It’s the kind of thing where once you’ve noticed it, it’s hard to not start seeing everywhere: The silent conspiracy between certain men and their eyebrows, a weirdly private performance for an audience of one. A man, catching himself unexpectedly in a reflective surface, gives himself a quick up-and-down. Maybe he tousels his hair or runs his hand over his face. But as he’s doing this split-second preening ritual, his eyebrows do something curious somewhere on a continuum between an uneven furrow and a full-on imitation of The Rock. It’s not a universal dude behavior, but common enough that when I bring it up among friends they recognize the practice’s basic contours. And while it’s not unattractive, exactly, it’s also not the kind of behavior that would be considered devastatingly sexy, per se.
To make the whole cocked-eyebrow thing more baffling it’s also, as far as I can tell, involuntary. The man I date says he doesn’t do it. (He does.) My friend Emma has tried to get her boyfriend to replicate it on demand. (He cannot.) A handful of my male friends report only learning of their eyebrow gymnastics when a significant person in their life teases them mercilessly about it. “Yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about,” texts my friend Will. “But I don’t even really think I do it so idk.”
I had a few questions about this ritualistic eyebrow furrow, namely: What the fuck? Are all these men subconsciously emulating The Rock, or did The Rock’s famed People’s Eyebrow tap into some more primal preening habit? And what exactly is it about this look—which a man performs mainly for himself—that epitomizes the kind of guy these guys imagine themselves to be? To find out, I reached out on a balmy Friday afternoon to some men I happen to know.
“I imagine we see ourselves and think we look like deer in headlights, and don’t have a suite of facial expressions in our memory banks. Like, “What else can a man face be? Oh, the rock. He’s tough.” And that’s whats so great about The Rock. He’s non-toxic masculinity. He’s huge and tough but also suave and kind. Hell, we should be encouraging the people’s eyebrow.
Make Men The Rock Again.”
—Christopher, New York
“We’re paying homage to our father [The Rock]”
—Ruben, New Jersey
“On deeper reflection, I do think there is some kind of subliminal cultural artifact of The Rock doing his eyebrow thing, but also it’s like a really easy goofy face to make that feels a little less embarrassing than like, a wide-open mouth (I.e. soyfacing).
Lastly, it makes you look confident and collected without committing to looking threatening, or worse, failing at looking threatening. It’s a very versatile facial expression but has been collectively and nonverbally agreed upon as “masculine.”
And smiling is maybe subconsciously like showing weakness?? Not actually but I do think there has been a socialization to like, not smile.”
—Will, New York
“I think the idea is to give off a strong appearance because there’s very little in terms of the visual vocabulary of the male face, does that make sense? Like the only faces that society wants to see are ‘strong’ or ‘happy.’
Women can be whimsical, coy, cute, sad, dramatic, wistful, apprehensive, shy, timid, edgy.
Men can be strong or happy (insofar as like, the media vernacular of faces depicted in media, etc.) So yeah I think it’s a signaling, some kind of strength or fortitude or cunning.”
—Christopher, New York
“I literally have no idea, although I do frown a lot when I look at things so maybe it’s just a more self-conscious version of that. Maybe it’s some kinda dudes-rock self check-in, performing the most interrogative gaze possible when checking to make sure that this particular dude still rocks.”
—Noah, New York
“Well, if I was Steven Pinker I’d probably speculate as to some sort of evolutionary psychological reason for it—like that a man who can contort his face so skillfully clearly has excellent muscular control and is therefore a great hunter. But I don’t think I’m qualified to make grand statements about deep human history.
What I do know is that it’s definitely a pose you can see handsome men (e.g. Hollywood stars) making for at least the last century. I think it signifies an air of sophistication, perhaps of… danger? A hard exterior? So when we do it we’re probably unconsciously emulating images of men we’ve seen in media —that would be the proximate cause. But why it developed as a pose in the first place I do not know!”
“I really want to tell you that I’m directly emulating The Rock and that I would do this in the mirror after watching ’90s wrestling as a kid but I don’t think that’s actually the case.
I have no idea where I picked it up. It’s like a very unconscious thing I do in the mirror. I guess I think on some subconscious level I think it looks handsome. Like a way of confirming I look good but enough women (you especially) have given me shit about it that I don’t think that’s actually true. It’s just sort of a muscle memory thing at this point. Perhaps it’s vestigial from some primate mating practice, proving to a potential mate that you have full control of your facial muscles. Idk. It’s dumb but I’ll probably still be doing it reflexively when I’m 80.”
—Michael, New York
“I know [the man in my life] wouldn’t have a good answer for you. I think it’s a natural mirror reaction and he can’t replicate it correctly if you ask him to.” —Emma, Calgary
“I don’t really do this.” [Sends me 15 photos he’s taken of himself recently.] “I do furrow my brow a lot I guess.”
—Christopher, New York
“Never heard of it.” —Nick, Maine