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Making Peace with My Overplucked '90s Brows

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As a child of the '90s, I committed various sins: baking myself in tanning beds before proms; denim overalls, clipped diagonally, worn over snap-bottom bodysuits; Olestra. Perhaps most offensively, I hacked into my once thick, mink-like eyebrows with aplomb after unearthing the tweezers my mother had carefully hidden at the bottom of her sewing basket. ("Don't touch them," she'd said, recounting tales of her own '70s-era brow massacre when I begged to make mine look less Eastern European, more Brenda Walsh. "If you do, they'll eventually stop growing back.")

Those familiar with the effects of repetitious hair removal might suspect that she was right—and she was. Now, because we live in an era that worships Big Brows and Big Butts (versus the Big Boobs and Big Hair of my time), I dutifully fill mine in each day. Using light, feathery strokes with an ash blonde pencil, I create the daily illusion that I'd taken heed to my mother's advice, just as I blend and dab various components of Make Up Forever's HD line over my complexion to make it appear that I Woke Up Like This, not covered in mild hyperpigmentation or beset with a thinning undereye area that, if I'm not militant in getting enough sleep, water, and sanity, reveals dark, blueish veins alongside dark, purpleish circles.

Gone, too, are the days of pulling myself out of whichever bed I'd found myself in that morning and sussing the wearability of second-day clothes before heading into work. And goodbye to the era of eating whatever I damn well pleased for breakfast, if I wasn't too hungover to stomach more than Gatorade. Now, it's hot water with lemon, green juice, and Pilates, all scheduled into a morning routine, after which I carefully select an outfit that suggests I'm professional yet approachable—something body-conscious, but not overtly sexy, pulled from hangers instead of plucked from the floor.

But of all of my past transgressions—even the Blossom-era floppy corduroy cap I tried to (unsuccessfully) rock in tandem with the denim overalls—overplucking is the mistake I regret the most. Just like when you attempt to freehand a paper heart and wind up whittling it down to an unrecognizable nub, I destroyed in the name of beauty. And sure, there are increasingly advanced options available to repeal, to some degree, the damage, like my beloved pencils and powders, the not-recommended-by-the-FDA application of Latisse, and brow transplants, for the truly dedicated crowd. But as good as those options are, they're not as good as never having done it in the first place. There's no denying that thin brows age an otherwise youthful face.

My eyebrows are a constant reminder that, as young as 32 might seem in the grand scheme of life, I'm older. ("Wiser" is debatable.) I'm the same age my mom was when she had my younger sister. Thirty-two is the age when things change. Lots of my friends have children, some with numbers two and three on the way. I can no longer scrunch my nose up at "ma'am" the same way I would at 25. I'm trying to make smart choices with my money.

At 32, if you visit a cosmetic surgeon, as I have, twice, just to see what's out there, he won't, as you hope he might, brush you off when you hint at your candidacy for Some Procedures. He might even suggest a quick hit of Botox on the spot. (What you want, of course, is for the doctor to laugh you off upon examination and tell you to return in twenty years, but we live in an era that worships not just youth, but preservation of that youth.) At 32, for better or worse, the choices you've made start to show up on your face and body. They just do.

Yet I've always admired the markers of a well-lived life in older women: laugh lines, silvery strands of hair, a sense of self—and style—that can't be bought. Now, I see just how difficult it is to make it look easy, as easy as slipping into a St. John knit or a set of pearls.

Roll your eyes if you want: I'm older, but not old, and if I'm lucky, I've still got a lot of years left ahead. Inevitably, those years will come with more changes to my appearance, changes I'll be forced to accept or alter as needed. It seems ironic, but the very act of living—taking a chance that we'll freckle on the beach, bruise our knees while exploring new terrain, burn our tongues on too-hot soup served in a foreign land—presents the biggest threat to the maintenance of what we have.

So now I'm trying to worship at the altars of women who not only live their lives fearlessly, but aren't afraid to show it, women who keep on keeping on when newer, shinier models roll through with thicker hair, smaller pores, and perkier breasts. And, yes: thicker eyebrows.

Standards of beauty and fashion change across the span of time and culture. I've traded a trusted pair of bootcut Lucky's for skinny J. Brands, hip-length Banana Republic cashmere for chunky Vince tunics, and pointed-toe stilettos for footwear that, frankly, is just sensible (or at least allows me to walk, and not just stand idly, on city sidewalks). Self-acceptance is a funny thing: Like any endeavor worth pursuing, you have to practice it before you're ready, letting go of preconceived notions of what you'd look like or think or want at a certain age, and putting out a welcome mat for what pops up in its place. Then again, time is finite, and precious. Maybe it's the increasing awareness of my mortality that means I'd rather spend mine not in front of a mirror, but out there, on the edge.

But first, let me sharpen my brow pencil.