An Open Letter to False Eyelashes
In fifth grade, at just 10 years old, before I ever knew you existed, I already had a fixation on eyelashes because for some unknown reason, that was the year I started to pull them out. It began innocently enough, just pulling out one lash here and there while sitting in class or reading a book; I didn’t even realize I was doing it, not until the bald patches on my eyelids became noticeable. I remember my parents taking me to the eye doctor and asking why I was pulling out my own eyelashes. Her response: it was simply a nervous habit, like nail biting, I would grow out of it.
Sixth grade: now I had no eyelashes; they were completely gone. Each new lash that began to poke through wouldn’t last long; it was soon plucked out. Classmates began to notice, asking me why I didn’t have any eyelashes. Too embarrassed by the truth, I’d just shrug and pretend I didn’t know.
Seventh grade: on top of going to junior high school and going through puberty and all the awkwardness of being a preteen, I still had no eyelashes. The teasing began; I know people talked behind my back. I remember a boy noticing once in class while I was subconsciously picking at my eyelashes and loudly announcing “she pulls out her eyelashes.”
Eighth grade: while I still had no eyelashes, I started getting into makeup. I rimmed my eyes with thick, black eyeliner. The summer after this school year, in the midst of preparing to go to high school and enjoying the last summer I’d have without homework until I graduated from high school, I discovered you. I spent hours watching YouTube videos with beauty gurus flawlessly applying you to their eyelids. I remember going to Target to buy my first set, and I glued you on as soon as I got home. I looked at myself in the mirror, and while maybe they weren’t perfectly applied, for the first time in years, I looked normal. I no longer felt like a freak.
From then on, I never left home without you; you were with me through everything. High school was a new start for me: no one at this new school knew that you weren’t my real eyelashes. You kept me from pulling at my eyelashes while sitting in class and while doing homework or reading at home. Sometimes I even slept with you on to keep me from pulling out my eyelashes in my sleep. Despite your help though, I still had no eyelashes. At times when I was stressed or anxious, I would rip you off and pull at those few lashes I had. You are the only ones who truly knew how I was doing: when my eyelids were completely bare and you had to cling onto the skin with copious amounts of glue or when I had lots of short stubby lashes that you stuck to and shielded from my fingers and tweezers.
It was at the end of my senior year though that I became tired of you, having to put you on every day, hating that without you I thought I looked like an alien, and feeling so alone in my struggle. You are a quick fix, a temporary solution. I knew I’d be going away to university in the fall, no longer having the privacy of my own bedroom as I would be living in a dorm with roommates, and I knew it would next to impossible to hide the fact that I had no eyelashes from the people I would be living with. I also had memories of seventh grade and was afraid once again of the teasing and people talking about me behind my back. With this going through my mind, I started to do some research, looking up eyelash pulling online, wanting to know what was wrong with me and hoping that maybe there were other people going through the same thing, and maybe they would even have some advice. That is when I found out what was wrong with me, why I pulled out my own eyelashes. While the classification has changed over the years from Impulse Control Disorder (ICD) to Body Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB), the disorder remains the same: I have trichotillomania. Knowing now that I wasn’t alone, that it’s a mental health problem, a disorder that affects 2-4% of the population, gave me some comfort.
By some miracle (I’m really not sure how I was able to hide it for so long), I kept the fact that I didn’t have any eyelashes from my roommate for over a year. It was this past year during the middle of my second year at university that I decided to open up to my closest friends. Their supportiveness and love and knowing that they’re there for me are what have truly helped me to start recovering and to gain control of my disorder.
False eyelashes, while I love you, how long you are and how big you make my eyes look, you’re a crutch, and when you break your leg, sure, you walk on crutches for a while, but then you need to walk on your own again to regain strength. I’ve spent ten years without eyelashes and six of them with you, hiding from the truth. For a few months now, I haven’t pulled out a single eyelash: this is the longest I’ve gone since before I began pulling in fifth grade. It has taken a lot of concentration, finding ways to distract myself whenever I feel the slightest urge to pull by doing yoga, baking, cleaning, and other activities that keep my hands busy. I believe a decade is long enough, and if I’m going to be strong again and continue to grow my own eyelashes, I need to say goodbye to my crutch.
So, thank you for being there and giving me some confidence when I had none. This isn’t goodbye forever; I’m sure I’ll wear you again, but you will no longer be a crutch. Now is the time for me to embrace my short, thin lashes because they’re mine, and it feels so amazing to finally be able to say that again: they’re natural, and they’re mine.