Eyebrow face-off: Bare brows V statement brows

Emma Straub says the ‘naked face’ look makes an edgy non-conformist statement about a woman, while Paula Burns argues thick brows define a face, promoting a natural beauty and urges us all to banish our tweezers.


When the model Kristen McMenamy shaved off her eyebrows for Anna Sui’s fall 1992 collection, the look was shocking and watershed; the ’90s had arrived, weird and grungy. No more big-haired bombshells, no more Christie Brinkley prom-queen smiles. With her jet-black hair and a forehead now made entirely of negative space, McMenamy looked half-alien. Like Ziggy Stardust before her, that was probably the intention.

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then our brows are the custom dressing that frames the view. They wrinkle thoughtfully in conversation, furrow sympathetically in concern, prove to our friends that we’re paying attention, ratchet separately up our faces when we’re feeling skeptical.

Without them, you’re asking the beholder to participate — to project an emotion where there is none provided. For the recent fashion shows, many designers, including Alexander Wang, Marc Jacobs, Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen and Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy, sent out models whose brows had been rendered invisible. With void faces, the meaning of the clothes was amplified. Wang’s military vibe and gray palette became all the more aggressive underneath starkly hooded eyes; Burton’s eyelet dirndls and patterned furs were twice as ethereal. Which is not to say the absence of brows didn’t make a statement in itself: It was transformative, and a little bit transgressive.

A strong brow has been a part of the stylish face for decades — Audrey Hepburn, Brooke Shields, Cara Delevingne, pick your generational icon. Being willfully without them, like Rooney Mara as the girl with the dragon tattoo, is punk. Andy Warhol began bleaching his platinum white so that his gaze alone would convey ambiguous sexuality. (“I had a lot of dates but I decided to stay home and dye my eyebrows,” he once said.) More recently, the boundary-pushing pop icons Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus have both dyed their brows blonde. No eyebrows? No interest in being conventionally pretty.

But can you imagine Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring” looking half as dewily beautiful with two stark arches across her face? Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is browless (though recent science suggests that might be the work of a zealous restorer), and the 16th century’s Queen Elizabeth didn’t have much to express herself with, either. There is something about removing the feature that makes the face seem to glow, all uninterrupted skin and complexion. Renaissance-era Europeans rubbed oil on their children’s foreheads to stunt hair growth; perhaps browlessness also carries the allure of innocence. My own eyebrows have always matched my hair, the color of straw. It used to be that my great hope was for two bold dashes that you could see from across the room. Now, I realise there’s mystery in a naked face.

New York Times


Blame it on British model Cara Delevingne for making the statement brow the must-have accessory of the modern day. Loud gasps of shock could be heard throughout the fashion weeks as Delevingne first boldly took to the catwalks proudly sporting her full bodied brows. As notorious as McDonald’s golden ones, Delevingne’s coveted arches put her face firmly on the fashion map. Up until then women the world over had invariably suffered from Chaetophobia (fear of bodily hair). The Hollywood and Brazilian waxes brought with them the taboo of hair. If we didn’t have hair down there then we certainly weren’t going to parade in public with large, overgrown eyebrows. The tweezers became every teenage girl’s frenemy. Women spent hours sprawled over mirrors, plucking their brows into virtual oblivion.

This over plucking, devastation of the brow has created a look that is undefined. It’s no coincidence then that Delevingne had us permanently shelving our tweezers. The reason the fashion and beauty worlds have gone bonkers for the British model is that they see the need for a more defined brow. It gives our face shape, not to mention bigger eyes which are definitely an added bonus.

Delevingne wasn’t the first to tempt us with the strong brow. In 1981 Time magazine proclaimed Brooke Shields symbolised the ‘80’s look’. Shields signature brows represented the era. This was a time when only bigger was better. Minimalism didn’t exist back in the eighties; it was all about big hair, big shoulders and big brows. This fuller look filtered into the early nineties with poster girls Demi Moore and Elizabeth Hurley celebrating the strong brow. Think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman where her fuller red locks and lowbrow thick arches defined her face.

As the nineties progressed a shift in fashion happened. The waif look was in and to match it the need for the skinny brow became a must. For more than a decade we waxed, plucked, threaded our brows to nothing and as a result we lost a very important element of beauty. Thin, sparse eyebrows tend to make the face look older and dull. What Cara has shown the modern woman is that luxurious thick eyebrows can create a more youthful look. The signature brow creates an attractive and distinct face. So step away from the tweezers and embrace natural beauty.


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