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How an Eyelash Perm Helped Me See the World for the First Time

Your face mask has nothing on me, bro

If the eyes are the window to the soul, my window used to be crusted shut, offering little but an obstructed view. Before a few weeks ago, I saw the world from beneath a curtain of thin tentacles — the long eyelashes that pointed at the sky during my youth, now permanently rested lazily downward as if to mimic my worsening posture as I slogged toward adulthood.

I didn’t do anything about it — what could I do? — until a routine visit to the eye doctor a couple of years ago. At the end of my annual appointment, he asked if my eyelashes bothered me. Yes, I told him, but I wasn’t in pain, per se, mostly just annoyed by an everlasting veil over my eyes. He explained that I might have trichiasis, or misdirected eyelashes, symptoms of which can include eye irritation and light sensitivity, the latter being the reason why I started going to the eye doctor in the first place. He then asked if I’d consider corrective surgery, both confusing me and invoking my gag reflex. (It was difficult enough to allow his assistant to pump air into my eyeballs to check for glaucoma.) Either way, as I left the office, he advised me to buy a curler to try an at-home DIY fix.

The cheap curler I bought at CVS, however, was no match for my disinterested lashes, which practically yawned at me each morning as I tried not to clip my eyelids. Thus, I gave up after a month, and resigned myself to my fate: My eyelashes are bullshit forever.

Until, that is, last month, when I took a glance at the toddler running around my living room. My 18-month-old son is a window into everything I used to be — beautiful eyelashes and all. As such, he’s showered with praise by everyone who catches a glimpse of him, including a co-worker who was particularly taken with his magnificent eyes. “I used to be like him,” I remarked, while subsequently regaling her with my story of trichiasis.

For the first time though, there was a fix. Her best friend was an esthetician. She’d save my eyelashes with an eyelash correction, for the low price of $75 (before tip). She’d even come to my house to do so. I was scared — of having my eyes touched, of what people (mostly other men) might think — but I bit the bullet and texted her. My son couldn’t have the best eyes in the house.

A woman named Mia Shannonhouse pulled into my driveway on a sunny Thursday in June, unloading a massage table, a rolling stool and what looked like a tackle box from her gold truck. After setting up the puffy pink table, she rolled out a turquoise shag blanket, instructed me to lie down atop it and casually said, “This is going to be an experiment,” which isn’t necessarily what you want to hear before someone pokes at your eyes. What she meant, she’d tell me later, is that she wasn’t giving me the normal lash lift she gives her (mostly) female clientele — or full, luscious lashes meant to serve as a natural alternative to extensions and/or amplify the effect of mascara. This was a rare (for her) lash correction, for my stupid, cumbersome — my words, not hers — eyelashes.

The first thing Shannonhouse did was take a white oval-shaped flat object and place it on the bottom eyelashes of my right eye, separating them completely from the top ones. She repeated the step on my left eye, then did the same to the top eyelashes. Before my eyes were completely shut, the last thing I saw dancing in front of my eyes were long, pink fingernails. I felt pretty stupid for leaving the World Cup on, as I’d erroneously thought I’d be able to watch TV during my treatment.

Next, she measured my lashes against little orange silicon rods of several different sizes. Since my lashes are, according to her, “super long,” she chose the fattest one to give the softest curl. A smaller rod would have pointed my lashes directly back onto my eyelids. She then painted a liquid adhesive along the backside of the fat orange rod and placed it flat along my lash line.

Little-by-little, using a metal tool that looks like a dentist’s plaque scraper, she flipped up my lashes, brushing them upward onto the rod, combing them through and sealing them in place with an adhesive along the way. Once both eyes were secured, she used a lifting lotion — essentially a perm solution concocted for superfine hair — that smelled like sulfur and remained in my nostrils for the rest of the day. I stayed that way for seven minutes, during which I made blind small-talk with a person I’d seen for so little an amount of time that I’d forgotten what she looked like. When those seven minutes — and the corresponding small talk — were up, she rinsed my lashes and applied a setting lotion. Five more minutes later, she washed off the setting lotion with a Q-tip dipped in water.

I opened my eyes for what felt like the first time, my vision fully unobstructed. I looked at Shannonhouse, and watched her face form a smile. My eyelashes, thicker and longer looking than ever, were now curled upward and away from my eyeballs, which were now rendered, for the first time in years, completely visible.

“Wow,” she said. “It worked!”

Despite my ocular awakening, I self-consciously didn’t immediately tell anyone about the fact that I’d laid atop a pink table and paid close to three figures (after tip) for a stranger to use sharp tools and chemicals near my eyeballs. I could tell my male friends thought something looked different, and my female friends figured it out right away, but when they did, I’d downplay it, and over-explain how necessary it was. I have a disease! My niece told me she thought I was wearing mascara until I explained my affliction and my cure. Did everyone think I was wearing eye makeup?

After a couple of days though, I didn’t give a shit anymore. Why would I feel bad about looking better than I did before? It’s generally acceptable for men to work out, groom their hair and otherwise take care of themselves. Hell, some of my male friends even get facials and pedicures, though admittedly, they may be outliers. And so, why should I care what people think about a procedure that lasts — like a haircut — anywhere from five to eight weeks, doesn’t require daily or weekly maintenance and frankly, made me look like Bambi (in a good way).

“More men are starting to do this,” Shannonhouse tells me after she’s finished helping me see the world for the first time in my adult life. She admits, however, that there’s still a stigma surrounding lash care for men, especially straight ones. “A lot of guys don’t want to admit that they care about their appearance as much or that they want to improve their appearance,” she says. “They think it’s just for girls and that it’ll make them look feminine in some way.”

In all, though, Shannonhouse, who has been an eyelash esthetician for five years, has only had three male clients prior to me, and none of them were straight. “I’d love to have more male clients,” she says, and not just because half of the population is seemingly currently unavailable as a potential source of revenue. “Even if you don’t need it to correct your lashes,” Shannonhouse says, “it opens up your face to make you look more awake. It makes you look younger. I feel like it’s an instant eye-lift for anybody.”

She’s right. A week after the procedure, my boss pulled me aside at the end of my annual review. She told me that I’d seemed happier recently, that I’d seemed down earlier in the year. I left the meeting feeling that even if I happen to be in a gloomy or morbid mood, my eyes will make me appear to have the patience and grace of a zen master.

Then, about a week after the treatment, it dawned on me. People — women especially — don’t curl their lashes, wax their eyebrows or dye their hair merely to impress other people. The eyelashes were making me look pretty, yes, but more importantly, they made me feel pretty. And feeling pretty kicks ass, even if men don’t want to admit it.

This is how obtuse we can be sometimes (yes, all men). While intellectually I get why someone would spend money on grooming as self-care, it never figured into my holistic understanding of the practice. Partially, this is because, outside of haircuts and haphazardly rubbing Cetaphil on my face in the shower every morning, I don’t do anything special to my face. But it’s also because I’m a huge dumbass. I go to the gym (not to brag) so that I can look and feel better, so why wouldn’t I transpose that to other areas of my body that I can’t work out? You know, like my face, that thing everyone I come into contact with sees every day.

So when you finally do see the world for the first time through new eyeballs, just remember me. Am I a hero? A pioneer? I don’t like to use those words, but… yes.