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The September cover of Vogue UK just dropped, and Rihanna is on the cover. It features a colorful close-up of her face, framed in bright hues and huge flowers, but the most noticeable thing is that her natural eyebrows have been replaced by thin, penciled-on lines.
People had some strong reactions to this look.
things we’re absolutely not doing: letting tiny pencil-thin eyebrows make even a whisper of a societal comeback. resist!!!— maya kosoff (@mekosoff) August 1, 2018
listen I *have* the skinny brows and I don’t want this trend to come back— Tiffany Yannetta (@tiffanyyannetta) August 1, 2018
One Instagram commenter on Rihanna’s post wrote: “please tell the beauty community this was JUST FOR A PHOTO SHOOT, and that we aren’t bringing back the 90’s brows! I have worked WAYYYYY too hard after radiation to grow my brows in for this to be the new fad”
For the past few years, we’ve been in the throes of a thick brow look. Bushy, lush brows — yet still impeccably shaped — have been the ideal. But the extreme skinny look has been a trend at many points during recorded humanity. In the popular consciousness, we tend to focus on two: Josephine Baker and Greta Garbo had them early in the 20th century. Chic! Then Gwen Stefani and probably you or a loved one had them in the ’90s. Gah, no!
A ’90s nostalgia has been going strong in fashion and beauty for the past several years, most recently manifested by those tiny sunglasses beloved by young celebrities. Unlike sunglasses, however, you can’t just toss your eyebrows in the trash when you realize you made a big mistake. That’s why this look, and the thought of it becoming popular, has horrified so many people across the internet.
Those of us who dabbled with the skinny brow in the ’90s learned that those little hairs don’t grow back once you’ve ripped them out of your face enough times. You’ll realize your beloved Tweezermans betrayed you when the next Cara Delevingne comes along and makes bushy brows a thing. I don’t want that kind of regret to happen to a new generation.
The brow industrial complex is humming. The NPD Group reported that brow product sales were up 7 percent in 2017, and it has been growing steadily for several years. You can buy every type of pencil, gel, and dye to fill in brows. You can even get them tattooed on via the microblading. It’s no surprise that older women were early to the Wunderbrow craze, victims of their own brow folly in their youth because of how cute Gwen Stefani looked with skinny brows.
Enter Rihanna’s Vogue cover. Rihanna can sell anything. She is aspirational but also somehow relatable. She made furry shower slides covetable. She forced the beauty industry to finally become inclusive. So the concern that this one cover will cause everyone to run to their magnifying mirrors and go to town on their arches is not that silly. Several articles questioned or proclaimed that skinny eyebrows were back.
Wait. Rihanna. Please. We all just learned how to pencil in our brows. pic.twitter.com/bbvzeHM0A7— Brian Latimer (@briskwalk) July 31, 2018
It wouldn’t be a total surprise to see brows getting leaner even if Rihanna hasn’t embraced this look permanently. The prediction that skinny brows should be/might be coming back has been percolating for a bit. Vogue wrote about it in 2015. Marisa Meltzer at the New York Times tackled it the following year, suggesting that skinny brows imply a “worldly woman, in control.”
I’ve been rewatching Friends late at night while in the throes of insomnia, and more than once I’ve admired Courteney Cox’s slim brows on the show, much to my own disgust. A few years ago, Vulture noted that the generation that wasn’t even born yet when Thursday night “Must-See TV” was a thing had discovered and was loving Friends. The choker trend was first; maybe skinny eyebrows are next.
There’s pressure on women now to have the perfectly arched yet also perfectly bushy eyebrow — the “boy brow,” as Glossier calls it — which has also contributed to the growth of the brow product category. Even if women didn’t partake in the ’90s brow craze, a lot of us just don’t have naturally plush brows. It’s stressful to chase a beauty ideal when your body is physically incapable of doing it. Almost anyone can use tweezers, though, and have less brow.
Then there’s “Instagram brow” fatigue. For the uninitiated, this is a highly stylized brow that’s drawn and shaded into a hairy ombré, continues to a high arch, and then ends in a razor-sharp point. It would make sense that the youngs who spend a lot of time on Instagram and YouTube, where that look has flourished for several years, might be sick of seeing it. The skinny brow is the polar aesthetic opposite.
The truth is, though, that Rihanna actually still has her eyebrows. This cover was likely shot months ago. Thanks to the makeup artist on the shoot, Isamaya Ffrench, and (probably) some Photoshop wizardry to blur out stray brows, that was a look the star adopted for the day for a very editorial statement. And listen, it looks really good on her.
But please don’t run out and pluck your brows into oblivion. If you’re curious to see what you’d look like (spoiler: you won’t look like Rihanna), try the glue-stick technique long loved by the theatrical and drag queen communities to cover up your real brows. Then pencil to your heart’s content, Instagram it, and wash it all off.