Saturday, October 16, 2010

Eyes Wide Shut: The billion dollar industry solving a problem that doesn't exist

Like most women, I’ve had to work on my body image since I was a teenager. From the moment I read my first Seventeen and Cosmo magazines, “no woman really looks like that” and “I love myself just the way I am” are mantras I’ve had to adopt to preserve my self-esteem. 

Over the years, I’ve also been able to maintain a fairly healthy self image by appreciating my good points while trying not to obsess over my not-so-good-points. However, I admit to being frustrated by “advancements” that seem to diminish the uniqueness of what I’ve embraced as my good points. For instance, the earliest memory I have of being usurped by technology was my eye color. I have blue eyes, and particularly when I was younger, people would remark on them. Unfortunately, “What big blue eyes you have!” was replaced by “Is that your real eye color?” when colored contact lenses came on the scene. One good point I could no longer see as defining me – because anyone could have the same eye color or better for $99. 

Another example - I was blessed with nice tatas at an early age. When they came out, I was so happy – finally, no longer a wallflower! I owned something special, right out there where the boys could appreciate them! Typically two cup sizes larger than most of my friends, I remember being able to ignore things that I didn’t like about my appearance by appreciating my better features. “Well, my legs are a little crooked, but hey, at least I’ve got a D cup!” But sadly, technology plowed ahead once again and took with it an appreciation of one of my natural assets. In the 80s and 90s, breast augmentation became all the rage, and even as early as high school, I remember boys asking me if my boobs were real. 

Silicone (not to mention wonder bras and water bras) took away something that I had previously seen as uniquely setting me apart. Of course the boys still looked, but I couldn’t help but think they were questioning if I was what I seemed. The few physical features I liked about myself were being quickly ticked off a very short list by the cosmetic industry. (I can say the same thing for my lips, hair color, skin tone, and any number of things that we can so alter that the bodies we were born with aren’t unique anymore.) 

All of that resentment has mostly faded as I’ve gotten older. I’ve come to understand that just because I didn’t need those particular advancements didn’t mean other girls didn’t need or want them to improve their appearances. The industry responds to demand, right? And whether people think my eye color is real or enhanced, I still get compliments on them. Whether women can improve their chest size doesn’t mean that my natural beauties aren’t still fabulous in the light of day! 

Self-acceptance aside, I can’t help but notice that the cosmetic industry today seems to be working in the reverse. Things most of us didn’t even comprehend as a “feature” we should worry about are now identified for us by the industry as things we should want to improve - and a technological advancement we didn’t even know we needed is out there to make it happen. Stuff we didn’t even know we were supposed to be insecure about we’re now insecure about!

Case in point: The $1 billion a year mascara industry. Of all the things I worried about when criticizing my teenage body and image, it never occurred to me to hate my eye lashes. Sure, mascara has been around a long time. I’m even old enough to remember when blue mascara was all the rage. But apparently, while I was busy trying to accept myself, the problem of the thin eye lash became a serious epidemic! Who knew? Sure, there are some women who lose eyelashes, don’t have many, or worse, who pull them out as a bad habit; but surely this doesn’t call for dozens of commercials about volumizing, defining, lengthening, separating, curling, and growing eye lashes does it?

Did you know that you aren’t at your sexiest unless you have luscious, magnified, bold, extreme, lush and dramatic eyelashes? You need “big, bold, look at me” lashes according Drew Barrymore in her LASHBLAST Covergirl ads. And did you know you can stop traffic with your eyelashes?? Yves Saint Laurent says you can! Revlon wants you to use their GROW LUSCIOUS, DOUBLETWIST or DEFINITION mascaras. Don’t forget the COLOSSAL VOLUM from Maybelline New York or LASH ACCELERATOR from Rimmel London. 

In addition to mascara (and the old standby glue-on eye lashes or standard eye lash curler), you can also get a prescription for Latisse for your “inadequate” lashes! Sweep it on your eye lids, and in weeks you’ll have longer, darker lashes. The potential side-effects include a permanent change to your iris pigmentation. But who cares about that? You can always get colored contacts to fix your new brown eyes back to blue. And the commercials will have you believe that now that Brook Shields has longer, fuller, darker lashes, she can go to birthday parties and dance with strange men – surely she could never have achieved these feats without Latisse! Claire Danes can run into friends with their dogs on the street, meet girlfriends for lunch and go window shopping! I’m sure before she solved her baby lash problem, she stayed in a dark room. 

What are these commercials really saying? You should be embarrassed of your eyelash volume. How dare you have fun with skimpy lashes? If you don’t buy mascara or get a prescription, you’ll never stop traffic. Because bigger is better and you’re just regular. Pair beautiful women in bright colors against white backgrounds with pounding, upbeat music and flash words like “MASSIVE” and “LUSCIOUS” and statistics like “80% fuller”, and we women are convinced we’ve got yet another physical feature that needs improvement – add it to the list. 

Do you know there are literally hundreds of kinds of mascara now? Maybelline itself has 34 different mascara products on their website! In the 80s and 90s, I remember a variety of different colors (black, brown, clear and, of course, the fashionable blue) and either waterproof or not. And fake eyelashes and tips were also the norm. But were there really so many ways to tackle the “eyelash problem” back in the day as there are now?

Do we need this war being waged against the weak eyelash – or does the fashionable media, perpetuated by the cosmetic industry, tell us we need it? 

Well, I refuse. That’s right, Covergirl! I refuse to accept your war on the inadequate lash! You got me on my cheek bones need to be higher, my lips need to be fuller, and my eyelids need to be smokier. Like everything else I’ve had to accept about myself as a woman, I’ll just have to learn to live with the fact that my tiny little normal lashes will never help me hail a cab. 

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