When the cover of British Vogue’s September issue was released earlier this week, featuring Rihanna with thin-as-can-be brows, a collective panic set in across the grooming-focused internet.
After a decade or so of getting used to the idea that big brows were in—and embracing products like Glossier Boy Brow and Benefit’s Foolproof Eyebrow Powder to sculpt our luxuriously bushy brows (and help us fill in the awkwardly patchy regrowth)—the latest cover was met with a collective deep sigh. It seemed to portend a turn back to the miserable days—the ones we spent with our nose anxiously pressed to the mirror, furiously searching for territory not yet plucked, or worse, resorting to drawing our brow back on after we’d gone too far.
The Cut’s Stella Bugbee tried to calm the waters, pointing out that if the concept of a skinny brow revival fills you with existential dread, it’s probably because you’re old enough to remember the look’s last go-around, and have aged past the point where such trends actually apply to you. Similar to skinny jeans low enough to broadcast your uncomfortable undergarments, this is a look many adults will probably never revisit—despite what the kids these days are doing.
For those looking to make a statement, there’s also the possibility of going entirely in the opposite direction, as the model and unibrow-advocate Sophia Hadjipanteli has with her #UnibrowMovement:
While our brow fixation may seem of a piece with our selfie-saturated era, it has a long history. Jonathan Swift, in his darkly comic A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed, mentions the end-of-day brow routine of “Corinna, pride of Drury Lane,” a sex worker in 18th-century London:
Her eye-brows from a mouse’s hide,Stuck on with art on either side,Pulls off with care, and first displays ’em,Then in a play-book smoothly lays ’em.
For a more comprehensive visual history of eyebrow arches, you needn’t look further than the Instagram account @historyofoverplucking, which details the alarming trend over the ages, including screen-siren Marlene Dietrich, a braces-and-pink-haired Gwen Stefani, and a baby-faced and skinny-browed Kate Moss. The feed serves as a disturbing trip down memory lane—and a compelling case for why we should all resist the temptation to tweeze with gusto, no matter what Vogue says.
It’s worth noting that Rihanna probably didn’t sacrifice her eyebrows for her cover look. The Guardian consulted a prominent brow expert in London and reported that it was likely created by “squashing her existing brows with glue, then covering them with concealer and foundation before drawing on two new lines.” It’s a process that makes pasting on strips of mouse fur sound relatively reasonable.