The Agony and the Ecstasy of Lifelong Brow Obsession

03/25/2015 01:29 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2015


If the eyes are the window to the soul, certainly brows must be the curtain. Or maybe I'm just rationalizing what is surely a sign of insanity.

My brow fixation began as a little kid, but intensified as I grew older. At age 11, I coveted Cameron Diaz's brows from The Mask, pining to make mine as lithe and lean as hers. But because I was, you know, literally a child, my mom forbade me to tweeze.

"Leave your eyebrows alone. They're fine!"


I struggled to find a loophole in her Draconian laws. A ha! Tape! She never said I couldn't use such methods to remove unwanted hairs! So I grabbed some Scotch tape, pressed it to my "must fix" areas on my brows, and yanked away. It didn't hurt. Actually, I found the removed hairs fascinating, in a geeky way.

Yes, I did that until I graduated elementary school.

Finally in junior high (in the fall of 2001), I was permitted to tweeze (but not yet to wear makeup). I stood, victorious, against the seashell wallpaper in my bathroom, tweezers poised high.

I took a deep breath, grabbed a hair, and pulled. It was agony!

Briefly, my body writhed in the kind of pain I can only liken to being burned alive while getting repeatedly kicked in the shins. I recoiled, my small body slamming back against that stupid seashell wallpaper. I tried to catch my breath. Then it occurred to me that I had 20 more hairs to pull. Maybe -- maybe this second time -- it wouldn't hurt.


My eyes swelled with tears, then flowed down my face before the next hair had even left its home in my brow follicle.

I stared back at my tweeny reflection in the mirror. Like a Spartan warrior, I understood: I had to keep fighting. I must endure the pain and conquer my brows. Though I was blind with tears and grasping on the counter to avoid falling, I knew I'd find the strength to prevail. With a silent anguished cry, I continued.

Perhaps I blacked out from that pain after that; I honestly don't recall how the rest of the evening went down. The next day, however, I stroked the bald skin beneath my arch. I basked in the light of my first-period Social Studies class while the morning announcements droned on, innocent to my broaching womanhood. It was worth it. When Christina Aguilera dropped her album Stripped in the fall of 2002, my impressionable eighth grade self abandoned my former brow idol Cameron and lusted after Xtina's pair -- but still, pencil thin was in.

I thought -- with repeated tweezing -- I could thin out my brows enough to save years of hassle. I pictured myself as a suave, all-black-wearing, important young woman clacking around in heels... with very thin eyebrows.

Thankfully, the scary-skinny brows didn't trend for much longer. By the time I started my sophomore year of high school in 2004, I cut back on tweezing. In doing so, I learned a lot about my natural eyebrows. I have a bald patch in the arch of my left brow. Most of my eyebrow hairs are blonde. Though they start dark and unruly at the inner corners, they turn blonde about half way through and form the vague shape of a balding, albino caterpillar. It's like my Italian and Finnish sides battled, then gallantly compromised, on the territory of my brows.

New brow routine: Tweeze. Pencil in the outer halves.

Finding a balance between tweezing and penciling proved challenging. With no older sister to provide brow aspirations, I studied the brows of all the women in my family to determine whose best resembled mine. At family parties I stared intensely at everyone in an effort to find that inevitable brow gene twin. (I come from a decent-sized family -- I figured there had to be at least one.) After months of observing, my Aunt Susie ultimately proved her genetic brow twinness to me. I struggled to contain my excitement as I leaned across my grandparents' wormwood coffee table. At long last, I could question my brow guru! My journey was over! The words tumbled out of my mouth.

"Aunt Susie! Your brows look so nice! How do you do them?"

Almost immediately, I watched my aunt instinctively groom them the way I did. Uh oh. She spoke:

"Honestly, it's always been kind of a struggle... "


Years later, she would tell me that she once waxed her brows before a dinner party. Her eyes "blew up like balloons," as she put it. That day, my dreams of a perfect browed future crashed around me in a thousand miserable shards of magnifying mirror. I felt the blood drain from my face as reality sunk in: I would never be a brow master. My ancestors bestowed terrible brows upon us all!

What I was, really, was a drama queen. As the years progressed, brows thickened in the beauty sphere. I followed the trend. By 2009, my college self was mortified by my formerly malnourished brows. Four years later, my "real adult" self took in the cool stream of airbrushed makeup before a party where I was serving as a promotional model. As an overworked young professional, I was less brow-trend savvy. I felt the makeup artist fill in my brows further than I would have.

"You," she explained, "are so fall with these brows." It was spring. "What designer are you modeling tonight?" she questioned, before noticing I couldn't move my face. "Anyway, they're going to love this look!" When she held up the mirror, my jaw nearly dropped. Everything -- the expensive dress, my updo, the additional handiwork of the makeup artist, my eyes themselves -- faded away while I beheld the magnanimous entities that now resided on my face.

I was speechless. Of all the years I had strived for thin, how could I have ignored the beauty of plush brows? I was lifted. Enlightened, if you will. The glorious epiphany washed over me in ecstatic waves. All those years of tweezing were wasted. Everyone was right -- my mom, teachers, vintage Tiger Beat magazines, I mean, even my dad was right. From the depths of my shallow heart, I vowed to my reflection that I would turn my life over to the glory of thick brows.

Since that spring of 2013, I've developed a new brow method: Tweeze the few pesky hairs that deviate from my desired shape. Pencil in my arches, inner bits, and continually blonding ends. Sweep over the entire brow with brown shadow to even the texture and color.


Though I'm one of those (apparently) rare women who enjoys the process of applying makeup, I know I can't do this forever. Physically, the maniacal process will likely eventually give me carpal tunnel, and mentally, I'm sure this is absolutely insane. How much time have I focused on such a silly aspect of my life? Weeks? Months? For the sake of Brooke Shields, please let it not be years!

Really though, I know this trend will fade off into the horizon of hip huggers, waterbeds, Chia Pets, and other deceased fads. Some day, I might come full circle and return to the mirror as a thin-browed version of myself.

No. Never.

This story by Giana Ciapponi first appeared on, an alternative news+culture website for women.

You can follow Ravishly on Twitter @ravishlydotcom and read more stories here: