Drew Barrymore was my first real girl crush. Half I wanna look just like her and half I wanna make out with her. She was the original DGAF free spirit. I was the opposite, seeing as I had carefully cultivated the same perfectly grown out shade of blond, the same perpetually messy choppy short haircut, the same shade of brown lipstick, and the same tortured little 90s brows, in a concerted effort to look as if I gave as few fucks as Drew. (The irony is not lost on me.) I retained a shred of dignity and bypassed the daisies in the hair, but this was probably just because cut flowers bummed me out. Eventually, my hair grew out and the brown lipstick (Aveda’s lip gloss in Cinder, actually) was relegated to the “retired” section of my makeup stash. What failed to return to baseline, however, were my brows. It had only taken a few years of overzealous plucking to ensure their permanent demise.
I’m pretty light haired, so the four surviving brow hairs on each side really didn’t have a chance in hell in making up a remotely normal looking brow. Since high school, I’ve relied on pencils, powders, gels, waxes, and tints in every permutation, formulation, and shade (to match the revolving door of hair colors) in an attempt to humanize the swath of hairless skin on my face. Sweating and face wiping were red-security-level risks. God forbid if I was in a hurry or having a bad makeup day; I couldn’t get them to be remotely the same shape, much less symmetrical. When you’re drawing them on from scratch every day, you never know what you’re going to end up with. How many times did I get so pissed off I just wiped it all off and started from scratch? What a tremendous fucking waste of time.
A few years ago, the very chic and sexy woman who does my extensions one day just casually mentioned she’d had her brows tattooed way back when she was in cosmetology school. Pump the brakes. What!? I associated permanent makeup with old ladies and Google search images of “scary eyebrows”. The wheels started turning, and before I knew it I was in a dentist-style reclining chair trying not to have a full-blown panic attack while a woman ran a humming tattoo machine over and over the same tiny area on my brow bone until it felt like it was raw. What if they were too dark? Too thick? Too chola? Too red? At that point, I really didn’t know how I’d gotten there and felt like I was viewing a horrifying lapse in judgment from above, a total out-of-body experience likely fueled by the panic- and pain-induced endorphins frantically squirting from my adrenals. The permanent makeup artist had a billion years experience, had a full face of tattooed makeup and was a fair-skinned redhead also to boot. She didn’t look like a drag queen or a grandma. Of all people, she could be trusted. She’d warned me the brows would be thicker and way darker at first, but would lighten once they’d healed. I did not find this reassuring as I held a little hand mirror up after, still supine in the dentist chair. We’d edged past mere panic mode and had reached full on WHAT THE FUCK HAVE I DONE. I’ve only reached this level of self-induced horror a few times in my life, like those times involving platinum blonde and an inadvertent mullet. (Not at the same time, mercifully.) In the car afterward, I sat, dazed, my brow throbbing.
WHAT HAVE I DONE TO MYSELF
Thankfully, like all tattoos, the brows lightened dramatically upon healing, which was uneventful despite my defying orders to “not put anything on besides Aquaphor”. Their shape became far softer. They needed virtually nothing in the morning. The experience made the full circle from totally horrifying to why didn’t I do this years ago. All was well and my brows and I lived in harmony… for a little while.
THEN, big defined brows had to come back with a vengeance.
I admit it, I got sucked in. Reflexing back to my arsenal of products, I tried. I made them thicker, I arched them higher, I tried. I indulged in many of the new generation of brow products — from glorified felt-tip pens to pigmented waxes. The end result ranged from “okay, not bad” to “frankly bad”. You never know how something works — or doesn’t work — until you scroll through photographic evidence of it randomly while looking for that one picture of the cat sitting in the bathroom sink. (I have to laugh at what Benefit’s Brow Genie wanted to do to me. At least I did better than this on my own.)
The universe sends messages in mysterious ways, though, and in regards to forcing my brows to overachieve it came in the form of a kitschy work event where staff were to dress as their favorite decade. I put on a flannel over a Nirvana shirt and layered rolled up jean shorts over black tights (which is really, horribly uncomfortable, or maybe it just sucks to wear sitting at a desk all day) and topped it off with some nice Converse. I made a deep side part, flipped the hair over, and applied a thick coat of my whitest sunscreen (to recapitulate the truly unfortunate foundation scene of the era) along with some raisin-brown Revlon Longwear lip color (purchased when Bill Clinton was in office, yay for hoarding!). The piece de resistance was the brows. One dark brown Revlon Longwear eyeliner; one uniform line curving in a gentle comma. No sharp arches, no defining with concealer — the diametric opposite of on fleek. It was an epic rebirth and a total what-the-fuck moment, as in what-the-fuck have I been doing to my poor brows, forcing them into some unnatural cookie-cutter arch. The thinner, gradual curve was far more flattering for my prominent brow bone and bore a similar emotional effect as putting on ancient and perfectly worn in sneakers. With that, I happily gave Instagram brows two middle fingers pointed high.
It’s one of the unexpected benefits of getting older, having the experience and awareness and lack of give-a-shit that allows one to overtly reject a look that is universally touted as contemporary or youthful or slimming or whatever other horseshit they say. Because we know that while thicker brows (or dewy skin, or lots of highlighter, or whatever shitty advice you’d like to insert here) may make one appear younger, nothing is as aging as unnatural or contrived, and nothing will ever, ever make you 25 again. So let that shit go, do what you like, and be the best (insert your age here)-year-old you want to be. (Because if you want to be haggard, I totally support that too.)
Okay. Enough of that namaste stuff. I saw a blacked out Rolls-Royce parked at the trendy brunch place by my house this weekend and it had an enormous, lumpy bird turd running down its otherwise gleaming and spotless side. This (along with the orange-sized vanilla bean scone I’d just inhaled) completely made my day.