People often ask me what I do to my eyebrows in a (if you’re my Dad) “what have you done to your eyebrows” way, or a “so tell me how you do your amazing eyebrows” way if I am drunk and have basically forced them to say it.
Well, Dad, frightened strangers at the bar –
It wasn’t always this way. I haven’t always had the best eyebrows in town, just there on my face for all to see (you’re welcome). These hairy lines – whose use I long thought to be linked to the appendix or some other vestigial piece of us until I did a sweaty yoga and realised these things do have a point – were only unearthed for your viewing pleasure relatively recently (in the great scheme of things, dinosaurs, etc).
Up until the age of 15 when a shiny-faced woman with some wax strips gave them a shape identifiable as “eyebrow (L)” and “eyebrow (R)” they were just some cloud cover above my eyeballs. They were a couple of undefined blurs in the middle of my pasty white face that matched the charcoal thumbprints on the walls of the school art room almost exactly. They were smudges, a shady blotch on the inside that gradiated to a blonde nothing as it reached the temples. Unlike the sculpted arches that I now frequently raise just one of (I perfected this move in the mirror in my teenage years instead of having a boyfriend, you are welcome) they were useless to me. Facially, they revealed nothing. They would have made a bad gif. We haven’t got time to figure out people’s emotions. We need instant, cartoon recognition. The internet has broken us.
But merely pulling out a bunch of hairs in a painful and unnecessary process under a bright light does not great eyebrows make. That shit needs work and upkeep and careful construction or you end up looking like a crazy person. I have gone through countless brands of eyebrow pencil to get it right and at age 23 I settled on MAC’s self-propelling eyebrow pencil in Velvetone until they rudely discontinued it because maybe people with jetblack eyebrows look weird, and now I use the less severe Stud with an eyeshadow called Mystery over the top using a small angle bru – is uh, is this weirdly specific? Have I lost you?
Man, I hope so.
If not, I can’t keep saying that the only person who truly understands me is John Waters.
Let me read to you for a moment from The Good Book, Role Models, by John Waters, which I spent forever looking for in the biography/memoir section of the bookshop only to be told that it’s in the GAY BIOGRAPHY section way at the back because I forgot that gayness has to be quarantined.
Here Waters is talking about how in 1970, in a misguided attempt to steal Little Richard’s identity, he grew a pencil-thin moustache:
‘At first it didn’t work right. It’s tough for a white man who isn’t that hairy to grow one. Sure, I shaved with a razor on top and trimmed the bottom with cuticle scissors, just like I do every day now, but it still looked kind of pitiful. Then “Sick”, the friend of mine from the Provincetown tree fort who had moved to Santa Barbara and changed her name to “Sique”, gave me some fashion advice when I was staying with her. “Just use a little eyebrow pencil and it will work better,” she advised, and then showed me how. Presto! An “iconic” look: a ridiculous fashion joke that I still wear forty years later. Surprised? Don’t be! It is called a “pencil moustache,” isn’t it?’
He drew it on. You knew that. This isn’t the good bit. This isn’t the bit that stole my heart forever. That’s this bit:
‘And there is only one pencil that does the trick – Maybelline Expert Eyes in Velvet Black. My entire identity depends on this magic little wand of sleaze. It has to be sharpened every time it’s applied, too – which in my case is twice a day or so. More if you’re been making out. Believe me, I’ve tried expensive, smearproof eyebrow pencils but they’re too thick, too penetrating, too indelible. There’s only one eyebrow pencil for me – and that’s Maybelline!’
Oh, John. Can we talk eyebrow pencils? Can I fly to Baltimore and sit in your house and talk about eyebrow pencils until we get old and die? I could be there for weeks. I’ll bring spares in case you don’t live near a MAC. We can talk about brand loyalty, about discontinued lines and how long-lost eyebrow pencils turn up at the shop again with an All New Design and you recognise them like a kidnapped infant returned as an eight-year-old. You remember that weird mole on their thigh or the fact that they’re circumsized or whatever. We’ll wind up talking about dicks some way, no doubt. I found you in the GAY BIOGRAPHY section. That section is all about dicks.
‘I always carry one in my pocket, keep another in my car, and have backups in each of my homes. Once I was in the hospital after being mugged and I guess because of my concussion I had forgotten to bring my Maybelline. I was so panicked that I would limp over to the mirror and try to gouge it on with a regular number two lead pencil used for writing. It didn’t work.’
Hey, John? Once when I smashed my face in on a pavement I sat next to a mirror in A&E. As I leaned over to see what I had become, fearing – like any person who watched Jack Nicholson in Batman too many times – that I would be rendered forever hideous and would have to embark on a whole new cosmetic safari or career as a comic book baddie, I discovered that the bottom half of my face was bloodied, smashed, gross. But: I distinctly remember thinking in my concussion haze just before they wheeled me in for my MRI, “My eyebrows are okay. So there is that.” So there is that, John. There is that.
‘I’ve forgotten to put on my moustache some days and I have to lurk around like Clark Kent looking for a phone booth until I find a car mirror or uncrowded street (not easy in Manhattan!) or a public restroom where I can, unobserved, repair the damage to my image. I remember once starting out the day with a visit to Mary Boone’s midtown art gallery. Mary came out of her office, took one look at me, and blurted out in a horrified voice, “What happened to your moustache?!” Instantly feeling nude in public, I realized the problem, mumbled some excuse about the lighting, and left immediately. I raced home in the privacy of a cab, drew it in, blended it, and started the day all over again.’
Oh, John. Let me come over. I’ll tell you about that time I left my whole make-up bag in the bathroom of Chipotle (in the bathroom of Chipotle) and had to sneak into central London with deep purple make-shift eyebrows because without them I look like some key part of me has been amputated, like I should have a special toilet of my own and ramp access to buildings.
I’ll even put off asking you about Divine and dogshit if we can just talk eyebrow pencils until we’ve run out of stuff to say.
What if I bring Chinese food?