It was the time for me to become a woman once again. A short but excruciating amount of pain would leave me radiant and glowing, assured of my truly feminine status. I was at the beauty salon to “have my eyebrows done”.
Why oh why do I do this to myself? It’s a strange form of addiction, exchanging pain to get the temporary high of “beauty”. The gorgeous arc of the eyebrow “opens up my eyes” and makes them sparkle, apparently. But eyebrow-shaping is also one of the worst forms of self-inflicted persecution I know.
The beautician (for which read “torturer”) summons me into her small room and beckons me to lie down on the narrow treatment bed. She tuts at the horror of my bushy brow overgrowth. To me, they still look presentable, but she informs me that they are unsuitable for public display.
She leans over my face, her ample bosom precariously close to my face, the smell of her perfumed uniform is at once comforting but also a signal of the pain I am about to endure. And yet here I am, month in month out.
I’ve bought into the notion, which the beauty industry has sold to me, that without pain there is no gain. But this industry is not only those nasty faceless conglomerates that churn out various white creams that will moisturise, nourish, cleanse, rejuvenate or anti-age me. It also includes well-meaning friends, mothers, bossy aunties and colleagues who advise on what it means to be womanly. And having perfectly shaped eyebrows is part of womanliness. It is you know, it really is.
“Can you hold here?” she dictates, drawing me in to participate in my own torment. I close my eyes, and use one of my hands to depress and gently pull down my eyelid while using my other hand to winch up the skin above the brow. With the eyebrow held taut she begins work to excavate my long-lost luscious brow. She has wound a piece of white cotton thread (it’s always white, I don’t know why) between her hands and her mouth. Holding it tight she pulls away lines of hair from above, below and between my brows. A thousand hairs are yanked without any ceremony from right above my eye, and tears start streaming down while I suppress a scream. Real women don’t scream when they are becoming woman-ified.
Sometimes, I wonder if men notice. Are you tuned in to the trouble that most of the women around you go to? The comedian George Carlin says: “Ladies, here’s how much men care about your eyebrows: Do you have two of them? Good, we’re done.”
I’m not going to go through this trauma without due recognition, however. I’ve trained my husband to notice when my eyes have gained their freedom from eyebrow overgrowth. If the compliment is not spontaneous, I stand directly in front of him in obvious anticipation.
But is it the male species that we do it for? I don’t think so. The shaped eyebrow confirms our eligibility into the “real woman” club, a small but effective signal that says: “I am a woman who cares about myself.”
If a woman doesn’t care about how she looks, then what kind of woman is she? I’d like to say I’m the kind of woman who hasn’t bought into the social pressure to conform to being what is considered a socially acceptable “real woman”.
But I have.
And after each torture session, I can’t help but admire my luscious curved brows and newly liberated sparkling eyes.
"Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and writes a blog at spirit21.co.uk"