Style

A Brief History of My Eyebrows

How I learned to love my golden arches.

Illustration by Caitlin H.

Illustration by Caitlin H.

In the classic film The Princess Diaries, Anne Hathaway plays Mia Thermopolis, an ordinary teenage girl who learns that she’s an heiress to the throne of fictional country Genovia. (I didn’t realize until last year that Genovia is not a real country and I still got into college!) Mia was the first character in a movie I had ever seen who looked like me: Her bushy eyebrows were the spitting image of my own. In one pivotal scene, she undergoes the ultimate makeover montage to help her become more royal-looking, during which a fancy European guy refers to her eyebrows as “Frida” and “Kahlo.”

I will always love this movie, but even though its ultimate message is “it’s what’s on the inside that counts!” it left me feeling pretty self-conscious about my brows when I first saw it at the tender age of seven. That’s a super-early age to feel weird about any part of your body, let alone your brows, which most people don’t even consider grooming until years later.

My grade-school brows and me.

My fourth-grade brows and me.

From that point forward, my eyebrows were a perpetual source of insecurity. I’ve clocked many hours hunched near my bathroom mirror, tweezers in hand, and had all manner and stages of brow shapes, including a full-blown unibrow and the much-maligned “tadpole brows.”

I went to a Christian elementary school, where I was way hairier than everyone else in my class, even the boys. While other girls never even thought about their eyebrows, I was mastering the art of plucking without crying by the time I was in fourth grade. The kids at my school, like those at any other institution for prepubescent children, were more into picking on one another than, you know, spreading Christ’s love. Maybe they didn’t even realize they were insulting me, but their occasional comparison of my eyebrows to caterpillars made me insecure.

My strong ‘n’ serious eyebrows gave me permanent bitchface. Other kids always asked why I looked upset when I was perfectly at ease—ironically ruining that mood and making me feel horrible. One time, when I was a freshman in high school, a girl stared at my thick brows for a few seconds and then turned to our friend and made a comment about needing to get her own (blond, average-size) eyebrows waxed. I don’t think she was mesmerized by my brows—it felt more like she saw them and immediately thought, I don’t want mine to get out of control like that.

The caterpillars in question, circa middle school.

The caterpillars in question.

I used to think that my bushy eyebrows were some rare genetic affliction—like suddenly, one day, it wouldn’t just be my brows that were hirsute and overgrown, but all of me, and I’d wake up a full-blown teen wolf girl. I talked to some Rookies about my complicated adolescent feelings about my eyebrows, and it turns out most of us grew up feeling generally confused about what to do with our brows, even though, as kids, we all felt so alone in our follicular shame. Here are their testimonials, which taught me that there are ALL KINDS of super-fun brow insecurities out there…all of which, as we realize now, are totally unnecessary:

HANNAH: Starting when I was 10, I used to pluck my eyebrows really far apart, mostly because I thought it would make me really tough and cool if I could tolerate the pain of plucking, and then one day I just decided to stop. Now I don’t pluck them at all.

MARIE: I had very thick eyebrows growing up. I didn’t think much of them until high school, when pencil-thin, Drew Barrymore/silent film star eyebrows were all the rage. I was embarrassed about my caterpillar brows and turned to plucking, which eventually led to waxing.

The worst time I overdid my eyebrow maintenance was the result of a bad waxing job. The lady I went to for years was oddly quiet and seemed angry the whole time she was doing my brows. It was out of character. When she was done, my eyebrows were EXTREMELY thin and unnatural-looking. I was SO pissed! I never went back to her again, grew my brows out for months, and eventually found a new waxer whom I could TRUST. Now, I’m a brow expert.

Marie's middle school brows, left, and their modern counterparts, right.

Marie’s middle school brows, left, and their modern counterparts, right.

JAMIA: I still hear the voices of girlfriends from high school and college saying, “But, Jamia, you’re so pretty otherwise—let me pluck your brows!” GRRRRR. Now I make sure they leave them nice and thick but clean them up. Frida Kahlo would be proud of us for embracing the thickness!

CAITLIN H.: I get really self-conscious about my eyebrows, and since I don’t know what else to do with them, I put silver glitter paste in them, and everyone always compliments my sparkle brows. I would recommend this tactic to all.

Why do kids have such a problem with bushy eyebrows? There are so many reasons to love big brows! They function as excellent natural eye protectors that shield you from detritus, and they’re incredibly expressive. To me, someone who can get down with strong eyebrows has passed a litmus test of cool. Like, if you can appreciate this abundance of hair above my eyes, then you can probably appreciate *me.*

Like most good things in my life, this newfound brow appreciation can be attributed to the internet. Around my senior year of high school, pictures of models and selfies of regular women with super-strong brows started popping up on my Tumblr dashboard. While I have mixed feelings about idolizing supermodels, I can’t help feeling solidarity when women like Cara Delevingne and Ali Michael are heralded as beauty icons because of their thick brows, not despite them. I thought they, and their eyebrows, were gorgeous, and it made me realize that the natural state of my brows was something to be proud of.

After a tumultuous lifelong relationship, I finally loved my brows, and I decided to commemorate this event with a special ceremony. Armed with a pair of fabric shears, I hacked away at my bangs until they stopped about an inch above my brows. I used to think of my bangs as a convenient brow cover-up, but now they bring even more attention to a part of my face that I once was ashamed of. It was as if I’d gotten a heart that said “eyebrows” tattooed on my arm. I even started filling them in with powder to make them look even bolder.

BROWS FOR DAYS.

BROWS FOR DAYS.

I’ll probably never have the courage to let my brows grow into full-on “Frida” and “Kahlo” territory (but all respect to you if you do—I bet it looks great). Loving the eyebrows that I once regarded as unsightly caterpillars has helped me emerge into the confident, strong-browed ~butterfly~ that I am today. I think they’re gorgeous, despite what that makeover guy from The Princess Diaries tried to make me believe. Today, my love for my brows runs true and deep, and they were right in front of my face this whole time! ♦

35 Comments

  • Claire March 19th, 2014 3:32 PM

    I absolutely love this. (And Gabby, your eyebrow game is hella tight. Like. Wow.) As a girl of Eastern European descent, my eyebrows have been a constant source of tribulation for almost as long as I can remember – I’ve had family members tell me that I have my grandpa’s eyebrows (?), and I will never forget the morning in fourth grade when my mom plucked out half of one of my eyebrows and resorted to filling in the bald patch with brown eyeliner for the rest of the school year. But I think I finally grew to like my bushy eyebrow situation near the end of high school, when I went to get my eyebrows threaded for prom at one of those little storefront-type places and walked out looking like a ghost of my former (super hairy) self. I am in college now and my eyebrows have definitely become my favorite feature (with a little help from lovely babes like Ali Michael). Great piece!

  • Gerlin March 19th, 2014 3:33 PM

    Well this is totally appropriate timing! I had many of the same feelings in secondary school. I think in my second year a boy I had known for years suddenly, and seriously (not even trying to make fun of me), remarked that I had just one eyebrow, not two. I had never even noticed that myself before! I went through some really weird brow stages as a teenager, not knowing what exactly I should be doing with a tweezer but eventually I let them be thick. However, I don’t think I’ll ever endure a unibrow again, so I still pluck away the hairs in between.

    Funnily enough, today a beautiful girl witht he strongest eyebrow game I have ever seen came into the shop where I work and I was completely in awe. I couldn’t stop staring at the beauties! So I went up to her and told her how amazing I thought her eyebrows were and it seemed to make her really happy, which in turn made me happy. It was a pretty awesome moment if I do say so myself.

  • gabbygabi March 19th, 2014 4:21 PM

    This was awesome. I wrote about plucking my brows for the first time in a college essay, how I imagined Seventeen magazine giving step-by-step directions on how to achieve the look of my eyebrows. Now I let them go wild (there’s even a slight unibrow) and they look amazing.

  • Ruth March 19th, 2014 4:24 PM

    I love this piece! My eyebrows have actually tortured me as a kid because I unintentionally pulled them out when I was naive and this led to my mom kicking me out of the house. The story gets better trust me! So I move on with my life and start growing my eyebrows back and all is good until I think my repressed memories crept up on me and I started obsessing over them, I would constantly pluck and make them as arched and gorgeous as possible. However, they’re still very sparse so I would always fill them in. Pluck and fill became a regime I’ve started since I was 12. To this day I’m still very jealous of girls with natural bushy brows and it makes me mad sometimes to have to go through all this effort.

    Long story short, I’m confident with my eyebrows now and always keep up maintenance. I’ve never heard girls talk about their eyebrow history either so it’s nice to share with this community.

    PS. Gabby your eyebrows are my dream! So glad you wrote this!!! :)

  • Badlands March 19th, 2014 4:36 PM

    Gabby, please do a brow beauty tutorial next!!

  • kaitlinb March 19th, 2014 4:43 PM

    This is a very important thing to post about. If you are young and you get this itch to start plucking all the time you can risk ruining your brows for the rest of your life! I didn’t ruin mine completely- they’re not stuck as tadpole brows or anything- there’s just random little patches where nothing grows or it grows really thin. I can let them grow all I want and I still feel like I have to comb them the way a balding man would do a combover to cover the baldness :(

    You guys should definitely run more posts on being a hairy chick. My 1/16 of Serbian genetics is quite dominate and another source of stigma has been the hair on my arms. Especially since my little sister’s Norwegian is dominate for her and she is essentially hairless… ahhhhhh.

  • SGemini March 19th, 2014 4:50 PM

    I’m glad bold eyebrows are “trendy” now. When I was younger I was teased about my eyebrows which is partially the reason why I have trichotillomania (hair pulling disorder). Honestly, I spent so much time focusing on my eyebrows that now I embrace being lazy and letting them do whatever they want. And it doesn’t hurt that I feel like a total bad ass whenever I think of Queen Kahlo as my brow sister.

  • MabelEnchanted March 19th, 2014 4:57 PM

    I didn’t actually realise how people obsess over eyebrows until last year and right now, I just can’t be bothered to care about them. I have crazy bushy eyebrows and I don’t care. I much prefer the look of a natural brow than a constantly plucked, penciled brow. I must admit though, I do wish I had Audrey Horne brows with amazing arches….

    http://mabelsmind.blogspot.co.uk/

  • littleredridinghood March 19th, 2014 5:08 PM

    I’m so jealous of people with thick eyebrows, I literally have no eyebrows and I have no clue what shape I should try draw them in.

  • greystar March 19th, 2014 5:21 PM

    I loved this piece. I too have a eyebrow horror story. When I was in 6th grade I was over at my friends house and she had some razor type thing and was like let fix your eyebrows and I moved and so then of course she had to fix the other side and went home with super thin eyebrows and it was horrible. My mom was mad at me and I was super embarrassed to go to school. The school even called my mom about them because they were worried I was getting into gangs or something (idek honestly) so I had to live those with those horrible eyebrows for a while. We even have new years pictures of them and ugh horrible.

  • peartree March 19th, 2014 5:38 PM

    I used to hate my thick eyebrows too and I also used to pluck them too much. one reason was the advise of a friend, who told me, I would look more feminine that way. (but one day, she also told me when it was definitely too much…)

    but a few years ago, i decided to let them grow natural and I received compliments on that! one guy even told me, that he liked that the most about me, when he saw me the first time, “finally! a girl with thick eyebrows!”

    and a friend of mine told me once, she envys my eyebrows!

    and I feel much better about me and my body now.

  • ohclemence March 19th, 2014 6:03 PM

    A perfect post, and all of you ladies have fine brow game despite your insecurities growing up.

    I have the opposite. I literally have no eyebrows. Well, that’s I lie, I have them but they’re so light you can’t see them so I’ve mastered the technique of filling them in. When I was growing up I constantly wondered why I looked really ‘strange’ compared to everyone else and it was literally just because it didn’t seem like I had any brows. Brows make a difference y’all!

  • MissKnowItAll March 19th, 2014 6:19 PM

    A-fucking-men

    I have prominently Indian eyeborws (all my desi girl know what I’m talking about).
    It was kinda cute when I was a little kid bc I had the puffy hair and pout to go with it, but I went to a middle school where everyone had itty bitty eyebrows and pin straight brown or blonde hair. Needless to say, I felt so out of place and ugly that as soon as I was able to, I begged my mom to let me get them threaded. The first lady I went to thinned them out so much (at the time, i though I looked super hot) and she said how I looked better with them done.
    But having to get them done every 2 weeks from a woman who said my natural brows were too bushy was tiring and I just let the grow until I came to high school and I found a new place where the woman doing my eyebrows kept them thick and arched and just cleaned up the stray hairs.

    IMPORTANT PSA
    If you want to get your brows done, only allow someone who you trust to do them

  • shalalala March 19th, 2014 6:21 PM

    “I went to a Christian elementary school, where I was way hairier than everyone else in my class, even the boys. While other girls never even thought about their eyebrows, I was mastering the art of plucking without crying by the time I was in fourth grade. The kids at my school, like those at any other institution for prepubescent children, were more into picking on one another than, you know, spreading Christ’s love. Maybe they didn’t even realize they were insulting me, but their occasional comparison of my eyebrows to caterpillars made me insecure.” that’s the story of my life, really

  • kittyweasel March 19th, 2014 6:52 PM

    This is great! I have longed for bushier-bolder eyebrows like Cara D. Embrace your eyebrows ladies, they frame the face! I will forever be penciling mine in to get the look I want. I also second a brow tutorial.

  • ruby March 19th, 2014 6:56 PM

    I love this article! I have thick, dark brows and have never plucked or shaped them. I think they look good with my dark eyes but I spent my early adolescence being repeatedly told by friends that they were too ‘bushy’ and being offered eyebrow-threading every time I went past the salon in my local shopping center

  • amescs March 19th, 2014 7:04 PM

    LOVE YOU GABBY THIS IS SO GR8

  • decemberflower March 19th, 2014 7:28 PM

    I had a rather subtle unibrow for most of my childhood, until I started getting them waxed around when I was 12. I didn’t think about it then, but it always bugs me a little bit now when I look at old pictures of myself. Some people out there definitely rock the unibrow- sadly, ten year old me was not among them.

    Now I get them threaded about once or twice a month, but I never let them get too thin! To quote Carmindy: “there’s an epidemic of overplucked brows in this country.”

    Also, it always bothered me in the Princess Diaries that they straightened her hair during the makeover. I guess they were trying to show a dramatic transformation, but it always felt to me like they were implying that curls are not beautiful or princess-worthy :( :( :(

  • Kelsey March 19th, 2014 7:29 PM

    I’ve inherited my mom’s rockin’ super-villain eyebrows: hardcore, pointy-as-hell arches and thin ends. I totally try to appreciate them but I have dark blonde hair naturally, and my hair is bleached blonde, so I lightened them a bit and they’re basically my best feature.

    Also on another note, I think an article about hair-acceptance in general would be hella cool! Like body hair, different hair-types etc. My dad’s hairless Apache genes went recessive and now I’m stuck with hairy blonde arms that I’ve only just come to (mostly) accept.

  • carolynmin March 19th, 2014 7:38 PM

    Love this Gabby! My eyebrow history is reminiscent of yours – too bushy, too over plucked, now just right! I find mine look better the less I do to them, haha. My friends and I are always comparing our eyebrow game, the thicker and better filled in the better!

  • bandsarelife March 19th, 2014 7:39 PM

    I have the exact opposite problem… My whole life, eveyone (family, friends, enemies) have teased me about my lack of eyebrows! I havelight blonde hair and pale skin, so my brows don’t show up on my face! But I’ve learned to accept my blonde brows and love them for all their Scandinavian beauty.

  • carolouwho March 19th, 2014 8:52 PM

    I LOVE bushy eyebrows! My eyebrows are weird – they’re sort of thick, but the hair is thin. It’s hard to describe. But I actually use eyebrow pencil to make them look bushier. I used to be self-conscious about them because of a mean girl who told me I had a unibrow, but now, with just a little plucking to maintain shape, I’ve come to love them.

  • girlswithcats March 19th, 2014 9:29 PM

    my brows are Frida dupes for real, and I used to pluck them so wide apart and thin that made me look really awkward.
    luckily, because I’m so hairy maybe, they went back to it’s original fullness and now I just pluck like one cm, and they look kind of like Lily Collins’ or something, so I’m very proud :)

  • Aiyana March 19th, 2014 9:46 PM

    I’m in love with Frida Kahlo, oh my god. I used to pluck mine a lot, and they wouldn’t be thin, they would be short. I also hated it when I allowed my mom to wax my eyebrows. I’ve grown mine out and two years later I’m loving my unibrow and naturally arched eyebrows.

  • tortu12 March 20th, 2014 2:17 AM

    I went through a period of being really self-concious about my eyebrows after my SOCCER COACH thought it would be funny to tell my there were caterpillars crawling on my face. Four years later, I’ve learned to do just the minimal plucking after a waxing fiasco that ripped off skin, leaving patches where the hair won’t grow. I see my eyebrows as a symbol for appreciating what you’ve got because you might miss it when it’s gone.

  • Berries March 20th, 2014 8:48 AM

    I have something different with my eyebrows – they seem to be light. I have a pale skin and brown hair, but I just don’t have that much hair in the eye-brow area, though they don’t look thin because the hairs are spread normally (I guess?). They look almost invisible. It’s a family thing I guess – my siblings and mother have the same thing. When I started to use eye make-up every now and then, you guessed it, everyone would tell me to draw and pluck my eyebrows. I decided to pluck them (a bit, not too much, I don’t like thin eyebrows on myself at all), but I don’t draw them. I decided I like them – they are unique. I did dye my hair blonde-red-ish, which makes them seem more natural (some actually think I’m a natural red-head, whoa). But when I will grow my hair out, I won’t draw my eyebrows either. It’s just… natural. I like natural variation in general, you know? We don’t have to look the same you know?

    • jayne12 March 30th, 2014 8:51 PM

      I have eyebrows like this with brown hair and pale skin and I love it- no need for plucking or having to bother with them in any way! I tried filling them in once and it just looked absolutely ridiculous haha (I guess I just wasn’t used to having visible eyebrows) but on my friends who have darker body hair- their eyebrows look so striking :)

  • Chanel March 20th, 2014 1:03 PM

    Gabby, this is such a rad post. Love everything about it (and your eyebrows.)

  • Skotty March 20th, 2014 1:50 PM

    I’m crying because this is so accurate and relatable! <3

  • ValentineL. March 20th, 2014 3:45 PM

    OMG, this article is so great! I’m half french/mediterranean and half mexican, so i have always had Frida brows, with accompanying mustache and all, since pretty much forever (you can even see the unibrow in my baby pictures!). My mom forbid me from plucking until I was 14, so I had to endure a lot of mean comments on my bushy brows at school, where no one was nearly as hairy as me. As you can imagine, once I was allowed to pluck them I was kind of over-enthusiastic for a while, but after some reflexion I came to the conclusion that i like my Frida brows. Actually, i love them. They represent me, and my heritage, and they’re basically awesome. THICK BROWS FOREVER!

  • anaisabel13 March 21st, 2014 3:45 PM

    I love this! My brows have always been bushy and thick. You have no idea the way that I used to scrunch up in my chair when I would watch The Princess Diaries with my friends and that scene would come on. Actually, you probably do. But now I’m more comfortable in my own skin. Cara & Ali have so helped!

    http://anexerciseofmyfaculties.blogspot.com/

  • Vincnt March 22nd, 2014 10:18 PM

    oh my ♥ I love eyebrows and I love this. Super cool.

    http://esvertebailar.tumblr.com/

  • savageglow March 23rd, 2014 7:20 AM

    You guys are so lucky, all I want in the world are massive eyebrows but they just won’t fill out enough and the struggle is so hard

  • ulla March 23rd, 2014 3:35 PM

    I’m incredibly jealous of bushy eyebrows! Well, I know they may cause insecurities but so does not having visible eyebrows. Eyebrows shape your face and looks so much and being browless (thanks scandinavian roots) makes me look like voldemort. So yeah, figuring out how to draw/shape/dye eyebrows properly was almost a life-changing moment for me. Although I’m looking forward to that day when I feel comfortable with my blond eyebrows.

    Anyway, a great post and it’s time to respect Kahlo-brows (and all other eyebrows)!

  • luuci May 20th, 2014 3:56 PM

    This is so accurate! I never really had serious issues with my eyebrows but really started to pay them attention when I was 15 or so. It was like a revelation, because there they were, a part of my face (that was certainly important) but I never really cared about them. I started with wax to make they look symmetrical, but ended up with super thin eyebrows and I really dislike that. When Bambi, Cara and all that super amazing models with great eyebrows appeared I realized that maybe my eyebrows had to be thick, and not super thin, so for some months I didn’t touch them at all and now I love them. Sometimes I even get compliments! Long live the caterpillar eyebrows <3