Eyebrow care is an art, and I would like to take a moment to honor our oft-abused and yet faithful ally in aesthetic beauty: The Eyebrow.
Eyebrows don’t get nearly the respect or attention that they deserve, despite playing such a critical role on our faces. Perhaps that’s because they don’t seem to have ever played a particularly important role in human survival, and anyone with a grandpa knows that they take on a life of their own after the age of 60 (seriously, don’t they ever stop growing???).
You may be surprised to learn (as I was) that a 2003 study in Perception resulted in overwhelming evidence that eyebrows play the most important role in facial recognition. Three researchers from MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences used headshots of 50 well known celebrities, and asked half of the participants to identify the celebrities using a version of the headshots in which the eyebrows had been digitally erased, with the other half being asked to identify the same images with just the eyes digitally removed. Both groups were then asked to identify the unaltered celebrity images. The experiment found that “the absence of eyebrows in familiar faces leads to a very large and significant disruption in recognition performance. In fact, a significantly greater decrement in face recognition is observed in the absence of eyebrows than in the absence of eyes.” Fancy that!
Without eyebrows, it’s a lot harder to express human emotion and provide nonverbal cues to those around us. With eyebrows, some people are doomed to a life of BRF aka Bitchy Resting Face. So that whole “can’t live with them, can’t live without them” phrase? Yeah, it is actually about eyebrows. We have a love-hate relationship with our eyebrows and eyebrow care routines, and yet eyebrows have dutifully endured our attempts to tame them, re-shape them, dye them and otherwise enhance them one capricious whim after another.
Queen Cleopatra and her Egyptian counterparts darkened their eyes and brows with kohl as an homage to the Eye of Ra, which was the mark of protection, power, and health. Featuring both the eye and an eyebrow, the Eye of Ra symbol was intended to represent the feminine / goddess counterpart to male Egyptian gods.
The fun didn’t stop there, though! Marie Antoinette and her royal gal pals adopted faux beauty marks and towering French powdered wigs that required them to shave their natural brows so that they could adhere perfectly sculpted faux brows made of mouseskin higher up on their foreheads. You heard me right, eyebrow stickers made from mice. So even though she famously remarked, “Let them eat cake!”, it’s probably safe to say that Marie Antoinette would agree that eyebrow maintenance is not, in fact, a piece of cake. And this is from a woman who is no stranger to tragedy and sharp implements near her face.
With a few exceptions (the 1920s film starlet, 1990s grunge scene, and perhaps the Mona Lisa), history has guided us time and again back to the classic brow. A bold brow… but not a unibrow (sorry, Frida Kahlo). A brow that is both natural and yet well groomed… and utterly devoid of mouse fur. Anything else is a tragic departure from the natural order of female beauty, which is why old photos of Elizabeth Taylor look timeless and photos of you and me from 1996 look absolutely heinous with our eyebrows plucked to within a millimeter of their existence.