Photography by Getty Images
And that includes, yes, the return of pencil-thin brows.
Date February 3, 2023
Some wear them bushy. Others have tried bleaching. Many choose to shave them off entirely. The writing is on the wall (and faces everywhere): Brows today cannot be contained. The latest indication? Skinny eyebrows are back.
Like Juicy Couture tracksuits and spiky updos, spindly brows are steeped in ’90s and early 2000s nostalgia. Just three years ago, they were deemed one of the “worst” beauty styles ever, thought to be unnatural and just plain weird. But today, they’re fronting fashion campaigns and influencing TikTok trends, along with other subversive beauty choices.
Primed by the avant-garde makeup in Euphoria and the styling trends on recent runways, arches are in their “anything goes” era. Iris Law has gone viral for her symmetrical slashes. Ariana Grande has traded her filled-in face-framers for blonde strands, while Bella Hadid has accentuated hers with thin streaks of paint. Doja Cat’s shape-shifting arches — from darts of ink to angular squiggles — warrant their own dissertation (which you can read here). But perhaps the greatest emblem of eyebrow rebellion is internet It girl and model Gabbriette Bechtel, whose oft-recreated pencil-thin lines have garnered viral adoration.
When popularized in the 1920s, thin brows first represented sophistication. But after grown-in styles dominated the 1980s, the following decade brought a completely new meaning to ultra-thin arches. Through the 1990s, the beauty look was a mainstay within underground queer communities as a way of rejecting the status quo. And with pop culture icons like Kate Moss and Pamela Anderson championing slight brows on red carpets, a tweezer-happy beauty standard was set. Then, it dramatically fell out of favour, as trends always do.
In an industry obsessed with newness, each hyper-modern beauty fad inevitably evolves into a sign of outdatedness. And for better or worse, eyebrow shapes have long been a way to pinpoint these changes in history. With new decades bringing contrasting grooming rules and perpetual scrutiny directed at antiquated brows, these face-framing hairs have come to serve as a microcosm for beauty standards at large. It feels like just yesterday when Cara Delevingne’s image inspired a 2010s movement of thick, bold brows. Behind this was the pressure to embrace “natural” beauty. But of course, this narrative set an entirely different feat of attractiveness, and by default, created new insecurities for those without full brows.
Anyone who has dabbled in a fleeting eyebrow fad knows the all-too-familiar regret that comes once said trend is passé. But to quote an old proverb, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Ultimately, subversive eyebrows are one of the most confident statements out there — they’re the focal point of every face, and there’s no way of hiding them. So, though the pendulum is swinging back toward ultra-skinny eyebrows, arches are becoming their own kind of trend-resisted art.
It’s fitting, then, that skinny eyebrows are being embraced in the midst of Pamela Anderson’s return to mainstream pop culture. Despite the twists and turns of the beauty industry, the model has always remained true to her signature makeup look. (That’s on having personal style!) As she reclaims her own narrative with a newly released memoir and Netflix documentary, her pencil-thin brows are also back in the spotlight, with the viral “thin brows” TikTok filter being lovingly dubbed #Pamcore.
More and more, above-the-eye real estate is being used as a creative canvas. As a result, eyebrows are more emotive than ever. Feeling fancy? Line your arches with rhinestones. Mall-goth curious? Swap out hair for teeny painted lines. Embracing your edgy side? Add some slits to those bad boys.
We’re living in a state of eyebrow irreverence, which points to a collective feeling of cathartic recklessness. After all, the act of dramatically altering your brows comes with the inherent risk of them not growing back quite right, or at all. And since beauty has long been defined by having the appropriate arches, taking that risk in turn dismisses traditional standards of attractiveness. From skinny eyebrows to hyper-gelled arches, boundless brow exploration may just be the gateway to a more inclusive beauty landscape. To that, we say, tweeze on.