I have probably been failing at eyebrows for close to ten years now. I was too young to wear makeup for most of the ’90s, but my first ideas about beauty were formed by the supermodels of the era, whose brows were always pencil-thin. As a teen, part of learning to wear makeup was learning to pluck my eyebrows. But then, right around when I got halfway-decent at it, the rules all changed.
All at once, the ideal was a thick, dimensional brow, heavy and dramatic. Other people seemed to have gotten the memo long before I had. Women on the subway and in bars and at parties all seemed to already know how to fill in their eyebrows, how to create a bold, heavy shape that remade their face into something contemporary. It was a test about youth and age, about currency and lateness, and it was very clear who was able to pass.
Things that were in fashion when I was almost-but-not-quite a teenager — like Birkenstocks, and chokers, things that it feels like I only just recently got done learning were over — have started coming back into fashion, and very little has ever made me feel so horribly old. Occasionally some article comes out claiming that the low-slung jeans of the aughts are going to come back, and I learn exactly who on Twitter is exactly my age by how we all recoil with the same horror. Much like my reaction to these nostalgia trends, my eyebrows point me out as no longer really being young.
But I am convinced that the minute I invest the time and the effort and the focus and the discipline and the money to achieve Cara Delevingne–worthy statement brows, that will be exactly the moment when the trend once again changes. Everyone who is younger and more current than I am will have gone back to skinny hyper-plucked brows. Cara won’t have any brows at all, probably.
Earlier this year, Rihanna appeared on the cover of Vogue UK’s September issue with pencil-thin, drawn-on, ’90s-throwback brows, and there was a collective panic among many of us who already struggled with our eyebrows. Rihanna looked gorgeous as ever (duh) but tweet after tweet expressed the terror that we would all have to go back to over-plucking when we had spent years desperately trying to undo the damage of that very trend, and that heavy brows would be over before so many of us had even gotten around to mastering them.
Typing “Youtube eyebrow tutorial” into google offers about 123 million results. Beauty, of the kind for which Youtube tutorials exist, is a referendum on one’s willing to invest one’s time. I stopped over-plucking my eyebrows years ago, but they still have not really grown back fully. In order to get the filled-in, bushy, abundant look that eyebrows are supposed to have, short of expensive treatments like microblading, I would have to grow them out to an uncomfortable point where they would look unkempt rather than fashionable, and I have not yet been able to summon the patience necessary to do so.
The very idea of a trend refers to something fleeting — fashion itself is a word about change, about things that come and go with seasons. Paying attention to it at all, let alone attempting to keep up with it, almost guarantees that some of us will always feel one step behind, measuring the eras of our lives through the trends we never quite managed to grab the tail of before they disappeared without us. For now, I’ll keep using this ephemerality as an excuse to not really learn how to fix my eyebrows, half-hoping and half-dreading the arrival of the next new brow-mandate.