Eyebrows are a constant in the press and online, with many different opinions about whose works and whose doesn’t. We want to get away from eyebrow shaming and give you an opportunity to get your eyebrow scanned, talk about what your brow means to you, and shake off the negativity around the brow. We are interested in the choices you make when you pluck, sculpt, and position your eyebrows and to challenge the current negative press around the (Scouse)brow.
In the UK from the 15th of August you can go to a beauty professional and get your brows groomed. The timing of this has been subject to some debate with those who dismiss eyebrow grooming clearly not understanding why it matters so much for so many. As we’ve discovered while doing this project, Brews and Brows: Shaping Stories from Eyebrows to Scousebrows, eyebrows are an important part of our identity. They not only make us human in the ways that they are integral to how we communicate with each other, they are central to our sense of self. As well as all of the conversations we have carried out to find out people’s stories, we are also interested in eyebrows in film and television. Today we want to share this short audio-visual essay exploring the eyebrow. We noticed certain patterns and tropes in how eyebrows recur that reveal much about attitudes to beauty and the ways these are gendered and raced, and to the ways we identify the humanity of a character.
This year we are part of the Homotopia Festival. On Tuesday 27th of November from 6-9pm we are having our next event, “Browsing Queer Cinema”. This event is free and all are welcome. Niamh Thornton and Gary Needham from the University of Liverpool will give a talk on Queer film icons and their eyebrows. This will be followed by a discussion, a chance to get your eyebrows 3D scanned, and your picture taken by a fashion photographer. There will also be a space to discuss your eyebrows and what they mean to your identity, and more specifically LGBTQIA+ identities. If you are interested in Queer cinema or have an interest in eyebrows do please come along to the event. Here is the eventbrite link.
Take a look at our trailer:
We are delighted to be working in a space housing a UK premiere of photography by Ren Hang and Robin Hammond’s “Where Love is Illegal”.
Brow artist/permanent makeup artist, Emma Hendrick, shares her expertise. Why the brow-less trend did not gain traction and what clients want from their brows.
In 2016 models took to the runway for the Marc Jacobs fashion show rocking a “no brow look”. Celebs soon followed with their own spin on this no brow look. Most of these looks were created by brow bleaching, some celebs and trend setters opted for a softer sun-kissed lighter brow while others adopted a more extreme “no look brow”, including Madonna, Miley Cyrus and Kate Perry.
This trend did not stay around for too long and I think we know why! We are obsessed with eyebrows: arched brows, flat brows, big brows, brushed up brows, we are a nation of obsessed brow lovers. Although, the eyebrow has many functional features, our concern is that they are aesthetically pleasing.
Fortunately, no matter what our brow problem may be there is a solution for it in this million-pound brow market, which is growing from strength to strength. Brow growth serums, brow gels, brow mascara, pencils to create hair strokes, brow stencil shapes, you name it, it’s out there! As an eyebrow artist I see this obsession on a daily basis with a broad range of clients.
The right eyebrow shape will frame and flatter the eyes, for example, a fuller brow can give a more youthful appearance (an anti-ageing secret), an arched brow can lift the brows making the eyes appear more open and wider. The wrong shape, however, can change your look entirely. An extremely thin brow is quite ageing and can add years. An over-exaggerated round shape can make you look shocked or surprised (this known as the “McDonald brow”) and a very big, dark over drawn brow (yes, the one often labelled the Scousebrow) can be mis-understood to mean that person is angry or even appear distracting for the wrong reason.
Well-structured brows that are more symmetrical in nature are pleasing to the human eye. This could be one of the reasons the “no brow look” doesn’t have staying power and why people will go to great lengths with their brows. This includes people who have lost their eyebrow hair due to illness or medication from alopecia to cancer.
As a permanent makeup artist I have been on this personal journey with many clients who come to me when they have lost their brow hair or are preparing themselves before they lose their brows. The client will explain to me during their consultation that the main concern after accepting everything else, is the fact they will feel “face-less” without brows. They want to feel “normal, look normal”, not look tired or sick. This is terminology that is used repeatedly in the permanent makeup consultation, by male and female clients about how they feel.
For me, to be able to make someone physically feel that a treatment procedure, which allows me to tattoo individual hair stokes to mimic an eyebrow (permanent makeup), is aesthetically fitting is extremely rewarding.
Having the ability and skill of a brow artist/permanent makeup artist allows me to not only make someone physically look good by creating suitable eyebrows, I am also able to make them feel good, more confident, happier, more attractive, and sometimes, ‘normal’ (all clients words). Who would have thought those two little things above our eyes held so much power?
As a brow artist, this to me has been the biggest eye opener to the power of brows.
Emma Hendrick collaborated with us at our event at FACT in April and features in our upcoming documentary. She offered consultations and treatments to attendees.
We are celebrating World Eyebrow Day by sharing our findings and holding a preview screening of our documentary.
Find out how to sign up and join us for all or part of the day here:
I have always put make-up on my eyebrows since the dawn of Instagram. Kept them looking fuller, darker, and neat, but I never really thought about them to be perfectly honest. When I became part of the Brews & Brows project I suddenly became aware of their significance in many memories I recalled, emotions I felt, and actually how important they were to my face!
I was a ‘classic’ 2000’s eyebrow make-up user (didn’t use anything on my eyebrows until the popularity of them on internet and the so called ‘instabrows’ era). I remember watching make-up tutorials on YouTube and copying “beauty influencers” to have the perfect brow. But why? Honestly, until recently, I never thought about why I cared or changed my make-up routine. I guess it was to ‘fit in’ with new these new beauty trends. Suddenly not having make-up on your eyebrows wasn’t as pretty. Which I always thought was a weird contrast to the early ‘Scousebrow’ trend. I remember newspapers reporting on Kate Middleton’s ‘Scousebrow’ but honestly, I never thought it was one. She literally just had a bit of make-up on her eyebrow. Hardly the thick and dark brow we have come to associate with Liverpool these days.
Once I started reflecting on why I even cared about my eyebrows, suddenly the meaning of many other memories I have changed. I thought about my first hairdresser struggling to pluck my brows and commenting that the hairs were “attached to my brain”. I recalled the first time I showed up to my Archery Club with no make-up (a pre-dominantly male club I might add) and they commented that “my eyebrows looked weird”. This was a particularly odd moment to me because I always thought my eye makeup was more distinctive on my face than my eyebrows! I remember getting bored of plucking my eyebrows and taking a razor to them, with disastrous results, and, at other times, desperately trying to hide my (lack of) eyebrows under my fringe at school.
Thinking about my eyebrows, and being aware of them, altered many of my memories. This awareness also made me consider how we use them emotionally. I must have raised them in shock or surprise at my hairdresser’s comments. I may have furrowed them at my fellow archers. And I also actively hid them from people! Through our brows, we are able to effectively communicate with one another. We can communicate with our best mate by simply raising an eyebrow to them. It’s these kinds of things I never really thought about until Brews & Brows. It made me consider the ways in which our emotions, opinions, identities, and even memories can change when we become aware of even a small aspect of our lives (and faces).
Emily Gibbs, University of Liverpool
When I was younger I never knew eyebrows would be this important. In fact I don’t actually think they were. Ok, yes, maybe they had to be ‘tidied’ i.e plucked away at like there was no tomorrow but there was no such a thing as brows ’on fleek’, ‘powerbrows’, ‘scousebrows’ or a million and one pencils, pomades or powder products to use on them!
Notice, that they’re now referred to as brows not eyebrows too. Have we dropped the ‘eye’ from ‘eyebrow’ because they’re now freestanding, unique and equally as important as the eye in beauty terms? Interesting! We’ve become obsessed and in my opinion quite rightly so! In fact, maybe we should be calling them the iBrow because we’re like the Apple fans you see lining up at 5am to get the latest Apple product or iPhone version – we’re (im)patiently waiting for the next must have brow trend to burst on the scene and demand we’re ready to buy into the latest trend, ready to pluck, thread, wax, tint, draw, add glitter- anything to step up the ‘brow game’.
Now, from the iBrow to My Brow…To me, those two bold strips of hair above my eyes can often dictate how I feel, make me late for some occasions and are quite frankly far more important to me than most other facial features. You can keep your on trend lip fillers, your teeth whitening kits and jawline Botox… I’d much rather a ‘decent’ brow because truthfully, I never feel fully dressed without my brows. But… it is hard to keep up! Can we please decide on a ‘one-size-fits-all brow model’ and stick to it for longer than a few weeks?! Years of over plucking them between waxing meant I’ve had no choice but to reach for the brow powders, pencils, gels, stencils… the lot, you name it I’ve probably tried it! As soon as I managed to actually grow something (with the help of lots of Vaseline) that was a ‘real work of ARCH’… the arch went out and now I’m stuck back at square one with an overgrown tadpole look on my left brow and a bushy hedgerow with a few bald patches on my right brow… patiently waiting for this look to come in to fashion… anytime soon? And lastly, a note about the famous ‘Scousebrow’, despite all the bad press it and the women/men who sported it received, is more than just a fashion trend. It’s a place marker, a sign, a status, it was a unity between girls from one city that I don’t think any other city in the world has. But for me, the Scousebrow isn’t that thick, black, drawn on sharpie look and the image of the Desparate Scousewife that all the press and bloggers tend to focus on. It’s the eyebrows you see as you walk around Liverpool on real women in real life not reality stars and scripted characters. We should be noticing and appreciating the care and attention and money spent on beauty and fashion from women so proud of the city they’re from and live. We might be known for our football teams and our music but the Scousebrow also got us known and noticed, often in an unfair and negative way.
Holly Saron, Edge Hill University
Liz Greene and Niamh Thornton wrote a post on the project for the Women’s Organisation. For more, read it here. They are a Liverpool-based organisation supporting women’s economic agency.
I had not spent much time thinking about eyebrows until I became part of the team for the ‘Brews n Brows’ research event at FACT. My own PhD thesis is an oral history of dock work in the twentieth century, so I spend more time reading about hydraulic winches than HD brows. However, the focus on identity, culture and Liverpool in ‘Brews n Brows’ had me hooked. I also knew that I could not give up the chance to work in such a brilliant team. As an eyebrow novice, the experience was a learning curve both professionally and personally.
I developed my research skills and broadened my methodological knowledge through taking part in a focus group, using a 3D scanner, taking photographs and helping with filming equipment. My favourite aspect was being able to talk to people from Liverpool and people visiting the city about a topic everyone can relate to in one way or another. A lot of the conversations I had began with ‘I don’t have a story’ or ‘you don’t want to talk to me’ but ended with rich accounts of eyebrow grooming practices. Men and women who knew they were coming to the event were happy to discuss how they had trimmed, plucked or tinted their brows before arriving. Likewise, many participants were very pleased to say they had never done anything to them. That was the beauty of this project! Either way, eyebrows were seen to be an important part of how people understood themselves.
The common statement of ‘I don’t have a story’ really stuck with me throughout the event. At the start of the week, I would have said the same. The more I was questioned about my eyebrows, the more stories I seemed to have and mid-event the ‘Brews n Brows’ eyebrow technician had given me a wax and tint! I honestly felt like a different person and could not stop looking in the mirror. I began to realise just how important every part of our appearance is to our sense of self. The fact I had done very little to my eyebrows and kept my ‘owl brow’ – the part of my left brow that flicks upwards if left untamed – was deliberate. A choice which I realised was made based upon my teenage disaster with an eyebrow pencil. When delving deeper into my own story, I was forced to focus on my own values and the way I viewed myself.
The reflective element of my ‘Brews n Brows’ experience really taught me how to ask questions in research. Our daily lives may seem mundane or unimportant to us but our actions have far more significance than we think. Somebody taking part in the event said ‘you can tell a lot about a person from their eyebrows’. I am not sure how far I agree with this statement, but I do believe that you can tell a lot about a person by getting them to talk about their eyebrows.
Emma Copestake, University of Liverpool
We set up our booth, scanning corner, and photography area in the ground floor of FACT from the 25th – 28th of April. As a consequence of the publicity and buzz around our event, we made the news and local papers. The Liverpool Echo covered us on the 25th and gave a quick overview. Then North West Tonight and BBC Merseyside came to chat to us and covered our story. On North West Tonight at 6.30pm we came at the end of the hard news stories and just before the weather forecast on Friday the 27th. This meant that our event was the moment when the newscasters and the weather person have a little banter. For this segment, they asked each other about their grooming habits and speculated on how to describe the style. The word they used the most was Scousebrow, asking each other whether they would use it to describe their style. This is a term that has been named most by those outside the project and not those who have contributed, which is something we will talk about in more depth when we discuss our findings. The introduction to the feature was lighthearted and friendly. Thanks to the news item and the way it was pitched, we got many more participants through the door who specifically talked about the coverage, which was amazing.
As a follow up, we have also been interviewed by Ngunan Adamu from BBC Merseyside Upfront, who is going to feature our project on her programme. All of this has meant that we have become part of a conversation about the brow on Merseyside, which was one of our aims. The numbers are evidence of this, so too is an overheard conversation on the bus on Friday. Two girls chatting mentioned our event and discussed the language we have been using to describe it. For us, this is success. We want to keep the conversation going, so watch out for more.