After rediscovering some long forgotten photo albums around the house, I was thinking about eyebrows.
One of the pictures was of me in cap and gown, taking for our University’s yearbook. What stuck out to me the most was my horrible eye shadow. It was bright blue and way too much of it. And then there was the eyebrows. They were jet black, pencil thin and definitely stenciled on. I can not believe that I used to walk around publicly like that. And yet I did – like a boss.
Despite the brazenness of what was my eyebrow game back then, I notice that I was not alone in my liquid liner obsession. As a culture, we are extremely obsessed with eyebrows. And as I walk along the streets, I take notice of the various degrees in which women will arch, pluck, tweeze, wax and shave their brows into unnatural angles. Like the thin dramatic high arch brow or the thick and full brow with the softer angles. And then of course there is the already spoken on, yet equally mystifying, stenciled brows. It’s like out of all the body parts, eyebrows have the least utility and yet eyebrow shaping and grooming is virtually a necessity – in some instances our most important facial grooming habit. So why do we shave them off if we are only going to draw them back on again?
According to this article, published in the New York Times back in 2009, fashionistas at the time were all about the brow-less look including a 26-year-old fashion consultant, who painstakingly plucks her eyebrows each day to keep them from growing back. She tells the Times:
“It’s unifying,” she said. “There is an asexual element to no eyebrows. We are much more accepting of the ‘other’ nowadays. Removing eyebrows removes a degree of expression, which makes one look less human and more cerebral, maybe even mechanical. It’s an exercise in modernity.”
And yet eyebrow shaving defies culture, race and even time. It is said that in the reign of the Pharaohs of Egypt, shaving off the eyebrows was a sign of mourning. According to Wikipedia, the beauty standard among the Japanese royal court during the imperial Heian period (794-1185), called for powdered white face, blackened teeth and eyebrows shaved and redrawn high on the forehead. Historical documentation shows that Queen Elizabeth I overly-tweezed and a virtually non existent brow line became synonymous with wealth and influence and a trend among the aristocrats. And probably the most famous eyebrow-less babe is The Mona Lisa, who in addition to her “smile” is also missing her eye handlebars. But according to the book, Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History, our contemporary obsession with the stenciled eyebrow can be traced to the 1930s when a thin and more exaggerated brow came into fashion. Unfortunately the brow itself was so unattainable naturally, that several of the trendsetters, including several popular actresses at the time including Jean Harlow and Marlene Dietrich, shaved their eyebrows and repurposed them into thin, high arched swipes of black liner just above the sockets. Outside of its Hollywood influence, the modern day thin, arched and stenciled-on eyebrow also has a notorious, less glamorous (depending upon the lens in which we view it) distinction, particularly among its association with the heavy-lined faced Cholas of the Californian Latina lowrider and gang scene.
Yet despite its historical usages there is still an element to eyebrow shaving there is a much more sinister side to browlessness particularly trichotillomania, which is a compulsory disorder, which compels people to pull, pluck or shave hair from their bodies. Probably the most prominent brows in contemporary American culture belong to Whoopi Goldberg, who ironically does not have them. When asked in this 2007 interview with Perez Hilton why she shaved her eyebrows, Goldberg simply stated, “because they itch when the come in.”
While it would be easier to brush-off every woman walking around today with the Sharpie brows as a candidate for therapy, the culprit behind why women continuously shave all their brows, just to draw them back on again might be as simple as what I like to call the Pringles potato chip-effect: basically, once you pop (one piece of hair), you just can’t stop. In a culture that abhors hair and see hairlessness as a sign of civility, it is easy to become addicted to tweezing. I know the obsession with shaving the brows started right after I achieved what could be classified as the perfect arch. Unfortunately when you reach the pinnacles of success anything afterwards just seem to fall short – and that included my eyebrows. So I plucked, tweezed, waxed and eventually shaved hoping that once again I could create that same eyebrow-magic. It never happened. It was only when I forced myself out of the plucking eyebrow-matrix, did I realize how deep my obsession was getting.
The good news for us all is that our eyebrow neurosis may soon be coming to a conclusion. According to this article, which cites this study, women are not only tweezing a lot less than before but brows have been moving lower for the past 60 years. And in fact, all indicators suggest that the high arch brow will soon be obsolete and replaced with a more masculine eyebrow. I for one, am totally looking forward to the masculine, aka not giving a damn, look.