"You want natural?" asked the lady at the eyelash extension salon. She peered at my short, straight, normal lashes, no doubt sizing up my eyelids' potential real estate. "Yes, please, as natural as possible," I said, terrified that I'd wind up like the woman I'd seen in the waiting room, who looked like she could sweep floors just by blinking. I settled down on the salon's soft table and immediately fell asleep. When I woke up, about 40 minutes later, the aesthetician had gently applied 50 tiny hairs to my existing lash line.
I blinked at my freshly lashed self in the mirror. I could still smell the glue, but my eyes felt fine — a little odd, but nothing I couldn't get used to. My new lashes extended quite a bit further than my normal ones, and curled delicately at the ends. I looked vaguely cartoonish, like Betty Boop, or a poodle. After getting a lecture on how to take care of them (in short: don't use oil-based products on your eyes), I went to have dinner with a friend, who, to my surprise and relief, didn’t notice anything different about me at all. I decided that I wouldn't tell anyone about the eyelash extensions, and see if anyone said anything.
Part of the experiment was born out of bashfulness. The fact that I spent money to get extra hairs glued onto my face purely out of curiosity (er, for "work") made me feel a little silly. Vanity is embarrassing! I'd actually bought a voucher for the extensions several months prior when I came home drunk and was clicking through Gilt Groupe; I wanted to try it, but I needed excuses (liquor, and a discount) to do so. Therein lies the catch-22 of artificial beauty: I want to look prettier, but not have anyone know that my looks are unnatural, or that I've gone out of my way to achieve them.
To help you determine how noticeable these things are, here's how long it took people in my life to figure me out:
Boyfriend: Two seconds. The night I got them, he was asleep when I came home. When his alarm went off the next morning, he rolled over, saw my face on the pillow, and exclaimed, "WOAH." The initial shock wore off after a few minutes, and then he told me they looked pretty.
Boss, Stella Bugbee: 30 seconds. "You've got some crazy eyelashes going on," she said, squinting at my face as we walked into a meeting together.
Co-worker, Diana Tsui: Two minutes. “One of your eyelashes is looking a little funky,” she pointed out in the office bathroom. (Note: This was a common problem — some of the lashes had a tendency to flip upside down and point in the wrong direction. Twisting them back around by hand was awkward but effective.)
Female friend: Five minutes. "Are you wearing eyelash extensions?" she asked after we ordered drinks. She then explained that she's gotten them several times before, so she's good at spotting them.
Former college roommate: 43 minutes. She now lives in Chicago, so I only see her once every few months. We were halfway through a bottle of wine at my kitchen table when she asked, "Are your eyelashes real?"
Dad: Two days into a weekend-long family gathering in New Mexico. "So, why are your eyelashes so long?" he asked. He originally thought I was just wearing lots of mascara, but got suspicious when we took a long, rainy hike and my eyes still looked intact.
Aunt: Also two days. As soon as my dad asked, she confessed that she'd been wondering, too.
People who did NOT notice, or at least didn’t say anything: My brother, several co-workers, all of my male friends, and most remarkably, a makeup artist who put eyeliner on me for a beauty story. My mom also didn't say anything, which was surprising, because normally she can spot a new freckle on my face from across a room and immediately asks if I've gone to the dermatologist lately. People seemed most likely to notice when I wasn't dressed up; in other words, when I looked put-together, people probably just thought I was wearing more makeup than usual.
All in all, they were subtle enough that I never felt self-conscious — a success, in my book — and I found myself mourning each little fake lash when they began to fall out after a few days. After a week and a half, things were looking a little ragged, so I got a "re-lash" — basically a booster round that's cheaper than a full set. That was a week ago, and they're still going strong.