False eyelashes: false advertising?

It’s recently been announced that Rimmel’s mascara advert featuring Georgia May Jagger has been banned for failing to make its use of false eyelashes clear to viewers.

But it’s not the first time Rimmel has gotten itself into a sticky situation. Back in 2007, a Rimmel mascara ad featuring Kate Moss was banned following complaints from viewers that her eyelashes were false.

Kate Moss Rimmel mascara ad banned
'Get the London look' - The banned 2007 mascara ad featuring Kate Moss (image: dailymail.co.uk)
Georgia May Jagger Rimmel ad banned
Rimmel's recently banned mascara ad featuring Georgia May Jagger

This time round, the Advertising Standards Authority concluded that, in the advert featuring Jagger, the vertical smallprint stating “shot with lash inserts” was not clear enough. Moreover, the ASA said that the images in the ad were misleading.

But aren’t all beauty ads misleading?

Advertising, due to its inherently biased nature, has always been taken with a pinch of salt. And now with photo manipulation technology thrown into the mixture, adverts (in particular those promoting beauty products) are to be taken with an ample dose of cynicism.

If the ASA aren’t happy with how clearly an advert states its use of false eyelashes, shouldn’t they also tackle the use of airbrushing and digital retouching? A professional photographer recently told me that pictures of (already underweight) female models are elongated by 10%. No wonder there’s pressure to be thin.

However, while it’s undeniably wrong that adverts should set unrealistic standards for women, surely the fakery involved in beauty adverts comes with the territory.

As the seemingly perfect  images of these Rimmel adverts prove,  beauty adverts are highly concerned with presentation – as are their target viewers. People who invest in make up clearly have an interest in looking good, so why would they be drawn to an advert that doesn’t?

Make up is all about enhancing a person’s image in order to please, attract or make an impression on whoever’s looking, just as adverts are all about enhancing a product’s image in order to please, attract or make an impression on viewers.

Have adverts for beauty products always been this way?

Take a look at these vintage Maybelline mascara ads:

Improbably long eyelashes? Check. Unbelievably flawless skin? Check, check.

The similarities between the modern and vintage ads are apparent, and prove that adverts for beauty products have never been too concerned with realism. Of course, it could be argued that the unrealistic element of the old Maybelline ads are merely due to their illustrative style (which, as a point of interest, is frequently emulated nowadays by brands like Benefit, or Benefit’s more modestly priced counterpart Soap and Glory).

But, the point remains that adverts for beauty products have always been pretty unrealistic –  ‘pretty’ being the operative word. It may be that technology has changed, but the basis of beauty product advertising has not.

An old Benefit flyer which I kept purely because of its aesthetic quality (pretty ads do work!) Note how the font and style greatly resemble the old Maybelline ads.


The abovementioned Maybelline mascara adverts date back to the late 1950s / early 1960s, however Maybelline was actually founded as early as 1915.

Here’s a brief history of the Maybelline Company:

  • Maybelline was created in 1915 by Thomas L. Williams, a young Chicago chemist who named the company after his older sister Maybel.
  • In 1913, Williams noticed Maybel using Petroleum Jelly (aka Vaseline) to enhance her eyelashes and eyebrows.
  • Williams suggested to his sister that she add carbon dust to the vaseline in order to darken and define both her lashes and brows.
  • Two years later, in 1915, Williams introduced Maybelline Cake Mascara, which Maybelline cite as “the first modern eye cosmetic made for everyday use,” all thanks to Maybel’s Vaseline (which probably explains the etymology of the name  Maybel-line!)

The launch of Maybelline was shortly followed by another major development in the history of cosmetics; 1916 was the year that false eyelashes fluttered into existence.

The origin of false eyelashes:

  • False eyelashes were created by American film director D. W. Griffith on the set of his silent film: Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Through the Ages.
  • It’s been said that, in collaboration with a wigmaker, Griffith created the false eyelashes by weaving human hair through a thin strip of gauze, which was then attached to the eyelid with gum.
  • Griffith invented false eyelashes for this film because he wanted leading lady Seena Owen’s eyelashes to brush against her cheeks when she blinked and for her eyes to stand out.

Almost a century has passed since their invention and false eyelashes are still creating an impact – both in adverts and in real-life.

D.W. Griffith invented false eyelashes for this film in 1916 because he wanted Seena Owen (who plays Attarea, the Princess Beloved, in the film’s Babylonian segment) with lashes luxurious enough to brush her cheeks when she blinked. In collaboration with a wigmaker, who did the actual fabricating, the solution Griffith is credited with involved weaving human hair through a fine strip of gauze, creating false eyelashes.


Add yours →

  1. Absolutely loved this post Heledd! I think this is a topic a lot of people feel strongly about. I laugh when I see a mascara advert with “not actual lashes” written in small print at the bottom! Very frustrating, but like you said, all beauty ads are manipulated! Rightly or wrongly people love the glamour of them, but it puts pressure on women to live up to a totally unrealistic image!

    Really enjoyed reading this – it was so in-depth and interesting 🙂 Emma McF (newspaper)

  2. This was really interesting.

    I don’t think people really look at beauty ads and think, ‘that product is going to make me look exactly like her.’ Even minus the fake lashes and the airbrushing, the woman’s still a model, at the end of the day! You’d be delusional to think it.

    I only got into fake lashes in the last couple of years, and I try to ration out my use of them because they’re addictive – after a night wearing them, your face can seem a bit disappointing without them, so you buy more for next time. A dangerous beauty indulgence?

    • Never got into fake lashes myself, too much hassle to put on, but love wearing them on the rare occassion that I do. Until they start falling off at the end of the night anyway.

      Re. people believing in beauty ads, of course they don’t, but I think the unrealistic aspect of beauty ads is also what’s enjoyable about them.

      It’s fantasy: you know you’re not really going to look like an airbrushed model, but for a moment or two you can pretend that you might.

      I think people also associate the glamour and perfection of beauty ads with the products themselves, which is why they then want to buy them.

      Clever really innit?

  3. With all the alterations noted on the page, there probably wouldn’t be enough space for the actual advert!

    * Not actual lashes
    * Not actual skin colour
    * Not actual height
    * Not actual teeth
    * Photo stretched by 10%
    * Model hasn’t eaten for three days…………..

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