[The views expressed in this blog post are the author’s own.]
By Sabrina Azadi
I don’t belong to the bushy eyebrow club. And whether it’s a blessing or not I’ve never had a unibrow.
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate a strong brow when I see one. And although I’m limited to a predefined shape (unlike those with thick brows) I can’t help collecting screenshots of famous eyebrows from the likes of Cara Delevingne and Nazanin Boniadi to store in my inspiration folder. I’m Iranian after all and we’re obsessed with eyebrows.
Beauty in Ancient Cultures
We’re not alone. Eyebrows have played a significant role in many cultures; from the Egyptian’s love of kohl filled brows, the Greeks that preferred a gradual fusion to the Japanese that shaved theirs and drew them with blue ink. But none were as dramatic as the liberation of brows and the celebration of the unibrow, during the Qajar dynasty.
Looking at the black and white photos of my Qajar ancestors with their defiant unibrows makes me question their ideals of beauty. But if I had been around during that time, I might have penciled mine in. Just as I do with the tiny patch on my left brow that I fill in with brow powder.
Years before Frida Kahlo, Persian women were proud of their unibrow. Having thick arched eyebrows that met above the bridge of the nose was like having a beauty spot—something to be admired. Delve deeper and you’ll find references to the beauty of the brows in poetry and art that go back hundreds of years.
The perfect brow according to Hafez, resembled an archer’s carved bow. And the effect of the lofty shaped brow of his beloved left him mesmerized just like cupid’s arrow.
East Meets West
Fast forward to the present day and we’re just as invested in our eyebrows. But like skirt lengths, as fashions change over time, so does the desired shape of eyebrows. If the eyes are the window to the soul, then the eyebrows must be the window frame; but one that we can alter.
Early on my mother had warned me about the pitfalls of over plucking, “Pluck too much and they’ll never grow back,” she said. Something she knew first-hand. She belonged to a time where the western ideals of beauty had made their way onto the silver screens of Iran. During her coming of age, the fuller brows of Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren were prized but later gave way to the thinner eyebrows that were all the rage in the 70s. And Iranian women followed suit.
Although at one-time in Iran, hair removal and the shaping of brows was reserved for married women and usually carried out for the first time on brides before their wedding night—later depending on your family and the severity of your brow situation, it became common practice—like painting your nails.
Iran’s Brow Revolution
With the Islamic Revolution, once again eyebrows took precedence in Iran. Nothing brings as much attention to your face as wearing a headscarf. Women are resilient and with the mandatory headscarf they use what they have, and what they’re allowed to show to accentuate their beauty. The building block are eyebrows and for some tattooing has become a permanent solution to create a dramatic effect.
But results can vary. Worse case scenarios sway between unnatural bluish tones of the tattoo ink or an angry look, like the villains in Kabuki theater. But each decade brings with it new techniques. And recently we’ve entered the microblading era.
I’m not sure who the genius was that invented it but apparently microblading hails from Asia where it was first called embroidery. It uses a special blade and semi-permanent pigment to draw in individual hairs. But I’m more of a voyeur than a participant and the closest I’ll get to that nano-blade is watching the before and after transformations on YouTube.
I’m sure you’ll agree no matter which eyebrow category you belong to, they’re a work in progress. And much like my neighbors manicured front lawn, getting them to look their best requires effort. With options that include powders, pencils, gels to threading, waxing, tinting, tattooing and microblading. They’re also big business.
Neglect them for a few weeks and unruly hairs that look like grasshopper legs appear out of nowhere. Tweeze too hard and you’re left with regret. Get distracted and you’ll ruin the symmetry. Even when they’re done by a professional.
And just when I thought we reached a crescendo in terms of brow beauty with natural full shaped brows—things may take a turn. You might want to give your brows a good look in your magnified mirror and decide which way you want to go.
Although Vogue’s September issue is often called the fashion Bible, the British edition will raise concern among eyebrow lovers. On the front cover Rihanna is photographed with her head covered in a full crown of flowers much like a headscarf. It deliberately draws attention to her face. She looks directly at the camera with shocking Marlene Dietrich style pencil thin eyebrows.
It might be just a one-time shot or a hint of what’s to come, but I’ve learned that when it comes to fashion to “never say never.” And perhaps after years of fully fledged allegiance to natural looking brows, the pendulum is about to swing the other way.
I’m not sure what’s to come and I certainly can’t tell you what you should do. But if the eyebrow trend goes super thin; I’m going to stick to my brow powder kit, resist the temptation of getting tweezer happy and ride this one out.