I love eyebrows. I love the variety of eyebrows people have. I love thick ones, thin ones, long ones, short ones. I love really dramatically arched ones and I love flat ones, too. I have always been into eyebrows. When I was a tween — not that we used that word back then — I used to stare long and hard at each new photograph of my favorite band, the Spice Girls, trying to determine who had the best eyebrows, the eyebrows that most suited her face (Posh). I still can't pass a movie poster or a magazine cover without giving the eyebrows of those featured a quick evaluation. I sometimes lurk on the Fashion Spot "Models With Big Eyebrows" thread. Good eyebrows, eyebrows that harmonize with their surroundings, enhance your face and bring out your eyes; bad brows can ruin an otherwise lovely appearance. And among the many things I truly believe in — universal single-payer health care, that all dairy products just taste better in New Zealand, the absolute and fundamental beauty of the fall-winter, 2011, Miu Miu collection — is this: everyone can tweeze their own brows. There is no reason — no good reason — to pay someone at a salon $20 every few weeks to do what you can do not only as well but better in the privacy of your own home. Some people argue that it helps to see a professional, if only to learn their methods — Dodai still speaks almost rapturously of her former eyebrow guy, a Peruvian named Sergio — and I can't say I totally disagree; eyebrow shaping is one of those things it's easier to take a practical lesson in. But even though trying to write about how to do eyebrows is sort of like trying to boil water in a paper cup, I did my best with this online instructional. Because frankly, being able to do your own brows will save you time, money, and most importantly, it will give you back control over one key aspect of how you look. So here, by reader request, is a post on how to pluck your eyebrows.
So we have established that I have always been a little bit obsessive about my eyebrows. Once I had been initiated into the ritual of eyebrow plucking — age 11, at the hands of my 13-year-old friend Hasnaa, who was so much older and more self-possessed and strong-willed, not to mention an obscenely wealthy, titled member of the Moroccan aristocracy, that being around her was both thrilling and scary — I started doing it way more than necessary. I took my tweezers to sleepovers, just in case I felt the urge to pluck. Soon I was plucking every day. You can see the results in this photo of me c.a. age 15: prissy, overplucked, thin little brows. Quick anatomy lesson: directly underneath the human eyebrow is a tiny pad of subcutaneous fat. I assume that we evolved this little pad to help our eyebrows project out from the face, and therefore catch more flakes of dust and grit that might otherwise get into our eyes; I think of it as a little, fatty step-ladder. But if you over-pluck your brows, you start to expose the edges of that subcutaneous fat, and it looks weird. You get, like, a fat-shadow. So lesson one is don't overpluck. You could end up with the dread sperm brow!
And frankly, one of the best things you can do for your brows, at any age, is to just stop plucking. Temporarily. (Or for good, if you're lucky enough to have great eyebrows and/or a job where you wouldn't be judged as "strange" or poorly groomed, in which case throw away your tweezers, stop reading here, and go out and live your life.) Realizing my tweezing had gotten out of hand, I stopped plucking my eyebrows entirely during my freshman year of college, that notorious period for experimental expressions in body hair. I did it again after I quit modeling and found that years of makeup artists' mostly unwanted attention to my brows — everyone has a slightly different idea of the "perfect" brow, you see, and everyone's just-a-few-hairs adds up — had thinned them. It may take 2-3 months for all your hairs to grow in again. You don't necessarily have to stop tweezing cold-turkey (although as you can see from my freshman monobrow here, I did — and no, I can't explain that eyeshadow, either) — even just letting the hairs under the arch grow back will help clarify the situation. If you really, really hate the shape of your brows, or you feel like you've taken a wrong turn somewhere in your brow maintenance and are doing something that isn't right for your face, take a holiday from tweezing. When you decide to shape your brows again, you'll be able to see much more clearly the shape of your natural arch, the directions of your hair growth, and where tweezing can help to bring out your particular character. What you need most of all before you begin shaping your brows is an idea of the brow, and letting them grow long helps with that. You need a theoretical framework on which to base your work. A sense of where your brows belong. The rest is just fine motor skills.
This photo by Stephanie Noritz. These days, I have a pretty clear idea of the brow shape that suits me. I leave my brows pretty full, but tweeze aggressively under the arch and, to a lesser extent, from above. (I stand firmly in the PRO camp when it comes to plucking the hairs on top of the brow — it is an old wives' tail that if you pluck those hairs, they won't grow back, and, within reason, it gives a better shape.) I recommend getting a pair of tweezers with an angled tip — they're easier to use — and tweezing with, not against, the direction of hair growth. Grip hairs near the root. And I only tweeze; I never trim. But there really are no hard rules here.
Eyebrows are beautiful because they are all unique. When I decided to draw "an eyebrow," this is the shape I drew because it's kind of close to my own — but your arch may be flatter, lower, higher, more closely centered over your eye, or farther off towards the corner of your eye. Your brows may be farther apart, or shorter or longer, or fuller or thinner. And that's okay. Whatever you do, you need to tend the eyebrows you have. Depart from the idea that eyebrow grooming is about bringing into relief your brows' essential character — and not about working from some kind of idealized template that may or may not suit your face — and you'll be a happy camper. The last thing you want is eyebrows that look like they're visiting from someone else's face.
Whatever the shape of your brows, your hair growth probably follows a pattern close to this highly scientific little diagram I just whipped up. You may notice that there's a point of inflection in the hair growth — as the eyebrow goes out from the bridge of your nose towards your temporal bones, you'll note that the hairs start off growing basically straight up and out — but then about halfway along the brow, at more or less a 90-degree angle, comes this new direction of hair that grows downwards. The first step to plucking your brows is just to give your eyebrows a nice brushing (I use a soft-bristled toothbrush) with, not against, these two directions of growth. Then get out your tweezers. Plucking your eyebrows is kind of like coloring inside the lines, only you decide where the lines are; look at your brushed brows, and think about where you want to set the limits. Some hairs will be in- and outside of those boundaries, and tweeze accordingly. (If you're on the fence about a given hair or hairs, use the tip of your tweezer to move those hairs out of the way, as if you were making a part in your hair. Be gentle in your touch so you don't pull or distort your eyebrow. Then step back and see how things look.) Dodai recommends tweezing with a magnifying mirror. Whatever you do, work somewhere with good lighting. Unless you're going for a really sharp, '30s look, err on the side of tweezing fewer hairs — especially given most women's eyebrows thin with age. Walk away from the mirror, think it over. You can always tweeze more later.
This is a highly technical schematic drawing of the five areas from which I regularly remove hairs I've deemed outside-the-lines. 1. is on top of my arch: I draw an arbitrary line here from the start of my brow to the top of my arch, and any black hair that has its roots above that line, I tweeze. 2. is where I take care of business on my temple, between the top of the eyebrow and the hairline. 3. is under the very base of my brow, at or near its point of origin. There I often take a hair or two — left to their own devices, my brow growth will creep practically down the side of my nose. Ministering to the base like that helps you get a good, straight line up to the arch. 4. is the easiest area because it's the most obvious; tweezing under the arch makes your brows stand out and can soften your whole appearance. 5. is the bridge of the nose, where the monobrow would be.
You may want to — or, with enough hair, have to — make a call on where your eyebrows begin and end. If they start too close together, you'll always look as if you're furrowing your brow in concentration; too far apart, and you might look wide-eyed and strange. Too-short (or too abruptly ending) brows look weird; unhelpfully, so do brows that go on too long. If you want an easy-to-remember guideline for where your brows "should" start and end, take an eye pencil and get in front of the mirror. If you line the pencil up next to the edge of your nose near the nostril and the inner corner of your eye, somewhere around where the pencil touches your brow bone should be where your brows get going (center image). Twist the pencil so that it runs from the side of your nostril past the outer corner of your eye, and you have a rough idea of where your brow should end (right-hand image). This is not a rule — like I said, there are no rules! — this is just a suggestion; the pencil test is a tool, not a beau idéal.
Here are my own freshly shaped and brushed brows. I'm not wearing any makeup today, but if you want to fill in your eyebrows, I recommend brushing them with an old mascara that has almost nothing left in the tube — or, if you just want to get your brows to stay put without adding color, use clear mascara. The traditional makeup artist thing to fill in brows is to use a slanted eyeshadow brush and some shadow in a beige-y brown color, concentrating on pushing the brush right into the base of the eyebrow hairs — but I personally find it makes more sense to use mascara because it coats the individual hairs, rather than powder makeup, which settles into the spaces between them. Under most circumstances, avoid eyebrow pencils, only because they're hard to blend.
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