When I was a tween, the sun rose and set around my brother’s best friend, Travis Parrot. With his jade eyes, caramel skin and biting wit, I was certain he was the guy for me. I spent years hoping for him to notice me, and one day, it seemed he finally had. We were sitting together on my family’s well-worn sofa. He looked at me. I looked back. He held my gaze for what seemed like an eternity. I was frozen, and without a clue what to say. What was he thinking? Was he going to kiss me? Had he shared my feelings this entire time?
Finally, he spoke. My heart skipped a beat and he said four words that would change my life: “Your eyebrows are bushy.”
Thus, my “eyebrow journey” began.
By eyebrow journey, I mean the years spent pouring hot wax on my forehead and ripping tiny facial hairs out by the root so my eyes would be framed by dainty little sperm-shaped things. “Sperm-shaped” is really the best way I can describe my brows from eighth grade to junior year, with their bulbous heads and wispy little tails. Girls of the ’90s, you know what I’m talking about.
After two decades of regular plucking and waxing, I was horrified when big brows burst onto the scene and mine wouldn't cooperate. I'm beyond my years of trying to conform to hot-young-Hollywood standards of beauty, but seeing big, beautiful brows everywhere I went became infectious. I desperately wanted a pair of my own.
Easier said than done.
I spent a year trying to grow out my eyebrows. This is a real feat for a woman who has the attention span and commitment threshold of a goldfish, but I was determined to go from No Doubt–era Gwen Stefani to the undoubtably bushy Cara Delevingne.
Spoiler alert: It didn’t work. Despite my commitment to massaging castor oil into brows and buying eyebrow-boosting cosmetics on innumerable visits to Anastasia Beverly Hills, it was useless. On my best days I looked like a drag version of a Marx Brother.
I had nearly lost all hope when late one night I descended down an internet rabbit hole that led me to microblading. Microblading is a fancy word for the process of getting lots of tiny face tattoos in the place of your eyebrows. This isn’t your grandma’s permanent makeup, the sites stressed. These tatted brows looked natural! Like real hair! I knew immediately I had to do it, but with a price tag that ranged anywhere from the upper hundreds to the thousands, my bank account was not in lockstep with my life choices.
So I waited and, while I waited, I followed microblading practitioners on Instagram and longed for the day when a nice lady armed with ink and a tiny blade would give me the brows of my dreams. Finally, after months of waiting and pinching pennies, my mother offered to put some money toward my dream brows for my birthday.
I scheduled my consultation with a woman named Lynn, who works out of a salon in Burbank, and whose services were affordable but not so affordable it was scary. I sat in her chair, and she measured my face and brows, drew on some new ones and then measured and drew again. She was very thorough, and when she handed me the mirror and asked what I thought, they looked perfect. I signed off on what would eventually be my new facial fringe, and I was excited to schedule the day that would change my face/life.
As we compared our schedules, it was clear Lynn was a busy woman. Obviously, I was not the only Southern Californian on the search for the perfect brow. Even the fact that my mother, a dyed-in-the-wool Midwesterner who prefers to stay blissfully ignorant to many of the world’s workings, knew about microblading (and was basically using me as a guinea pig) seems to be proof that the beauty trend is sweeping the country.
A month later, my appointment day arrived. I settled under the salon’s unfortunate fluorescent lights, and for the first time second-guessed my choices. Was I really about to let a woman I hardly knew take a tiny blade to my face to semi-permanently draw on features that I will be stuck with for a year or two? Let me say again, I am not great with committing to things. If you need proof of this statement, know that my hair color has been everything found in and out of nature over the course of my adult life, and I lived 13 different places during my first seven years in L.A. Was I really about to commit to a couple of face tattoos?
Yup, I guess so.
Lynn drew my brows on once again, and once again, I approved. She then slathered my new brows-to-be with a numbing cream, wrapped the top of my head in Saran wrap, told me to set my phone alarm for 28 minutes and to be back by the time it went off. I used that time to walk around Burbank with my gooped-up, plastic-wrapped head to get used to weird stares in case this endeavor did not go off without a hitch. Read: I got an iced coffee* and looked around Ross Dress for Less. I didn’t find any budget clothes to match my budget eyebrows, so I returned to the salon, numbed and ready to go under the (tiny) knife.
I lay on something similar to a massage table, and Lynn set to work. I don't know why it didn’t occur to me that having a blade repeatedly penetrate my facial skin would possibly hurt, but I was in for a rude awakening. For the first couple passes of her cutting, then pushing ink into that cut, I only felt pressure. The numbing cream certainly did wonders. Sadly, it didn’t last long. As she continued her work, the pain got more and more intense. When she noticed me wincing, she slathered me with more numbing cream, but it was never quite the same as when first applied.
During the rest of the procedure, which lasted approximately two and a half hours, I experienced a spectrum of pain that went from light pinching to bordering on excruciating. I was helped through it with the assistance of breathing exercises and out-of-body experiences. As I breathed in joy and exhaled out pain, I questioned beauty standards and how I possibly got here.
In that moment, it seemed insane to me that we as women allow the invisible force of the beauty industry and the voices of our respective Travis Parrots convince us that the eyebrows, noses, breasts and butts we were born with are not OK. That we must pour our most precious resources into fitting in a mold that will inevitably change in another year or two. Even before she set to work on my eyebrows, Lynn told me she thought the technique would only be lucrative for her for another two years before another trend would take it over. Yet here I was, buying into it so hard the top third of my face was bleeding.
My shame spiral reached critical level, and by the time she handed me the mirror for my final verdict I wasn’t sure if I was going to smile or burst into tears. Luckily for everyone involved, my vanity took over and squashed my internal struggle by the time my brain registered the new brows. They were a little pink, a little swollen, very sore, but they were perfect and all mine. In that moment, I forgot about all the pain it took to get there and I embraced my new brows with all the love in my heart. In other words, I experienced a tiny version of what it must feel like to give birth. I can only imagine. I have dogs.
Weeks have passed since I traded in my old brows, and I’m still happy with the results. A few days after, they'd grown increasingly dark and it made me nervous, but I was reminded by the internet several times that it’s completely normal. Once the (VERY ITCHY) scabs heal and fall off, I will be left with brows that seem too light, but as the ink settles in approximately four weeks I should be left with brows befitting of Cara Delevigne. Or maybe, like, her cousin.
In the end, my verdict is that microblading is a barbaric beauty ritual that is both painful and unnecessary — and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
*When I did some post-microblading research, I found out drinking alcohol or coffee the day of the appointment is not advised. Whoops.