Women lash out—way, way out

For women who’d rather be caught without pants on than forget their mascara, there’s a new ‘miracle’ fix
Joanne Latimer
Women lash out—way, way out
Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Casting aside the sober insert outlining possible side effects—something about itching, and irreversible darkening of the iris—I open a bottle of Latisse, an eyelash-growing drug just approved by Health Canada. According to its manufacturer, Allergan (yes, the Botox people), results can be seen in eight weeks; by week 16, lashes should be fuller, longer, darker. The cost: about $150 a month, and the patience to keep up with a regimen of nightly applications.

Vanity wins over fear and skepticism, and I dab some on my sparse lash line. No funny smell. No burning. No blindness. Is this the beginning of the end for mascara?

Cosmetic companies don’t seem too worried. “Latisse is a drug that transforms and we don’t make that claim,” says Stéphanie Binette, Canadian marketing director for L’Oréal-owned Maybelline New York, which is prepping for the 40th anniversary rebranding of Great Lash mascara, a tube of which is sold somewhere on the planet every 1.7 seconds. “Mascara is used to achieve different looks and effects. One doesn’t replace the other.”

Mascara is a $115-million-a-year business in Canada, and that figure does not even include such eyelash-related spending as extensions, curlers, tinting, falsies or removal products. Nothing seems to dampen women’s quest for long, thick lashes. “I’d rather be caught without my pants on than leave the house without mascara,” says Mélanie Fontaine, a self-described mascara addict and mother of four in St-Eustache, Que. “I have about seven mascaras in rotation right now, making sure to layer a lengthener [mascara] over a volumizer.”

Men, however, have mixed feelings about this kind of devotion. For one thing, it’s messy. “There’s the towel problem,” sighs sculptor Bruno Billio, artist in residence at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. “I’m always shocked when I see that a guest has rubbed off her mascara on the back of a towel.” Toronto hair stylist Dante Perrone deals with this by stocking his bathroom with special towels to accommodate his girlfriend’s mascara smudges. The towels are dark; “white is out of the question,” he intones.

Failure to wash off mascara is equally problematic. “Waking up to a girl with raccoon eyes is never fun,” says Wilder Weir, Torontonian and a host of Cosmo TV. He jokes, “There’s too much fakeness out there—hair, eyelashes, phone numbers, orgasms.” James Bassil, editor-in-chief at Montreal-based, takes a more forgiving view of the raccoon phenomenon. “There is a certain charm to it,” he muses. “It can be a happy souvenir of the spontaneity of the night’s passion.” Novelist Russell Smith, author of Girl Crazy, goes further: “Most men are aroused by the idea of a crazy woman—the stock character in fiction and films with lots of makeup smudged around her eyes. It makes us think of sexual abandon, a lack of inhibition.”

Which may explain why so many women stubbornly insist on the more-is-more philosophy when it comes to eyelashes. To some, Latisse seems like the perfect answer. Montreal makeup artist Caroline Théorêt enthuses, “Why spend $250 to $300 every six weeks for [eyelash] extensions, sitting there for over an hour?”

Others are asking different questions. “Is no body part off limits for improvement?” wonders Marc Lafrance, assistant professor of sociology at Concordia University. “The fact that you need a prescription to get Latisse medicalizes the eyelash issue. Latisse is part of the post-surgical age of beauty treatments where knives are ‘out’ and everything bloodless is considered harmless.”

And ripe for parody. One scathing YouTube video called “Lashisse” features models with preposterously long lashes that resemble insects and false moustaches. Some observers, too, find dramatic lashes over the top. “If a man notices a woman’s eyelashes, it means she either looks ridiculous or like a whore,” says Chris Illuminati, 33, a New Jersey-based relationship writer for Penthouse and AskMen. “Take Kim Kardashian. She’s beautiful. But Miss Piggy wouldn’t wear those lashes on a bet.”

After a week of Latisse, my own lashes feel extra flirty, though this must be the placebo effect. They look exactly the same, and I’m back to my trusty mascara, which, as even some men know, can do wonders. “Jed,” a Canadian living in New York, reminisces, “When I was 15, working as a stock boy at Towers, I used my sister’s mascara to blacken my peach-fuzz beard hoping to look old enough for the 18-year-old girl working in the toy department. It worked. I always thought it was my sparkling blue eyes that lost my virginity for me. But, in hindsight, maybe it was the Maybelline.”