I’ve inherited many great things from my Dad. I like to think we share a similar work ethic, the same dry sense of humour; and a craving for green olives. Most importantly, however, I’ve inherited his immense eyebrows. I haven’t always championed this aspect of my appearance though. When I was 13, I locked myself in the family bathroom and shaved my eyebrows in to oblivion. Why did I do this? What does this have to do with feminism? Well, I believe my moment of madness stemmed from societal pressure to look a certain way, based on my gender. Allow me to elaborate…
When I was in secondary school, a ‘popular’ girl kindly pointed out that my eyebrows were ‘massive’ and therefore ‘manly’. I was mortified. I felt too embarrassed to ask for advice on how to change my troublesome natural eye-wear, which prompted the aforementioned shaving incident. I find it easy to laugh about now, but as an anxious 13 year old girl, I was convinced I would never have friends/a boyfriend/a life if I did not control my unruly eye hair. When the new hairs eventually grew back, I became obsessed with tweezing them away. I plucked my brows in to tiny, thin lines, and monitored the hair growth on a daily basis. I did this for years.
Top Tip: if you over-pluck your eyebrows your face loses its natural definition, and you end up resembling the Pillsbury dough boy in most photographs.
I was not alone in this over-tweezing behaviour. My Mother had also been tweezing her eyebrows in to barely-there lines for most of her life too. It’s something she now regrets, but it was a habit she was never able to break. Unlike me, she’s learned to live with it and doesn’t over-analyse her decisions about her appearance. I however, attribute my actions down to the subtle yet pervasive nature of patriarchal society. Why were Dad’s eyebrows never told to ‘sort themselves out’? Why did Mum feel she had to remove hers? Why on earth did I wreak havoc with a razor on mine?
One of the key things feminism has taught me is that the personal is the political. People who tell you different from this are trying to make you shrink out of sight. They make you feel that because you aren’t in a position of significant social or economic power, your actions and ideas don’t have any kind of meaning. Well, eyebrows shape your face – everyone can see them. I wanted to write about this because I believe in the power of the small story, and its ability to reach other people in a similar situation. Women’s bodies are judged on the most miniscule of levels, to the point where even the choice about how to grow your body hair essentially becomes an act of defiance.
When I asked myself why I spent twenty minutes every day removing hair which didn’t need removing, the answer was shockingly simple: society conditions women and girls to think that bald bodies are beautiful. From beauty magazines to the porn industry; women’s bodies are only aesthetically valued when they’re stripped of all their natural elements. The worst part is, this outlook has become so ‘normal’ it’s convinced women and girls that it’s okay to shame each other about their personal choice to be bare, or to wear their hair with pride. This is why my eyebrows were deemed ‘manly’ at the age of 13, and probably why I spent most of my teenage years worrying about how to hide the fact I was human.
I decided to grow my eyebrows back. It took an absolute age, but now when I look at the dark hairs sitting above my eyes, I don’t feel embarrassed. My big brows frame my face in ways copious amounts of liquid eyeliner never could, and make my feminist scowls all the more foreboding because of them. I am proud to have inherited the strong eyebrows of my Father; they are a daily reminder that I don’t need to alter my appearance to please other people. Even on bad days when I consider re-sculpting those furry bastards, I remember how unhappy I was when I had a bald brow-bone, and the memory is enough to make me see straight. If anyone tries to shame you about your eyebrows/anything regarding your appearance, make sure you do everything in your power to defy their insults.
Top Tip: Women are mammals, and mammals have hair. It’s about time society acknowledged that.