Like so many others, I spent the '90s and '00s plucking my eyebrows into oblivion. In old school photos, it isn't my self-cut fringe or wonky teeth that stand out, rather my barely there arches: two minuscule lines and an accompanying bobble at each inner corner. Thanks to Greek Cypriot genes and undiagnosed polycystic ovary syndrome, I was a very hairy teen. While my classmates spent their lunch breaks reading magazines or socialising in the common room, I'd spend a good chunk of my time in the toilets, tending to stray hairs or trying to cover up those pesky little black dots of regrowth. I even carried a portable brow kit, complete with tiny shaver and spoolie brush. Lurking in the depths of a long-lost friend's Facebook photo album there's a picture of me shaping away — like Edward Scissorhands but with Boots' own-brand tweezers as fingers (they're still the best).
Somewhere along the line, the skinny brow look (which was popularised by celebrities like Gwen Stefani, Tyra Banks and Jennifer Lopez) fell out of favour. As we downloaded Instagram in our droves, beauty influencers like Huda Kattan (aka Huda Beauty) birthed a whole catalogue of bushy brow trends in selfies. Microblading, microshading, hyperrealism brows and even brow lamination (a technique which relaxes brow hairs to make them appear twice as full) soon took over, relegating pencil thin brows to the sidelines. With fuller brows de rigueur, I no longer felt the need to keep on top of my stubbly hairs every day. Plucking and shaping turned into a weekly chore (if that); friends and family with the same fuzzy features felt similarly.
Soon, models like Cara Delevingne and Natalia Castellar Calvani began to prove that full and fluffy no longer meant frightful, while Sophia Hadjipanteli shot to fame for going one step further and emphasising her jet black monobrow. Though these things may seem small, and perhaps not exactly groundbreaking, I can almost guarantee that hairy women everywhere felt a lot less pressure when it came to grooming. I certainly did. It's obvious that we have a long way to go in embracing hair on our face and body (you only have to scroll through the comments underneath influencers like Joanna Kenny and Harnaam Kaur's powerful Instagram posts to see that women still receive abuse for having facial hair) but when it comes to brows? The bigger the better.
Until now, that is. Lookfantastic's recent beauty trends report for 2021 revealed that thin brows are back. The report detailed a 450% increase in internet searches for the trend and the rising numbers are backed up by TikTok. On the app, the hashtag #thinbrows has amassed 22.8 million views and counting, with beauty content creators sharing thin brow tutorials or using filters to see what they would look like with highly sculpted arches. Surprisingly, the comments sections are bursting with compliments. "I'm so ready for thin brows to come back," wrote one user. Another said: "Ugh, I wanna do my brows like this so badly." It's true that we were once afraid of thin brows (think back to Rihanna's on her 2018 cover of Vogue, which ignited a Twitter storm) but scrolling through the TikTok tutorials, it's difficult to deny they look great.
Thin brow obsessives seem to be mainly Gen Z but millennials who lived the barely there brow trend in the early '00s are also jumping back on the bandwagon. "As the saying goes, history has a funny way of repeating itself," says Saffron Hughes, makeup artist at FalseEyelashes.co.uk. "Recently, celebrities such as Bella Hadid and Adwoah Aboah have been bringing back the skinny brow trend." So why the boom? "Aesthetically, brows are meant to define and frame your face, not take over as they did with the bushy eyebrow trend of 2010," says Saffron. The pandemic may also play a role in this resurgence, she adds. "Salons were closed for a very long time and many people had to let their eyebrows grow out." Perhaps living with bushier brows for so long has prompted us to try something entirely different. Saffron also notes that the thin brow trend on TikTok is a positive form of self-expression post-lockdown.
While Saffron mentions that some women are indulging in the nostalgia of it all, claiming that skinny brows appear more effortless and neat, she says that the look has caused controversy in the beauty world. Brow and makeup artists I've spoken to say they don't think overly plucked brows will prevail — but if social media is anything to go by, they already are. Chatting with a friend of South Asian heritage who, like me, deals with thick and excess hair, we questioned what the return of the thin brow trend means for hairy women like us — women who have only recently felt comfortable enough to accept and accentuate our big, bushy brows alongside other facial hair. Hint: we're not very excited.
Whether you're sold or not, the big brow movement prompted many hairy women across the globe to shelve their tweezers, swerve threading appointments and finally enjoy how their brows look naturally. To see the opposite take social media by storm is a whiplash feeling. With my wiry, black hair, the thought of over-plucking again is exasperating: the stubble, the painful nicks that would turn into scabs... Now in my late 20s, I see my eyebrows as a normal, natural feature, not something I need to battle with daily. As the skinny trend explodes, though, a small part of me can't help but feel that my big, coarse brows might no longer be palatable.
Of course, in reality, you can wear your brows any way you like — and beauty trends are both subjective and fleeting. But for hairy women, beauty movements like these feel quite personal. Fellow hairy woman Maria, 35, agrees. "The thin brow trend is unattainable for me," she says. "I get my thick facial hair from my dad's side of the family, and my eyebrows have always grown very quickly. Thin brows look amazing on some people but if I were to be swayed by the look, I'd be plucking, threading or waxing most days, and I dislike the stubbly feel, especially in between my brows." Maria continues: "Though I plucked loads in the early '00s, I've come to terms with the fact that the look isn't right for me as a hairy woman — but that's okay. I think in 2021, beauty standards are different for everyone." Maria makes a great point. Yes, the trend for thin eyebrows is surging but we're in a beauty era which advocates for individuality, whether you pluck regularly or rarely touch your brows.
The return of the thin brow trend isn't something Tanyel, 25, from London, will be embracing, either. "I'd end up looking bizarre — and I'd constantly be plucking. Being Cypriot, my features aren't petite so thin brows would look out of place. It's unnatural for me." Tanyel says she plucked her brows so much growing up that she'd often wear a fringe to cover the mess. "Thin brows made me feel better but, deep down, I knew they didn't suit my face. Plus, the regrowth was a nightmare." Tanyel found the recent full brow trend a relief. "It was the first time I'd stopped over-plucking," she says. "Now, I just wear brow gel to make my eyebrows a bit more defined. I get nervous that I'll take away too many hairs if I pluck them a lot."
Personally, I no longer have the will (nor the patience) to try and fight my genes but as TikTok tutorials for thin brows continue to flood the app, experts think there are a handful of things you need to know — whether you consider yourself a hairy woman or not. "While I love to see creative brow looks in fashion shoots (whether it's thin brows or dyed ones), I do have concerns with the thin brow look due to the potential damage it can do to your brows," explains Yana Gushchina, cofounder of Browfique. Yana says that damaging the hairs permanently was a common issue in the '90s when the thin brow look was most popular. "We would caution anyone who wants to try thin brows to be aware that when you pluck hair from the root repeatedly over time, the mechanical stress on the follicle may damage it enough so that it does not grow back, leading to sparse growth or no growth." Yana adds: "Even with the help of growth serums and dietary supplements, it can be very difficult to repair the damage caused by over-plucking."
Brow expert Shavata Singh, founder and CEO of Shavata Singh London, believes thin brows are just nostalgia. "I don't think thin brows are really back," she says. "Rather, I think manicured eyebrows are back." Her clients are now requesting lamination, as are Yana's. "This is a much more natural look," she says. Shavata reveals she rarely likes working against natural brows in salon. "If you've got naturally thick, bushy eyebrows, it's not a great idea to make them too thin," she says. "All this will do is create a lot of maintenance at home or result in lots of growth in between treatments, which means more visits." Saffron adds that thicker, bushier brows tend to suit most eye shapes, particularly those with almond eyes.
Aside from us hairy women, the expert consensus is that the thin brow trend won't take over entirely (it's way too high maintenance). But if you're set on trying it, Yana shares some important advice. "Focus on balance," she says. "The key is getting the right shape for your face, so book an appointment with a reputable professional for a brow mapping consultation rather than doing it yourself. This will ensure you achieve the best brows that balance your facial features."