Our culture is quite fond of telling women what to do with their bodies, be it sexually, medically or cosmetically. Unfortunately, that’s not a shocking statement (though it should be), and as women with diverse backgrounds and upbringings, we each have our own unique experiences with this realization.
Since the age of 12, I have found myself especially familiar with comments regarding my thick eyebrows and cosmetic choices (or lack thereof).
But what’s strange is that those who have made it loud and clear that my face is a fascinating conversation subject for them never seem interested in my own thoughts about my face.
So listen up y’all because I’m gonna talk about my face. I’m addressing you – friends who mistake their condescension for helpfulness, female mall-employees who follow me around with eyebrow waxing coupons for the salon on the second floor when I’m just tryina get some Mongolian BBQ at the food court, dudes who think their backhanded compliments make them really sensitive, pushy hairdressers who adamantly tell me what extra beauty procedure they’ll do for free because it will really improve my look when, that’s funny, I don’t remember asking you to do that, etc. This is for you:
I am a woman who, on a regular basis, does not wear a lot of makeup, if any at all.
This does not mean I am a “diamond in the rough.”
This does not mean I want or need you to give me a “makeover.”
This does not mean I am jealous of your appearance, that I wish I looked more like you, or that I even like your makeup artistry so calm the fuck down.
This does not mean I am insecure or that I fear attention.
This does not mean I need or want you to give me an unsolicited lecture on what makeup tricks can distract from my thick brows or even out my skin tone. I didn’t ask you to fix me. Your comments are not doing me any favors or teaching me any thing I didn’t already know.
However, this also does not mean I look down on or judge people who do wear makeup regularly, or that I have any right to control another person’s gender expression or the makeup application that their gender expression may entail.
While I will graciously accept and appreciate a compliment, this does not mean I need you to tell me how pretty I am despite my bare face.
Or how pretty I would be if I threw on some mascara.
Or that I even consider those to be compliments. Because what they really are is an opportunity for you to assert authority over my appearance. Even if that’s not what you mean, you’re essentially saying I’ve decided you look acceptable even though you really should look this other way.
And, crazy, I know, but it is possible for a person to not look the same every day. Some days, I think it’s really fun to wear makeup. And because cosmetics are still part of my individual gender expression, it’s actually really insulting to my feminine identity when you think you can realize your YouTube Make-Up Guru fantasies on helpless little ol’ me as if I don’t already got smoky-eye tutorials saved up in my Safari bookmarks.
When I do wear makeup, it does not mean I have finally “taken your advice.”
It does not mean I am doing it because of you or for you. My appearance has nothing to do with you.
It does not mean I have given into society’s expectations of what a woman should look like.
It does not mean I am insecure.
It does not mean I want or need you to tell me how much prettier I am now.
I am a woman with thick eyebrows.
This does not mean I don’t own or use tweezers.
This does not mean my eyebrows should be thinner, or that I even want them to be.
This does not mean I need you to explain the differences between waxing, threading, and plucking to me as if I had no idea that eyebrow shaping was a thing until you opened your mouth (thank you, kind stranger!). As per usual, these statements are unsolicited. For real y’all just really like acting as if I asked you questions.
This does not mean I need you to tell me my eyebrows are thick, as if you are protecting me from some approaching danger of which I am unaware. I know what my eyebrows look like everybody. ‘Cause they’re on my face.
Side note: while I clearly benefit from white privilege, as many American Jews like myself do today, my interactions with non-Jews have occasionally – but still too often – been sprinkled with lovely stereotypes regarding Jewish women’s physical appearances. I have been told many times that my thick, dark brows reveal my Jewish ancestry, when my blonde hair, blue eyes and “small nose” – great job everyone, A+ – otherwise wouldn’t have. Even better, the people who make these – yep – unsolicited statements about whether or not my face reflects their ideas about my ethnicity tend to be the same people who really like acting as if I asked them questions about my eyebrows. So when you’re super pushy about making my brows thinner, and sometimes less dark, you’re also kinda telling me to change the one and only thing on my face that you’ve decided reveals I’m not Anglo-Saxon. Just so we’re on the same page.
So what does this all mean?
It means when I don’t want to wear makeup, I don’t wear makeup.
It means when I want to wear makeup, I wear makeup.
It means I have thick eyebrows because I like having thick eyebrows.
It means that I choose to look the way I look and want to look the way I look.
It means you do not get to tell me how to express my femininity.
It means you have no authority over my body.
It means it is so stupid that these attitudes have been such a constant theme in my interactions with people that I felt bothered enough to write a blog about my face and what’s on it – literally the most boring subject for a blog ever because it is a topic that that should be of no interest to anybody except me.
It means if we respected a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, if she controlled the conversations about her body, if we valued her own opinions more highly than we value everyone else’s opinions about her, then I wouldn’t have to write this.