Eyebrow Triggers

February 20th, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

I fear I have neither the obsession nor the talent to start a new À la recherche du temps perdu riffing off the visiting nurse’s eyebrows. Yet, as Valentin Louis Georges Eugène Marcel Proust traveled instantly and deeply into his past upon the catalyst of madeleines, I had forgotten my mother’s eyebrow rituals and stylings until a few days ago.


With the exception of a few of us of simian features, our eyebrows are far more similar than different — blond, black, heavy, wispy and variations. Not so Shelia’s.

I am sure people notice her unusual semi-circular painted-on eyebrows. They brought out a bit more to me, enough for me to ask her about them. I felt I could because she is so open in mannerisms.

Sure enough, with a smile, she said, “Mary Quant.”

I’m of an age that I recall that British designer’s huge impact from mini skirts to white stockings to high-contrast outfits to, it turns out, innovative cosmetics. Shelia lived in England for many years and said that there the Quant people taught her how she could shave her thin brows and make what she wanted. She did and does.

My wife is sure she misinterpreted the salon’s teachings, but I disagree. I recall the 1960s and 1970s New York and London fashion. The starkness of much of it. The look-at-me aspect. The confidence. The variations on the all too ordinary.

Those eyebrows take a self-possession. It’s not like a tattoo that a lover or co-visitor to the nude beach will see. Your eyebrows are right there.

She paints them black, thin and an inch or so away from the eye in a semi-circle. She has a medium brown skin tone and it works well for her.

I was suddenly back to watching my mother paint on her eyebrows. She was not particularly vain, but she did create her brows every morning. As many WWII types, she plucked them heavily. A hairy brow was not civilized in her world. Then left with fewer and fewer returning hairs, she used a lot of eyebrow pencils and such to carefully create rather full and very symmetrical brows.

Hers though were less of a fashion statement than Shelia’s are. My mother’s stood in place and appearance for the originals.

bobby.jpgThat rolled into another vanity — curls. Born with straight, fine, blond hair, my mother had bought in sometime before my memory that tight little curls were necessary.

Nightly she’d use dozens (hundreds?) of bobby pins in another ritual that must have taken 20 or more minutes. Before a book or magazine, she’s read and mechanically cover her head in a parody of cake icing. Then, of course, she’d have to sleep on them and remove them in the morning…before the eyebrows.

My sister picked up neither of those rituals from our mother. I don’t know how many eyebrows I have notice in passing — what with little barbells, colored orange and more — without thinking of Wanda’s morning artistry.

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