Yesterday I ran across my second set of perfect eyebrows. The first belongs to a friend of mine. The second belongs to a distant cousin. These second eyebrows are so perfect that I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. As my cousin talked, I wondered, “Does she pluck them? If so, does she sneeze with each pluck, as I do? Does she have them waxed? If so, how does she stand it? Does she use a pencil? If so, how does she avoid that drawn-on look?”
To be fair, I think I concentrated on her eyebrows to avoid wondering how so many drop-dead gorgeous family genes wound up in this one person. Couldn’t they maybe have been spread around a little more? Couldn’t a few of them perhaps have landed in my DNA?
If you are surprised that I notice eyebrows, you probably don’t have invisible blonde ones, like I do. You might also be surprised at how scary a person can look without visible eyebrows. Trust me.
Most sources indicate that eyebrows are there to protect our eyes, but that isn’t their only function. According to a study by MIT behavioral neuroscientist Javid Sadr and colleagues, faces are one of the most expressive parts of our bodies, crucial to facial identification. In Sadyr’s study, volunteers were asked to identify photographs of 50 famous faces. Some of the photographs had been altered to have no eyebrows, and some had been altered to have no eyes. The volunteers could correctly identify faces without eyes about 60 percent of the time, but when the faces instead lacked eyebrows, the correct responses fell to 46 per cent.
Throughout history, different styles of eyebrows have been in vogue at various times. To the ancient Greeks and Romans, the uni-brow is said to have been recognized as a beautiful trait and a symbol of intelligence. In medieval times, women plucked their eyelashes and eyebrows to draw attention to the forehead, which was then considered a woman’s most important feature. And in Elizabethan times, some women not only adopted reddish wigs as a nod to Queen Elizabeth’s red-gold hair but also dyed their brows and lashes a reddish color, too. (Unfortunately, one of the dyes was made of rhubarb juice and oil of vitriol, which is pure sulfuric acid. It was not a good beauty move.)
The most memorable eyebrows in my life, other than the two sets of perfect ones, are my late Aunt Ann’s. She could make just one eyebrow shoot up in an unforgettable look that combined sarcasm, suspicion, skepticism, and a sense of humor all at once. As a kid, I often tried to mimic her look in the mirror, but my eyebrows only worked as a pair. (Well, apparently. It was a little hard to tell with my invisible eyebrows.)
I am thankful to have eyebrows. I am even more thankful for the invention of the eyebrow pencil.