In the classic film The Princess Diaries, Anne Hathaway plays Mia Thermopolis, an ordinary teenage girl who learns that she’s an heiress to the throne of fictional country Genovia. (I didn’t realize until last year that Genovia is not a real country and I still got into college!) Mia was the first character in a movie I had ever seen who looked like me: Her bushy eyebrows were the spitting image of my own. In one pivotal scene, she undergoes the ultimate makeover montage to help her become more royal-looking, during which a fancy European guy refers to her eyebrows as “Frida” and “Kahlo.”
I will always love this movie, but even though its ultimate message is “it’s what’s on the inside that counts!” it left me feeling pretty self-conscious about my brows when I first saw it at the tender age of seven. That’s a super-early age to feel weird about any part of your body, let alone your brows, which most people don’t even consider grooming until years later.
My fourth-grade brows and me.
From that point forward, my eyebrows were a perpetual source of insecurity. I’ve clocked many hours hunched near my bathroom mirror, tweezers in hand, and had all manner and stages of brow shapes, including a full-blown unibrow and the much-maligned “tadpole brows.”
I went to a Christian elementary school, where I was way hairier than everyone else in my class, even the boys. While other girls never even thought about their eyebrows, I was mastering the art of plucking without crying by the time I was in fourth grade. The kids at my school, like those at any other institution for prepubescent children, were more into picking on one another than, you know, spreading Christ’s love. Maybe they didn’t even realize they were insulting me, but their occasional comparison of my eyebrows to caterpillars made me insecure.
My strong ‘n’ serious eyebrows gave me permanent bitchface. Other kids always asked why I looked upset when I was perfectly at ease—ironically ruining that mood and making me feel horrible. One time, when I was a freshman in high school, a girl stared at my thick brows for a few seconds and then turned to our friend and made a comment about needing to get her own (blond, average-size) eyebrows waxed. I don’t think she was mesmerized by my brows—it felt more like she saw them and immediately thought, I don’t want mine to get out of control like that.
The caterpillars in question.
I used to think that my bushy eyebrows were some rare genetic affliction—like suddenly, one day, it wouldn’t just be my brows that were hirsute and overgrown, but all of me, and I’d wake up a full-blown teen wolf girl. I talked to some Rookies about my complicated adolescent feelings about my eyebrows, and it turns out most of us grew up feeling generally confused about what to do with our brows, even though, as kids, we all felt so alone in our follicular shame. Here are their testimonials, which taught me that there are ALL KINDS of super-fun brow insecurities out there…all of which, as we realize now, are totally unnecessary:
HANNAH: Starting when I was 10, I used to pluck my eyebrows really far apart, mostly because I thought it would make me really tough and cool if I could tolerate the pain of plucking, and then one day I just decided to stop. Now I don’t pluck them at all.
MARIE: I had very thick eyebrows growing up. I didn’t think much of them until high school, when pencil-thin, Drew Barrymore/silent film star eyebrows were all the rage. I was embarrassed about my caterpillar brows and turned to plucking, which eventually led to waxing.
The worst time I overdid my eyebrow maintenance was the result of a bad waxing job. The lady I went to for years was oddly quiet and seemed angry the whole time she was doing my brows. It was out of character. When she was done, my eyebrows were EXTREMELY thin and unnatural-looking. I was SO pissed! I never went back to her again, grew my brows out for months, and eventually found a new waxer whom I could TRUST. Now, I’m a brow expert.
Marie’s middle school brows, left, and their modern counterparts, right.
JAMIA: I still hear the voices of girlfriends from high school and college saying, “But, Jamia, you’re so pretty otherwise—let me pluck your brows!” GRRRRR. Now I make sure they leave them nice and thick but clean them up. Frida Kahlo would be proud of us for embracing the thickness!
CAITLIN H.: I get really self-conscious about my eyebrows, and since I don’t know what else to do with them, I put silver glitter paste in them, and everyone always compliments my sparkle brows. I would recommend this tactic to all.
Why do kids have such a problem with bushy eyebrows? There are so many reasons to love big brows! They function as excellent natural eye protectors that shield you from detritus, and they’re incredibly expressive. To me, someone who can get down with strong eyebrows has passed a litmus test of cool. Like, if you can appreciate this abundance of hair above my eyes, then you can probably appreciate *me.*
Like most good things in my life, this newfound brow appreciation can be attributed to the internet. Around my senior year of high school, pictures of models and selfies of regular women with super-strong brows started popping up on my Tumblr dashboard. While I have mixed feelings about idolizing supermodels, I can’t help feeling solidarity when women like Cara Delevingne and Ali Michael are heralded as beauty icons because of their thick brows, not despite them. I thought they, and their eyebrows, were gorgeous, and it made me realize that the natural state of my brows was something to be proud of.
After a tumultuous lifelong relationship, I finally loved my brows, and I decided to commemorate this event with a special ceremony. Armed with a pair of fabric shears, I hacked away at my bangs until they stopped about an inch above my brows. I used to think of my bangs as a convenient brow cover-up, but now they bring even more attention to a part of my face that I once was ashamed of. It was as if I’d gotten a heart that said “eyebrows” tattooed on my arm. I even started filling them in with powder to make them look even bolder.
BROWS FOR DAYS.
I’ll probably never have the courage to let my brows grow into full-on “Frida” and “Kahlo” territory (but all respect to you if you do—I bet it looks great). Loving the eyebrows that I once regarded as unsightly caterpillars has helped me emerge into the confident, strong-browed ~butterfly~ that I am today. I think they’re gorgeous, despite what that makeover guy from The Princess Diaries tried to make me believe. Today, my love for my brows runs true and deep, and they were right in front of my face this whole time! ♦
When POPSUGAR Beauty editor Lauren Levinson pulled me aside after an editorial meeting and told me I made an eyebrow faux pas, I had no idea what she was talking about. "They're supposed to start here and here," she said, pointing to both sides of the bridge of her nose. If that was true, mine were far from perfect — beginning in the middle of my eye rather than at my nostril.
I was shocked and frankly pretty crushed. While I don't consider myself a beauty guru, I've always thought that eyebrows — from their distinctive shape to their thickness and color — were a big part of my persona. In fact, I had recently dyed my hair blond, and I'm all about the contrast of my light locks and my dark arches like Cara Delevingne or Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Knowing that I was the reason my own brow line didn't dip at the right angles or flatter the rest of my facial features was upsetting to say the least. I felt panicked — as if people had been silently judging me for months — and I had to put an end to it. But at the same time, this wasn't as simple as getting a quick wax or pedicure. In the back of my mind, I was already counting how many weeks it'd take for my brows to grow back — how many weeks it'd take for me to appear "normal" again.
Lauren, who had visited Jared Bailey, Benefit's global brow expert, earlier this year, explained how to create the ultimate brow balance — and it's all about pinpointing the start, the arch, and the end points of your brow. To figure out where to start your brows, you should draw a line from the dimple of the nose to the beginning part of your brow (which actually makes your nose appear thinner). By drawing a diagonal line from the outer corner of your nose, through the pupil, to the top of the brow, you find where your arch should be at its highest point. Lastly, start at the same spot on your nose, but trace your waterline to figure out where your brows should end.
I was ready to let my hair grow back — but while that sounds easy, it was a pretty awkward process that took about seven weeks. On the flip side, I definitely learned a valuable beauty lesson, and arriving at my brand-new set of brows was totally rewarding. Below, a personal timeline filled with random patches of hair and failed fill-in attempts.
Photo: Sarah Wasilak