The desire for novelty and self-expression runs deep in us humans, and these are seen in eyebrow trends.
Era, culture, hygiene, fashion, and aesthetics also factor into the reasons for brow shaping.
Over the centuries, depending on their location and culture, people have worn vastly different styles of eyebrows.
It’s fascinating to see how eyebrow shapes have changed over time, But even at the present moment, there’s amazing diversity in eyebrow trends around the world.
Some of today’s eyebrow styles have actually given rise to a lot of curiosity, disagreement, and debate. Here are some of the most controversial trends in eyebrows.
Rihanna’s Vogue Cover Brows
Music and beauty icon Rihanna created a minor furor when she appeared on the cover of the September 2018 issue of British Vogue in pencil-thin, highly stylized arched brows. This style was quite the opposite of the prevailing styles that favored a rather full or natural eyebrow. The number of comments in social media soared, with many people echoing the message, “Say it isn’t so!”
In 2018 lots of women had been working hard to restore their natural brows, and styling advice had been anti-plucking. So what was going on with this magazine cover? Only time will reveal its long-term relevance.
But whether the magazine signaled an inevitable change in trends or was just a whimsical editorial statement, it was fascinating to see the uproar over a simple set of eyebrows.
Another trend, eyebrow cuts (sometimes called eyebrow slits) are lines shaved into a person’s natural brow with a straight razor or power grooming tool. There can be multiple slits or only one per eyebrow. Cuts can appear on both brows or just one. The style has been more common among men, but women wear it too.
This eyebrow trend has had a few peaks and dips in popularity. Cuts are thought to have started in the American urban or hip hop community in the 1980s to 1990s as an offshoot of the designs African-American men would have shaved into their hair and/or to give the appearance of a scar.
This style has the distinction of creating not just one controversy, but two:
First, although eyebrow cuts can simply be a style people like to wear, they’re also associated (rightly or wrongly) with gang affiliation and general badassery. Negative rumors about cuts abound, including that the number of cuts in a person’s brow shows the number of people the wearer has killed.
These rumors won’t die, and parents and teachers have been concerned about young folks putting cuts in their brows. Some schools forbid them, and others require kids to fill cuts in with eyebrow pencil at school.
The second controversy around eyebrow cuts is that some people believe they’re a case of cultural appropriation. It could be argued that the practice of shaving patterns into eyebrows grew out of and belongs to the African-American culture.
When people of a dominant culture adopt a style without understanding or acknowledging it, the people who originated it can feel disrespected Cherry-picking an element of a culture without an effort to know about the entire culture including its problems and struggles, can be offensive.
On the other hand, some people believe it shouldn’t matter who wears a style because in our globally connected world we’re constantly interacting and borrowing from other cultures and traditions.
The controversies over eyebrow cuts are just another example of how brows express many parts of our identity, in this case, cultural membership.
Wodaabe Men’s Brows
In other places around the world, different styles are thought to be appealing.
People want to be attractive to potential mates. The men of the nomadic Wodaabe group in the southern Sahara region of Africa do so in a way that’s unique among contemporary people.
Every year (less often recently due to drought and conflict) there’s a ritual courtship festival (Guérewol) attended by hundreds of Wodaabe people. At the festival men participate in a dance pageant called the Yaake to impress and woo marriageable Wodaabe women.
In Wodaabe culture it’s considered attractive for men to be tall and to have very white teeth and eyes. To create the illusion of greater height, men wear elaborate hairstyles and ostrich plumes on their head. To accentuate the whiteness of their teeth and eyes, they color their lips, eyelids, and eyebrows black.
Wodaabe men’s makeup is intriguing, at least in part, because of the gender role reversal involved. In their culture, the men spend many hours trying to catch the eye of a woman at a festival. The guys seem excited to take part in the preparation and the performance, and the women seem to appreciate the effort.
Anytime social norms come into question, it tends to raise a lot of curiosity and controversy.
Chola brows are skinny, dark, and obviously drawn-on.
Chola (for females) and cholo (for males) are terms used in the American west and southwest to describe a segment of the marginalized lower class Mexican migrant population and their descendants.
Chola is sometimes a derogatory slur and sometimes a term of pride.
When the word first emerged, chola often referred to young women who were gang-affiliated or who associated with gang-affiliated men, but now a lot of people wear chola makeup and clothing to show their pride in and identification with their ethnicity, neighborhood, and heritage.
It’s unclear how the eyebrows became part of the chola style but they may reflect the ethos of making the most of what you’ve got, as makeup doesn’t have to be expensive.
The eyebrow style can also convey a “look at me, but don’t mess with me” vibe consistent with the toughness it takes to make it in an environment with few advantages.
Chola style appropriation–like the appropriation of eyebrow cuts–can offend with the misguided idea that you can disconnect a culture from its context and make it more agreeable to the dominant culture. ,
On the other side of the controversy are people who don’t see the harm in having fun with fashion and adopting elements from the many influences in their multicultural surroundings.
A very different type of trend is scouse brows. These get their name from a scouse or scouser–that is, a person from Liverpool, England.
Scouse brows refer to the especially thick and dark penciled-in eyebrows worn by a cast member in the British reality TV show Desperate Scousewives, which ran from 2011 to 2012.
Scouse brows tend to be heavy and overpowering. They’re filled in heavily with a pencil in a color otherwise considered too dark for someone’s hair color. Taken to the extreme, they’re obviously fake.
Although after all this time some women still sport the “block of black” over their eyes, many style experts believe this style has had its day.
According to a Liverpool makeup artist who’s not a fan of the scouse brow trend, “You can have a structured brow, but for us it [the scouse brow] was a step too far. It’s harsh, it’s big, it dominates your face and completely takes over your face.”
Years after scouse brows debuted, they still evoke strong reactions because of the extreme nature of the trend, and its sudden, hard-to-fathom popularity.
I Must Have Overlooked Something…
Let’s see… We’ve looked at Rihanna’s Vogue brows, eyebrow cuts, Wodaabe men’s brows, the Chola look, and scouse brows.
Now let’s finish this list.
If you can think of any controversial eyebrow looks, share them here in the Comments section! I can’t wait to see what you all come up with!
And please share what you think of these controversies. Which side do you come down on? Why?
Wodaabe Yaake photo by Dan Lundberg – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3243372