow you sure are lucky your uncle’s in the carpet business. Do you think he’d give us a deal? It’s the only way Mikey would go for it.” Gloria complained. She hadn’t had new furniture, let alone new carpet in over twenty five years. Both women laughed; they knew Mikey would spend the money without hesitation on bowling, but the house, forget about it!

Smoothing her red blouse over her animal print leggings, Tanya showed off her new pleather belt and said, “You wanna coffee while I fix my face? I just made some fresh.”

Gloria declined, “Nah, I’m good. My pants are so tight; I don’t want to have to pee at the Mall.” She followed Tanya and stared at herself in the mirror at the end of the hall. “Do you need anything in particular there?”

By now Tanya was firmly planted in front of the mirror in the bathroom carefully examining the make-up she’d applied an hour before. “I’d like to buy some throw pillows and maybe one of those silk flower arrangements at ‘Home D├ęcor’. After that I’ll barely have money for lunch.” She answered while digging through her make up bag, looking for her pink and green tube of mascara. Finding it, she picked off a few clumps of mascara, and then set about applying a fresh layer.

Tossing her make-up bag back into the drawer, Tanya left the bathroom and looked at Gloria in the mirror, “I tell ya, you still got it. With those curves, Mikey’s one lucky man.”

“Aw Hon! Thanks! You ready?” Gloria asked.

“Lemme just switch off the coffee,” Tanya said, tripping across the carpet in the new heels she bought to match her blouse. She’d been thrilled. Red was her signature color.

“Alright, let’s go!” Tanya said returning to the living room, seeing Gloria’s undisguised look of envy.

Putting her arm around her lifelong friend, “Don’t worry sweetie, you’re gonna get your new carpet,” she said with a knowing smile. Mikey wasn’t all bad.


As for me, my first memory of mascara and its application comes from my sister Michelle. She is six years older than me and as an early pubescent girl I would sit and watch her put make-up on, trying to pick up some tips. Michelle was meticulous. First came out the eyelash curler, then a layer of mascara was applied, followed by a straight pin being used to divide the lashes, followed by another layer of mascara. If necessary another round with the eyelash curler and voila! Perfection!! Her eyelashes, naturally long and curly, were dreamed of by chemists, make-up artists and women everywhere.

Michelle very patiently tried to teach me how to make my eyelashes into perfectly divided wondrous hairs of beauty! A couple complications… my eyes are so recessed that there wasn’t an eyelash curler made that could grab ahold of my short and stubby lashes. I am now the happy owner of dozens of eyelash curlers. It has become a joke amongst friends that on my birthday I receive the latest and greatest in eyelash curling innovations! There are one or two that do the job, but at this point, I wonder what is the point?

The question has now become, when and why did having thick, curly eyelashes become part of our sexual identity? That seems to be a much trickier question to answer, considering it defies all stereotypes!

Dedicated to Michelle and Rachel. Michelle for being a great big sister and Rachel, her daughter, who owns a tube of every brand of mascara ever made, and has lovely lashes, with or without it.

Thanks for reading!