An Annoyingly Earnest Story About My Eyebrows
Maybe you'll get something out of it, though?
The Unpublishable isn’t about me — it’s about beauty culture and how it affects the collective — but today I do want to share a story about me, because I recently had a REVELATION and I’m excited about it. Excuse me for being earnest!!
To preface: Over the years, I may have had a more codependent relationship with beauty than most. (“Co-dependent” because I depended on the beauty industry for my sense of self, and, as it does with all its customers, the beauty industry depended on my dependence for survival.) I started participating in beauty pageants at age five. By seven, I was performing in community theater plays and obsessing over my Caboodle kit of stage makeup. The way I saw it, one needed makeup to step into character — one needed makeup to become someone worth watching — and that’s exactly how I used it. At 17, I attended the Berklee College of Music to become a famous singer-songwriter (lol) because John Mayer went there once (lol) and created my future-famous-person persona by applying a full face of cosmetics every single day. It was always the same look: foundation and concealer and blush and mascara and eyeshadow and cat-eyes and multiple coats of L’Oreal Infallible Lip Color in Beyoncé Red and an exaggerated “Marilyn Monroe mole” painted over my own mole in black liquid liner. I moved to Los Angeles after graduating, where I alternated between dyeing my hair black and bleaching it blonde because I thought brown hair was boring; because I thought me wasn’t an accurate representation of me. (I swore all of this was self-expression, as one does, but it wasn’t. It was self-rejection.) I walked away from music eventually — ironically, I couldn’t handle being on stage anymore, being looked at, being judged, because I thought I was ugly, and I thought beauty meant worthy and ugly meant worthless. I started writing about celebrities and fashion and beauty for various webpages and print magazines instead. This did not help with the self-worth thing. I worked for the Kardashian-Jenner Official Apps! That did not help either. Through it all, from ages 12 to 27, I dealt with “problem skin” (like, I once went to the emergency room for a particularly large and puss-leaking pimple because I was convinced it was actually some flesh-eating disease) and was put on every prescription you can imagine — birth control, antibiotics, retinoids, Accutane, topical steroids — until my epidermis sort of… disintegrated off my face. Long story short, I experienced a crisis of the skin, and a crisis of the self, and set out to 1) personally divest from the standards I was absorbing and upholding, and 2) report on the ugly underbelly of the beauty industry.
Which is all to say: My experience might not be your experience, my challenges might not be your challenges, my privileges might not be your privileges. This post may not feel relevant to you. That’s fine! You can skip it.
Now that that’s out of the way.
Regular readers may remember that I also deal with trichotillomania, a mental illness characterized by the uncontrollable urge to pull my eyebrow hairs clear out of my head. Sometimes I can manage it, sometimes I can’t, and so my brows have waxed and waned between sparse and bald since high school. I get my brows microbladed — that is, semi-permanently tattooed onto my forehead — about once a year. It’s one of the few “cosmetic coping mechanisms” I haven’t been able to give up (I’ve written about why before if you’re curious).
Anyway! I had a particularly terrible bout of trich this week, so my brows are pretty much gone, and my microblading is pretty much all faded, and I started to text my microblading artist to make an appointment… and then I stopped. Post-microblading, the freshly-tatted brow area can’t get wet for a week. No water, no sun, no sweating. But it’s summer, and I live on a lagoon, and I go paddle boarding every morning and swimming in the bay every day, and these things are the joys of my little life, and suddenly I realized: I am not willing to stop living my life for even one week for the sake of pretending I don’t look the way I look.
This feels significant because for so long, pretending I don’t look the way I look was my life! There was nothing I wouldn’t give up to feel “beautiful”!! I’ve been doing the work of dismantling beauty culture (within myself and within the wider world) for about five years now, and I’ve made so much progress in other areas, but my eyebrows have always been a particular pain point. A year ago — even six months ago — I would have easily sacrificed a week of salt water and sunshine for “normal”-looking brows. No question. And now I won’t. And I didn’t have to push myself to do it, or even take some deliberate stance… it just happened. It happened because I study the history of beauty standards; because I dissect beauty industry marketing language until I detect every last bit of bullshit; because I constantly remind myself that my insecurity isn’t innate, but conditioned into me by beauty culture; because I understand that beauty products can only replace the confidence that beauty standards stole; because I’m always honest with myself about the “why” behind my beauty behaviors; because I’m gentle with myself about giving them up; because I recognize the difference between standardized beauty and actual beauty; because I know the standardized stuff will never satisfy my inherently human longing for the real thing (that wild, open, soul-deep kind of beauty); because I prioritize forms of self-care and self-expression that don’t involve aesthetically manipulating my physical self with products. Do I love the way I look? No. Do I think I look beautiful? Also no. But those are not my goals anymore, and so not meeting them isn’t upsetting. It’s whatever. I’d rather read a book on the beach than get microblading. I’d rather feel the ocean on my face than feel beautiful. No big deal. These are facts now, not internal struggles.
I know this is a silly example, and it’s not that serious in the grand scheme of beauty culture bullshit, and it’s not a universally-applicable “how-to-divest” template either, but I felt compelled to share for anyone out there (and I know there are many of you! because you email me!) who’s worried they won’t ever reach this point — the point of prioritizing personal joy over perceived beauty; the point of realizing that personal joy is not the same thing as perceived beauty — and to say that it’s possible. I wish this feeling of freedom on each and every one of you, truly.
OK, enough, I’m sorry for all the self-centered mush. I’ll go back to being an asshole tomorrow.
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