Tuesday, October 15, 2013

beauty and the brows

I think I realized that I had eyebrows at age twelve.  One night before church, I stood in the parking lot with my pre-teen besties as we stared at Courtney's newly waxed brows, still red underneath as if to signal their existence on her young face. Later in the bathroom I lifted a finger to the looming agrarian rows above my eyelids, no longer blind to their role in my blossoming self-awareness.

My eyebrows were not the first flag raised on the map of my womanhood.  I had begun to venture out from uncharted childhood the year before when I got my first period, and I was already sporting a training bra from a reluctant trip to J.C. Penney a few months prior.  Already I discovered the transformative power of lipgloss, and the diadem of explicit branding via Limited Too and The Gap.  My eyebrow consciousness bore a different breed of self-presentation, body modification.  The usual suspects would follow: weight problems, severe acne, hair trends.  Eyebrow consciousness was my gateway to the slave/master relationship most women have with their bodies.

Fast-foward thirteen years.  I am twenty five, and a whether-I-like-it-or-not member of the Instagram generation, a guilty denizen of millenial narcicism.  My every subconscious moment is saturated with projected images of perfection and defined beauty.  Before this reads like a "millenial rant" (and I don't mean it to be), every generation has had an equivalent.  Peter Paul Rubens work gave women in the 17th century a rosy, full-figured aspiration; the Gibson Girl of the late 1800's caused all women to desire the appearance of aloof statuesque respectibility.  More specifically, each century has had an idea of what the ideal woman's eyebrows should look like.  The thick kohl-black bars of ancient Egyptian royalty, the bald browed queens of medieval notoriety, and the drama-inducing drawn-on glamour of early 20th century screen goddesses.  If the eyes are the window to the soul, the eyebrows are the frame, where style presides rudely over substance.

Let me take this moment to admit this: my most used make-up product is an eyebrow pencil.  I put a lot of stock in these tweezed and filled-in brows. But hear this - they are a security blanket under which I hide the parts of my face (hell, parts of my whole body) that I don't like.  Therein lies the deeper truth, that there exists a call to tweak our outer-selves until we find something that fits in, and we ride that trait through life hoping no one asks or mentions the rest.

Here's what I'm saying: I want what I believe a lot of women, a lot of people want - to be comfortable in my own skin, and to be free in that comfort.  To forget about what my face is doing and really see the face of the person I'm with.  To love with equal sincerity my thighs, my nose, my arms, my eyebrows, my heart, my mind, until they aren't a struggle or even a thought. It's hard not to notice the correlation between a woman's level of self-worth and the amount of selfies she posts on Instagram (guilty).  Let's cultivate a sense of true value for ourselves, and in doing so become free to experience what lies beyond the mirror (or the front facing camera).

I probably won't stop pencilling my brows - I don't think they are the heart of the problem - but with practice I can stop the damaging perpetuation of low self-worth and comparison day to day.

What about you?  Sound familiar? Sound stupid? Let me know your thoughts.


  1. God does this sound familiar. I live for my brow pencil for much the same reasons. I remember a few years back someone actually complimenting my brows and that causing even more self-doubt (like, were they mocking me and my overdone brows? I mean, who compliments someone on their brows, right?) Such ridiculous self-conscious behavior.

    1. I know, it's so strange how even compliments can cause us to doubt ourselves. It makes us feel scrutinized. Weird.

  2. Angie, I saw you share this post on Instagram last week, and I have been meaning to read ever since. First off, I adore this post and the courage and vulnerability in your sharing. These are my favorite posts- the ones where I feel connected to the author AND i am inspired/ contemplative. When I was in high school and my early years of college, I struggled with an eating disorder. It didn't really start as a way to modify my body, but rather as a way to feel in control. However, over time the ability to control and change my appearance gave me a fleeting feeling of control and worth that became an obsession, and the never ending negative dialogue and comparison plagued me at every corner. Luckily, a decade later and I can now say that having an eating disorder was actually one of the best things that ever happened to me because it made me really face the exact thing you are saying above. The need to cultivate love for myself from the inside out rather than using my body/looks as a way to communicate or obtain worth. There are, of course, days when I hate my thighs, my boobs, or my nose, but 9 days out of 10 I feel really comfortable in my skin and if I'm having a bad body image/ looks day, its just a signal to me that I'm really struggling with something emotional and internal rather than hating my external appearance. Goodness gracious, I feel like I'm a cheesy motivational speaker right now, but essentially what I wanted to say is that I'm inspired by your perspective, your honesty, and your desire to reprioritize. You are certainly not alone!

    1. Amber! thank you for your transparency and for sharing your body image story with me. And don't feel cheesy. These are real issues, I think for every woman and girl. It helps to share our tales, if only to feel connected in our struggles and to remind each other that its ok to love your body.