Fashion & Beauty

Emery Boards and Eyelash Curlers

April 3, 2022



By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at

A FEW MONTHS ago, late to the party, I discovered I could download audiobooks from the public library. My first: volume one of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, read by the Shakespearean actor Ben Miles. Magic.

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at

Recently, I found myself listening to another trilogy of my own making.

Volume one: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. It could have been called Astrophysics for Dummies, but that title had evidently already been taken. Frankly, this book wasn’t even dumb enough for me, as chunks of it flew over my head like a flaming asteroid shower. But the story was sufficiently understandable that I was able to grasp (and consequently stare glassy-eyed and slack-jawed at) the grand majesty of the universe. How’d it start? Why? What’s in it? Where’s it going? And the dizzying question, was there/is there a Who? For days I walked around listening and muttering, “What the hell?”

Back on earth I happened next to download Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. And there it was again, the mystery—but this time in a story about the grand, sometimes terrifying majesty of head trips goosed by drugs and spiritual wizards. Encouraged by tales of expanded consciousness, I gave my ego the fish-eye, suspecting it might be getting in the way of…well, everything. You can read more about microdosing and psychedelics here.

Finally, because a friend long-ago recommended it and I wanted something short-ish, I picked up Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

The book is well-read, so you might already know what I absolutely did not: It’s a psychiatrist’s graphic diary of his time imprisoned in Nazi death camps and his theory (simplified here) about how and why one might find a reason to live in an environment designed to kill that very impulse.

We’ve now unexpectedly come to the beauty part.

I had the extraordinary experience of listening to Frankl’s book while shopping at a CVS. I was searching for emery boards and an eyelash curler (this inexpensive one I found there is OK, but I prefer this slightly pricier one), while in my ear I heard a story of incomprehensible cruelty and horror. Just reading that sentence might give you an idea of the disconnect. The story—so vividly narrated that the prisoners’ suffering and despair turned the shelves of polishes and mascaras into a fake-looking, glazed backdrop—gave me the feeling I was shopping as someone delivered a Kaddish. (In a way, I was.) And of course, I began to consider my unbelievable good fortune. I had the luxury of a leisurely walk and enough money to not even think about whether I could afford what I wanted—and then there was the utter frivolity of the things I bought.

But it turns out those things didn’t feel frivolous at all. Looking forward to the small ritual that each required promised a comfort I hadn’t before been entirely aware of. Because these books, in different ways, had reminded me of a few basic things:

  1. In the context of the universe, we’re a mote—hardly even a mote of a mote. There exists a majesty so vast and complex even the most brilliant of us haven’t been able to figure it out.
  2. The stuff we’re made of is the same stuff as everything else we can see (and cannot see) even though we feel distinct from it. (Hello, ego.)
  3. If there is an overriding motif that persists throughout the human spirit (in spite of unrelenting, unimaginable cruelty), it is gratitude. And, not unrelatedly, love.

Amid these imposing, sometimes daunting themes, a little ritual can provide a sense of grounding, don’t you think? File your nails into a pretty shape and paint them red! Curl your lashes! Apply your creamy, rosy lipstick and blot! Let yourself be present for the luxury of each. Even the smallest ritual can feel like a respite—or a celebration—in the mad, magnificent mystery that is your life.

Anyway—that’s a big “Anyway”—if you came here looking for beauty product suggestions and you made it this far, I don’t want to disappoint. Here’s another one I like a lot. I use Tocca laundry soap in “Florence” to hand-wash my winter scarves. It’s delicately (and gorgeously) scented with bergamot and gardenia; so when you’re outside in the cold and catch a whiff of a spring garden cozying your neck, you’ll feel buoyed, even if you’re drowning in down.


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2 thoughts on “Emery Boards and Eyelash Curlers

  1. Janet Kelly says:

    I’ve been thinking about rereading Man’s Search for Meaning. Seems appropriate for our times.
    Interesting column!

  2. Nancy G says:

    Being grateful for our freedoms, the incredible abundance in our lives, the knowledge to enjoy them, is something we should all do every day.

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