The Austin Chronicle

In Praise of Eyebrows

By Amy Gentry, January 17, 2014, Columns

If, as the hackneyed phrase would have it, eyes are the windows to the soul, one might reasonably extrapolate that eyebrows are its draped window treatments – decorative, but fulfilling no other function than to collect dust. Yet this is manifestly not the case. I believe it was on a sunny spring day in 1997 when the thought first occurred to me as I strolled past swarms of my fellow UT students: Eyebrows are the unsung heroes of the face.

Eyes without brows have little expression; or rather, the browless face is, itself, an expression, somewhere between permanent shock and a blank bearishness. Try it: Take your favorite picture of yourself and, using either Photoshop or your thumb, conceal the eyebrows. Voilà! Ambivalence. A rapid scroll through the Stars Without Eyebrows Tumblr yields similar results. De-browed, a smile looks menacing; other expressions translate roughly, to quote the immortal Werner Herzog at the end of Grizzly Man, into a "half-bored interest in food."

A friend of mine once arrived on my doorstep having, for reasons we won't go into, shaved her eyebrows off. We spent a delightful afternoon with liquid eyeliner, painting eyebrows on her to represent every possible mood. A couple of downward strokes of the pen rendered her irate; erasing one eyebrow and arching it high, she grew quizzical; paint the other to match, and she was flabbergasted, all without having moved a muscle. Yes, you could learn this lesson just as well from clowns or Liza Minnelli. However, it was a powerful demonstration of the eyebrow's sheer expressive amperage.

Having grown up on Brooke Shields, Jennifer Connelly, and Julia Roberts, I have always envied those endowed with wild, whiskery, take-no-prisoners forehead rugs. Modestly sized and boringly shaped, my eyebrows are, like my hair, the sort of unassuming dark blonde which some might call "dishwater." (I prefer to take my cue from the wood stain aisle at Home Depot, where my color falls somewhere between "English Oak" and "Early American.") Blonder as a child, I longed for Madonna's twin caterpillars on the Who's That Girl album cover; now, I think Frida Kahlo could not possibly look more punk rock. I'm for more brows and bigger. I'm the Sir Mix-a-Lot of forehead hair, the Cameron Diaz of facial fluff. I sing the brow electric.

In conversations with my heavily eyebrowed friends, as well as with strangers I stopped on the street to interview about their brow rituals (no really), I have gathered that mine is the naive perspective of an ethnically Anglo-Prussian white girl who has never wielded a tweezer for anything other than splinter removal. Traumatizing cries of "Sasquatch" never followed me down the hallways in middle school, nor did the word "unibrow" enter my vocabulary until I was old enough to understand I would never have one. Yielding to the experience of my boldly browed sisters, I concede that I do not know how much maintenance goes into preventing those lepidopterous locks from displacing bangs and taking eyelashes hostage. I'm not here to judge such women for visiting threading parlors and waxing salons. That would be rude.

Yet I worry lest these well-endowed women squander their natural resources just when the shaggy brow has made a full comeback. The bristle blocks on professional beauties Cara Delevingne and Lily Collins prove that wiriness and asymmetry can add personality, and even scant-browed Chloë Sevigny and Jennifer Lawrence have been caught "brushing up," a technique which is to eyebrows what mousse-spiking is to hair. As the wispier among us can attest, you can fill them in with powder or pencil, you can comb and fluff and enhance them with special mascara, but you simply cannot invent more brow where there is none, unless you are able to invest your disposable income in hair plugs. There is no such thing as a brow toupee.

So to all the ladies (and select gentlemen) who were kind enough to share their brow routines with me for this week's column and photo gallery, I encourage you to continue practicing courage in self-presentation and moderation in plucking. Let your forehead flags fly, that you may proudly say, for the sake of we who cannot, baby got brow.

Get an eyeful of eyebrows with our photo gallery.

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