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OPINIONS

Eyebrows, Walmart and the trials of beauty

When I was young, pre-tween age, I went to Walmart with my mom one day. The new Mary Kate and Ashley line was out for girls my age, and man, it was all the rage. Next thing I know I’m staring at my reflection in the mirror with a sad look on my face. I was only nine, but already noticing the flaws in my body. My belly peeked out of the camisole – the pretty little camisole Mary Kate and Ashley surely wore, and looked nice in.

My mom was by my side, reading her book. She noticed I was crestfallen and tried to cheer me up. She stood behind me, grasping my shoulders, insisting that I look at myself in the mirror in a new light. “You’re beautiful.” I quickly wrote it off. Then she said: “you have the most beautiful eyebrows. I wish I had eyebrows like yours.”

I went home some time later and sat on the counter and looked, really inspected, these eyebrows of mine. It was no small deal; after all, that the most beautiful woman I knew thought they were kind of nice. Well, they didn’t look so special. They were pretty bushy and shapeless, never having met a Tweezers or a teenage girl’s perfectionist scrutiny (yet). Like two furry caterpillars. But nonetheless, I was proud of them. My mom thought they were beautiful. That’s all that mattered. They had the holy seal of approval.

Of course, the holy parental seal has an expiration date. For me, it was around the age of fourteen, when middle school really kicked into high gear. Girls started wearing makeup. Shaving their legs. Donning tight-fitting Abercrombie tees and chunky sterling silver jewelry. For a time, I still wore my athletic shorts and oversized Adidas t-shirts, still shied away from make-up, and let my eyebrows be. But then I started caring (why must we care) and ticking off the rites of passage. The eyebrows were last, but finally I caved. Out came the Tweezers. And of course, I over-tweezed the poor caterpillars to shreds. Thin, threadbare lines of hair. Well, you couldn’t really tell they were hair anymore. They merely carried the suggestion, the essence, of hair. Like all the other girls.

Like all the other girls. The rites continued. Shaving long blond hairs was only the beginning. There was flat-ironing to be done in the morning, weight to be maintained and lost. Always the weight. It was no longer enough to have a t-shirt from Abercrombie. Cue the eating disorders. Cue the girls dropping out of school to go to rehab. Cue elliptical binges, self-loathing, self-flagellation at the intersection of increase and pound. This, at an all-girls school – looking good for the boys wasn’t even at stake.

Girls, seventeen-year-old girls, who wanted to look like fourteen-year-old six-foot models. Girls, who just wanted to shed a few pounds so their bodies would feel more lithe at dances, catch the eye of a cute boy – a fling they hoped would maybe result in something more, like a conversation, and if you’re absurdly lucky, a courtship, a date, and if you’re really lucky, a relationship.

There must be girls who love their bodies. Who travel through puberty and the even more treacherous minefield that is “Teen Vogue” and “Teen Nick” and all of mass media with unearthly grace and self-esteem. I never knew such confidence; it has always eluded me, and I am both envious of and reverential towards it.

I inspect my eyebrows every few days or so, Tweezers in hand. I put everything in impeccable order, right where it should be. Like all the girls. I take a last glimpse. They are nice, if unremarkable. My face turns sad as I remember their former imprint. Nice, if unremarkable.

I can’t help it. The two thin lines furrow into the ungraceful curve of an almost-unibrow, as I frown at my reflection. Nice they may be, but unremarkable eyebrows were never complimented by a beautiful woman in a Walmart dressing room.

Contact Alex at abayer@stanford.edu.