Why eyebrows are more important than we thought

1 March 2017
By Fashion Quarterly

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The eyes may be the window to your soul but studies show eyebrows are huge signalers to the world around you.

According to recent studies, more than 80 million people used a brow pencil in the US last year and UK women spend an average of £2.3 billion a year perfecting their brows. Although we don’t have the data in New Zealand, the New Zealand Ministry of Health has a subsidiary service set-up for those who require eyebrow wigs due to medical conditions, proving just how necessary we think they are. In fact, recent studies show that eyebrows play a huge role in enabling others to recognise who we are, as well as what we are thinking.

In one such study, participants were shown images of celebrities without eyebrows, and then without eyes. Surprisingly, the subjects recognised more celebrities without eyes than they did without eyebrows. “If the eyebrows aren’t there, it really messes up the way the visual system is designed to find and process faces,” Dr Javid Sadr, professor of neuroscience at Canada’s University of Lethbridge (who conducted the study), told Yahoo Health.

So what if you take this further and create your own statement brows? Co-author of the study Izzat Jarudi says that because females have more arched, thinner, and higher-set eyebrows naturally, a woman who embraces a more masculine brow will stand out – perhaps Cara Delevingne and Emma Watson owe their respective rises to fame to their signature brows?

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Sadr goes as far to compare the Delevingne look to the big shoulder pads of 1980s power suit. “There was a big movement of more women in the workplace and more women breaking through the glass ceiling,” he says. “[Big shoulder pads] were a masculinising feature. They made a statement about women being empowered.”

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If you can tell someone’s view on feminism from their brows it may not be so surprising that you can also read emotions. Jocelyn McCanles, an associate creative director at Deeplocal who also worked on the project, told the LA Times how easy eyebrows are to read: Happiness is a relaxed brow that is slightly heightened. If someone is angry, the distance between the brows is narrowed. And if they are sad, this can be conveyed by one eyebrow being slightly arched and the other one coming down slightly.

But there is a catch. McCanles says: “There are all these different configurations, and it does matter how your brows are naturally. If your brows are naturally arched or close together, you can look like you have a particular emotion even though your brows are at rest.”

Perhaps this explains the ‘resting bitch-face’ phenomenon, where someone is assumed to be grumpy because of the way their face looks when they are relaxed.


There is a lot at stake when tweaking our brows, so we quizzed brow expert Hannah Pickering of ON Browhouse on how to make sure our brows stay true to ourselves.

In the quest for the perfect brows, how do we make sure our changing eyebrows reflect our true emotions?
The brows are the road map to reading your face, expression and hence, your emotions. So the short answer is that your perfect brow is not one that is too dramatically different from your natural one. It is really important to work with the brow you have and not force or fake it too much, which will throw the facial balance out.  Brows that are too close together, too far apart, too arched or too heavy for the face they are on, all convey a different look to what may be intended. You can work with your brow to create subtle change but the quest for a perfect brow should not be about following a trend or fashion.

What brow style has reached prominence at the moment?
The big brow sounds cliché now as it has been so enduring but I think now this is a reference to people regaining their more natural brow shape which as a result is fuller and less ‘done’ than what they had, rather than necessarily bigger and bolder. The sharper, clean lines that were more forced are softened and brows have more life, texture and movement versus the literal bold brow.  Most importantly brows are looking less cookie cutter and more individual.

What’s your number one piece of advice for someone who wants to perfect their brows?
Don’t necessarily aim for perfect!  Absolutely work to realise what is there and have patience to do so but don’t try to force them.  Experiment also with brow products and tools to create looks within your own brow framework – just like you do with any other make-up.

How to get great brows at home:
If you can’t sneak out of the office for a quick brow fix, we suggest trying your hand at sculpted, balanced brows with an eyebrow pencil and brush like L’Oréal Paris’ Brow Artist Maker, $25, from Farmers. Use the brush end to evenly blend colour through your eyebrows and shape brow edges and voila, you’re ready to take on the world.eyebrow pencils

Words: Jessica-Belle Greer, Simply You
Photo: @caradelevingne, @emmawatson, and Supplied.

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