Raising, furrowing and arching: some thoughts on my brows

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

‘I’m never fully dressed without my brows!’

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

‘I Don’t have a Story to Tell’

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