I am in a very serious and committed relationship with a woman named Courtney Baker. She is not my romantic partner (I have a husband); she is my eyelash extensions lady. I see her religiously, every two weeks, and never miss an appointment between my fills. In fact, I see Baker more often than I see my own mother and spend more one-on-one time with her than I do with most of my good friends. And while I sometimes feel guilty about it all — particularly the $120 it costs me a month to maintain and the countless hours spent laying horizontally on a table getting individual lashes glued onto my eyelids — it’s always worth it to me in the end. After every appointment, I walk over to the mirror and instead of my naturally short, thin, and barely-visible lashes, I see long, voluminous, perfectly curled hairs staring back at me. I breathe a sigh of relief at the sight of them — I love them so much. More importantly, I love the way they make my small Asian eyes stand out. If I’m being honest with myself, that’s the real reason I am so addicted to eyelash extensions, and, apparently, I’m not the only Asian woman who feels the same way.
A lot of Asian women, both those who grew up in Asia and those born in the United States, have a complicated relationship with our eyes. Based on my conversations with other Asian women, a vast majority of us grew up mastering "tricks" for how to make our eyes look bigger, more expressive, more "white." In more extreme cases, Asian women undergo double eyelid surgery to add a more visible crease to their eye. It’s a super common practice in Asia among young women — according to the South China Morning Post, the plastic surgery market will double to $116 billion in 2019 in China, with double-eyelid operations being the most sought-after procedure.
While double-eyelid surgery is not as common in the United States as it is in China, Japan, and Korea (statistics for eyelid surgery have remained fairly stagnant in the U.S. over the last two decades, and it’s a procedure that’s typically only done for rejuvenation purposes for older patients whose eyelids begin to sag), eyelash extensions have become an easier, less invasive, and less stigmatized way for Asian American women to achieve similar wide-eyed results. Yvonne Young, a San Francisco-based marketing manager, tells me that her entire family has gotten double-eyelid surgery "to get bigger looking eyes" but that she believes eyelash extensions are the less permanent way of achieving that same goal. While this is not the only reason Asian women are getting eyelash extensions, for many of them, it remains one of the primary motivations — when you have a monolid, your skin can often hide some of your eyelashes and even parts of your eye, so in addition to making your lashes longer and fuller, extensions are also a temporary way to help transform your eye shape.
In a time where more women are supporting women and shaming women for wearing makeup or undergoing cosmetic treatments is finally being recognized as destructive, there is no reason to not embrace our eyelash extensions. For us, it’s just another form of self-care. A few of the women I spoke with didn’t even make the connection that getting eyelash extensions made their eyes look bigger and rounder — they just get them because they feel more put-together or prettier with them on.
"Women, no matter what age or race, should take the time to do something special for themselves to feel empowered," Lee tells me. "You might get lashes to celebrate a big occasion or even because you had a bad day. Whatever the reason is, I like that women can come to relax, meditate, chat, or even take a quick nap, then leave feeling good about themselves. That’s the best part of my job."
As I finish this story, I am scrambling to make it on time for my next fill appointment with Courtney. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Believe me.
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