Manali MacRae’s expression is like a child’s retelling of a nightmare. “When I was younger, I tried to trim my eyebrows with a pair of scissors on Christmas Eve, but ended up cutting one off entirely,” says the 21-year-old Furman University student. “All that was left were tiny patches here and there. It was the worst decision of my life, hands down."
The truth of her statement shouldn't be underestimated: The brow has long been cherished in its countless forms, whether natural or aesthetically enhanced. Ancient Egyptian women viewed their arches as a matter of life or death. Owners shaved their eyebrows when mourning their deceased cats, one of the most cherished animals in Egypt. When not commemorating their pets, they used kohl and mesdemet, substances derived from lead, to darken their arches (mesdemet served a dual purpose—it also worked to disinfect and keep insects away). The 69 BC aesthetic is still seen in modern times: Elizabeth Taylor showcased bold, black eyebrows in the 1963 film Cleopatra, and Kim Kardashian replicated the look on a 2011 Harper’s Bazaar cover.
The Egyptians weren't alone. Women in ancient Greece used powdered antimony to enhance their brows, while others wore false eyebrows made of dyed goat hair and attached them to their forehead with natural tree gum, according to Victoria Sherrow's Encyclopedia of Hair. Later, in Elizabethan England, many women removed or lost their eyebrows completely after repeated use of a harsh facial product called ceruse, which contained white lead. The powder lightened skin, à la Queen Elizabeth I, but caused skin irritation and hair loss through lead poisoning.