hail the underappreciated eyebrow
Have you ever thought that our occupation—or preoccupation, as the case may be—with our eyebrows is an indication of vanity? I assumed it was. Because in my mind, I considered the brows to be only an accessory of a face’s essential or principal aspects. Excessive time on brow-grooming felt excessively narcissistic. (Moderately narcissistic being more acceptable.) But time spent knitting our brows over…brows is not vain.
If your face is a business suit, a ball gown, or a lovely day dress, your brows are not a belt, a pair of patent pumps, or a scarf. Your brows are the tailoring, fabric, fit, and texture; they can signal investment in your appearance, your happiness, your expression of an assigned or chosen gender, and your health. A big, bold, natural brow can indicate that a woman has enough self-confidence to refuse to clean up her act and to please only herself. An exceedingly styled brow could not only cue that a woman has time and money to spend, but could also suggest a desire to be perceived as meticulously choosy or refined (when other aspects of appearance might indicate a tendency toward…looseness). Eyebrow variations are endless, including eradicating (or losing) them altogether—sort of like the equivalent of going topless. And like toplessness, depending on who and where, it can be either seductive or distressing.
Before I get to my DIY brow-improvement lesson, I want to mention a couple of interesting studies forwarded to me by my evolutionary psychologist friend Bernhard Fink.
One of the most compelling showed that in facial recognition studies, the eyebrows were at least as influential as the eyes. (See? Significant!) Less surprising, another study showed that brows (alone and together with other features), contain information signaling gender. Then there are studies about the “ideal” brow, one of which seems to conclude that appreciation of brow shape depends on the age of the appreciator. (Young subjects up to 30 years old preferred eyebrows in a lower position and ruled out arched eyebrows. Subjects older than 50 stated exactly the opposite preference.) This kind of conclusion is presented as potentially important information for any professional fiddling with a person’s features (like an aesthetician—or a plastic surgeon performing a brow lift), since one might want to give a younger person a different arch placement than an older one according to their (presumed) preference.
But Bernhard points out that if a study claims an “ideal” anything, you can almost be sure it’s crap. He briefly wanders into the weeds about the critical importance of genetic variation, which is really interesting but strays far, for our purposes, from the eyebrow. And I want to give you some practical advice from an eyebrow expert.
I emailed highly-regarded brow-splainer Joey Healy for his thoughts. He suggests, and I agree, that it’s a good idea to see an eyebrow expert at least once to help you understand your maintenance needs. How do you find that person? I’ve asked people, from dentists to waitresses, whose brows I like; I don’t think photos of brows are reliable. Joey’s most pertinent advice if you’re unhappy with your spare or uneven brow shape: “You must let your brows grow untouched for 1-2 months. That means no tweezing, waxing, threading, touch ups, or trimming. Then you’ll see what you have to work with.” I’ve tried this. It’s harder than you might think.
Healy likes his own eyebrow serum to encourage growth. (I used a growth serum on my brows a few years ago and they grew in wonky. Wonky: My brows were a fading classical melody; the new growth, John Cage.)
Healy says he sees women with very little brow hair every day. There’s always something to remove, like peach fuzz, to get a symmetrical shape. “Even thin brows look good when they’re more symmetrical,” he says. For tinting he uses a vegetable-based dye, which maximizes the look of the hair you have. “I’ve never found a brow I couldn’t improve,” says Healy—but it’s important to set reasonable expectations. (And, I would add, a thorough debriefing about what results can be achieved.) He suggests a shaping and maybe a tinting ($150 for shaping; $195 for both) every four to six weeks.
If you decide your brow situation needs only DIY attention, you may find your solution below.
“Ask Val” answers your urgent questions, Vol. 13
Yes, you, perched next to the woman who last week was using hedge cutters on her eyebrows. Are you staring at her… longingly?
Q: I am! My eyebrows are sparse and patchy. Black brow pencil looks like magic marker. Help!
A: As I’m sure you know, eyebrows drawn on too-obviously can make you look crazier than a sack of weasels. For better results, fill in brows with either powder or a soft pencil matched to your brows or your hair, whichever is lighter. For powder: Use a hard, angled eyebrow brush; with short, light strokes, work from the front of the brow to the back, filling in bare spots. For pencil: Be sure the pencil is soft, which makes blending easier. Again, use short, light strokes. After filling in, run a spoolie brush through your brows to make your work look natural.
I’ll post a tale about microblading in a couple of weeks, when the ending is revealed. Till then, while the world explodes in flames, floods, plagues, and rage, here’s a spellbinding video about eyebrow detailing to soothe your nerves.
Val Asks You
Don’t be shy! What’s your most vexing or intractable appearance issue? Send me your beauty-related questions. If I don’t have a good answer, I’ll find someone who does.