If eyes are the windows to the soul, then are eyebrows the curtains? Three writers explore the significance of their eyebrows in the latest addition to NBN Opinion Investigates.
Vaibhavi Hemasundar (Medill ‘23):
When thin eyebrows were in, I knew that my brows would never naturally look like that. And I was okay with it. However, when bold eyebrows came into vogue, I realized that my brows were big. And not in the way that was stylish. They seemed to me like puffy, shapeless clouds.
But I was convinced that the right amount of attention could fix them.
After I first got my eyebrows threaded, the cosmetologist handed me back my glasses and asked me if I felt more beautiful. The tears that streamed down my face during the painful process had crusted themselves to my cheeks, and the skin around my brows flamed red. But something else was off: my eyebrows felt flatter. I moved them up and down to try and look surprised or excited. But it felt like my usually emotive face was locked in a flat expression. It unnerved me.
My mother drove me to take a practice PSAT right afterwards. Any time I looked anyone in the face, all I could think about was the red skin around my eyebrows and how I didn’t feel like myself.
It took a week for my eyebrows to grow out enough to be a tamer version of my old expressive brows. Granted, it took only another couple weeks for them to become overgrown again. However, I was unhappy enough with my original eyebrows to count this two week period as a success.
Thus I began the process of tending to my eyebrows the way one tends to a particularly unruly hedge. I would religiously prune and clip knowing that it would all grow back quickly anyways. The big difference here is that a hedge can’t feel pain. I was miserable.
One day, I just decided that I would put off my trip to the salon, and I never went back.
Now I realize that my obsession with my eyebrows arose from anxiety and resulting perfectionism. Ceasing to continue with this self-destructive action was one of the best choices I ever made.
Jo Scaletty (SOC ‘23):
From the dawn of marketing overpriced razors to women, the hair of female bodies has been successfully shamed. This push against women’s body hair found its place in the present by relying on the change that America was experiencing at the time. By starting small and initially marketing them toward armpits, they were able to make a real place for the women’s razor market before expanding into other, more visible areas of the body, like eyebrows. It seems that every hair is scrutinized, from legs needing shaved to eyebrows needing plucked. And quite frankly, I’m exhausted of it.
Most commonly, the argument for removing “excess” hair around a person’s eyebrows is appearance. Today, it seems that the ability to modify your eyebrows, through waxing, plucking, or even through lasers, is at everyone’s fingertips. With this comes an assumption femme-presenting people will take advantage of this opportunity and trim their eyebrows, even though it isn’t necessary.
Like I’ve told people, specifically masculine-presenting people, who question or challenge my refusal to remove my body hair, I’ll shave if you do. If you have no reason to shave, neither do I. I am exactly as human as you are, and I will care for my body the way that I see fit. The difference in beauty standards between male and female bodies solely serves to separate us, and it’s time that society collectively realized that body hair is a human trait, not a masculine one.
Melanie Lust (Medill ‘23):
I understand quantum physics better than I understand my own eyebrows. At their worst, they are bushy, overgrown and an eyesore on my face. At their best, they are intimidating, sexy and the focal point of all my Tinder pictures. The dichotomy mystifies me.
It is said that eyebrows are the most recognizable part of a person’s face. Perhaps that’s why I’m so obsessed with maintaining them, even though I’ve categorically rejected every other aspect of beauty from my life. Two years ago I vowed to never wear makeup, shave or force myself to conform to society’s expectation of femininity again. It took a while, but I’ve made good on that commitment. I’ve liberated myself from oppressive beauty standards; my insecurities about my appearance have disappeared.
And yet, I’m still addicted to tweezing my eyebrows.
They’re the one snag I can’t get over. If they don’t constantly look like Elizabeth Taylor’s, I will simply die, my brain tells me. Which makes me wonder: For a trait that is so highly individualized, why do people experience more pressure to change their eyebrows than any other facial feature?
As the most unique aspect of your face, your eyebrows leave you the most prone to recognition and vulnerability. That’s why it’s easy to become so insecure about them. Social media, beauty magazines and makeup artists inadvertently teach you to mitigate that vulnerability, to crush your individuality, by conforming to The Eyebrow Standard™: full, but not bushy; dark, but not black; sculpted and shaped, but not angular or thin. God forbid if you have anything resembling a unibrow.
There are many ways people can reject or subvert these standards. For example, lots of makeup aficionados shape their brows for artistic reasons or just for fun, not because they have an unstable sense of self. But for many, the constant concern with eyebrows discloses very specific insecurities. The constraints of the beauty industry imbue our daily routines and often our identities, whether we’re aware of it or not.
I encourage everyone who shapes their brows to evaluate why they do so. Why go through the pain of tweezing, the time of a professional makeover or the expenses of makeup to modify something completely unique to yourself?
The answer, for me, is that there’s no real reason to. I try every day to derive confidence from my original self, not my modified self--a process that takes years of unlearning beauty standards, and a mindset I haven’t quite mastered yet. Maybe one day, I’ll pull a Frida Kahlo and let my unibrow breathe freely.