I spoke on the phone with my mother the other day and she complained that my 17 year old brother is using her makeup to fill in his eyebrows. Thick eyebrows are in style, and they have been for several years. I remember when I was first learning to deal with body hair, one of my peers taught me how to shape my eyebrows with a tweezer. By senior year of high school, with the rising popularity of Cara Delevingne, bushy eyebrows were trendy. As a friend put it, “It’s weird how one of my biggest insecurities turned into the biggest trend” –Kristy K. This shift in desirable style is recent enough, but the evolution of eyebrow shaping has a history.
In a crude internet investigation on the evolution of eyebrows, it is very apparent that the shifts in trends are guided by (white) public beauty figures. In the 1920s and 30s, white actresses (for example, Clara Bow) had extremely thin eyebrows that were redrawn in an upward tilt making her look perpetually sad. The ability to draw them allowed the actresses more freedom of emotional expression in their appearance (1) (2). In the 40s a thicker more natural looking arc became popular and into the 50s they became more pronounced. Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor wore darker brows often penciled in. Edie Sedgwick established herself in art scene in the 60s with her blackened eyebrows that contrasted against her blonde hair. From the 70s through the 80s more bushy natural eyebrows were in. If this had been following a linear progression from thin pencil lines to thick, bushy, dark brows, the 90s and early 2000s were a relapse. Drew Barrymore, Gwen Stefani, and Pamela Anderson, to name a few, plucked their eyebrows into a slim arc. Unlike the 20s, however, they preserved the appearance that there are individual hairs growing out of their face.
Cara Delevingne entered the modeling industry in 2009 and her first catwalk was in 2011, (around the time I was a Junior in high school). By 2013 she was the most googled fashio figure and the most re-blogged model on Tumblr. Today she is one of the highest paid models and has an enormous social media following. (3) Many people know her as “the girl with the eyebrows” because of her lush dark eyebrows that stand out against her white skin and blonde to light brown hair. Coupled with dark eye makeup she looks fierce and in-control .
If you’re paying attention, you’ve noticed that all these eyebrow-icons are white women. However, Allure came out with a video called “100 Years of Brows” which featured one black model and two white models who had their eyebrows done according to the decades I mentioned. (4) I also came across many tutorials for how to fill in eyebrows and across races (I encountered white, black and asian makeup artists) they all created about the same defined bold look with the shade varying slightly lighter or darker according to skin color:
The simpler tutorials filled them in with a brush, while more advanced versions used concealer to define the line before applying foundation. But of course, eyebrows can’t transcend race. Body hair is heavily politicized on women of color. Although daily routines may adhere to a national celebrity-inspired trend across racial lines, the ability to gain instagram popularity through setting unusual trends (see below) is largely afforded to white women.