Eyebrows – Taking Back My Eyebrows, the Bane of my Existence
They were the topic of many conversations about my heritage — and the bane of my existence. But when I decided to embrace my brows, they became my secret weapon.
For the past 10 years, almost every new interaction I’ve had with a person — romantic, platonic, professional — has followed the same script.
Me: “Nice to meet you.”
People: “Nice eyebrows.”
Pause for the length of a Leonard Cohen song.
Me: “Th-thanks. I … grow them myself.”
I can’t really take credit for these brows. They came with the body. But they’re an unlikely icebreaker. Growing up, they were the bane of my existence.
My father is Portuguese, my mother is Lebanese and Syrian, and I was born and raised in rural Quebec. All the children in my neighborhood and on the playground were Québécois, with their beautiful, pale French skin, their big green eyes and their adorable dusting of freckles.
Predictably, I was severely bullied.
I remember my biggest bully was a boy who always wore a leather jacket, ripped jeans and a flannel shirt tied around his waist; a French vanilla Joey Lawrence. He bullied me all day, every day.
Once, on a school bus full of children, he said to me (and I still cringe when I think about it): “When you were born, God thought your face was your vagina,” though he didn’t put it so clinically, “so he put hair all over it.”
I was 11 years old.
“The Little Mermaid” was a big hit at this time, and Ariel had thin, wispy, next-to-nothing eyebrows, so I came to the conclusion that everyone must be right. I thought, “No one on the playground looks like me, no one in my neighborhood looks like me, no one on TV looks like me. It must be true: I’m ugly.”
But then the 1990s hit, when it was de rigueur to have either no eyebrows (like the model Kristen McMenamy) or pencil-thin brows (Marlene Dietrich). This was the era I discovered an instrument called tweez-ers (n). Finally, an opportunity to rid myself of these hirsute succubi scorching a bushy path across my forehead.
Unskilled in the art of plucking, my eyebrows ended up looking like Egyptian hieroglyphics.
But still, people persisted in asking me about my ethnicity. “Where are you from?” they would say.
“No, where are you from?”
Once, a stranger approached me on the street and said: “Wow, you look like you’re from a race that hasn’t been invented yet. No, I mean that as a compliment.”
People may think their questions fall under the banner of benign curiosity. But for women of color, these questions have dominated our lives. How many times do I have to be asked about the nature of my features rather than the nature of my courage, my spirit or my resiliency?
And let me tell you, I am the nicest, sweetest, most rage-filled person I know.
For the majority of my life, I have been embarrassed by my ethnicity. I have been ashamed of my looks. I have done everything I can to change myself, to rid my face of that which made me “other.” I am convinced I am the greatest authority on hair removal because I have done it all.
I wanted what, to a degree, we all want: to fit in. But if you want to look like everybody else, you have to play their game. I was the only one being asked about the party above my lashes, so clearly I was playing the game wrong.
Then one day it hit me. I make my own game.
And so I decided to grow the bad boys back in. I didn’t want to look pretty anymore. I wanted to look otherworldly and vaguely threatening.
Unsurprisingly, growing them back in didn’t take long. I know that some people, those who once over-plucked, have to resort to brow tattoos or microblading. . Not me. You can take the gal out of Portugal, but you can’t take Portugal out of the gal.
Then the strangest thing happened: The bane of my existence suddenly became my greatest asset.
When I was in my early 30s, a few years after growing my brows back in, I was living for a time in Amsterdam. I like to photograph street art and graffiti when I’m in a new city; I’m what’s called a graff-hunter. In Amsterdam, you can’t shake a spray can without knocking into at least five murals.
My favorite street artist in Amsterdam spray paints poetry on the walls of the city. Because I kept finding his pieces all over town, I looked him up on Facebook and sent him some of my photographs.
We struck up a correspondence and became friendly enough that he gave me the nickname “Brows.” Naturally, it was one of the first things he noticed about me in my photos.
I eventually left Amsterdam but I went back often, and each time he would send me the locations of his new pieces.
Four years ago, on one of my trips, I turned a corner to find, in big black lettering:
Were All It Took
So maybe these brows are indeed an icebreaker. And just like any ice pick, they’re sharp, they’re stone-cold, and they’ll make you melt on contact.
Christine Estima is a novelist, freelance writer and spoken word artist in Toronto. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristineEstima.