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Rihanna on the cover of British Vogue
Rihanna on the cover of British Vogue’s September issueCourtesy of Vogue

The case for and against pencil-thin eyebrows

Rihanna can pull off anything – but what about the average human?

This week, British Vogue dropped its latest cover under new editor-in-chief Edward Enninful: Rihanna, in close-up glory, rocks a pair of orange gloves, a crown of flowers, and, most notably, a super-thin pencil eyebrow. Skinny brows have been around forever – keen-eyed tweeters have been sharing photos of black Latina women rocking them in the early 20th century – but until very recently, it was thick, heavy brows that were in (as evidenced by Rihanna herself). Since Rihanna is arbiter of trends, and everything she wears ends up being worn by thousands of others, her new look has us asking: is it time for extreme pencil eyebrows to make a comeback? Here, two of our writers debate the controversial look. 


Text Emma Elizabeth Davidson

Unpopular opinion: I’m 100 hundred per cent here for Rihanna’s new (albeit temporary) brows, and a return to a skinny brow in general.

As created by Dazed contributor Isamaya Ffrench, Riri’s look pays homage to the glory days of John Galliano’s reign at both his own eponymous label and the house of Dior, when avant-garde was the word du jour, and the catwalks were awash with drama. With the fashion landscape saturated with streetwear and sneakers, who can blame us for feeling slightly nostalgic at the memory of the designer’s Victorian dolls of SS04, or the glamorous, Eastern-influenced collection he sent out at his AW09 show for Christian Dior, both of which featured models with pencil-thin brows created by legendary make-up artist Pat McGrath. That Rihanna’s cover dropped soon after it was revealed that McGrath’s brand was worth $1billion also felt like a timely nod to her overwhelming influence on contemporary beauty.

The return of the skinny brow was inevitable: so embroiled are we in a deep-reaching exploration of the late 90s and early 00s, it was only a matter of time before they made a reappearance. Alongside the Juicy Couture tracksuits that were seen at Vetements SS17, Fendi’s all-monogrammed-everything, and the thigh-high Uggs that hit the catwalk at Y/Project last season, a thin, over-plucked line ‘framing’ the eyes seems like a natural progression when it comes to our obsession with ironic, edgy, and ugly-but-kind-of-cool fashion. But what does it matter what we do to our brows anyway? At this point, we’re wearing high-heeled Crocs – with those on our feet, it’s unlikely anyone’s going to be looking at our face.

There’s also the fact that, at some point during the mid-00s, women were sold a lie as to ‘natural’ beauty. These so-called understated looks – all glossy, glowing skin and subtly accentuated features, as if we just woke up like that – take a distinctly unnatural amount of time (and approximately 327 cosmetic items) to achieve. The bushy, Cara Delevingne-esque brow was at the centre of this movement. Cultivating thick brows became a worldwide obsession, but for those of us not blessed with hefty caterpillars to our foreheads, this meant HD brow appointments, obscenely expensive ointments that promised to thicken beyond belief (reader: they did not), actual tattoos, and the potential for things to go very, very wrong. The return of the super-skinny brow is a welcome relief: pluck what you do have into obscurity, or better yet, shave them off entirely, and draw them back on with a felt-tip pen for an extra five minutes in bed. Sometimes, less really is more.


Text Kemi Alemoru

As a feminist, I believe a woman has a right to do whatever she wants with her body. Style is personal. There’s fun in experimentation. Whoopi Goldberg has never had eyebrows, and she’s still gained our respect. There's basically no fashion or beauty choice a woman could make that I would condemn, because I'm into body positivity and uplifting fellow women. But then, there's thin eyebrows.

When it comes to style, anything Rihanna does is copied by thousands. So ever since the cover of Vogue’s September issue dropped, with the Bajan singer’s brows looking like they were drawn on with a ball-point pen and protractor, there have been calls to reconsider the 90s pencil-thin grooming.

It’s an attainable trend – you don’t have to shell out money for new clothes or accessories. But, unfortunately, most of us aren’t Rihanna, so you probably shouldn’t try this at home. Thicker eyebrows are lower maintenance. In this age of reclaiming fuzz, I’m quite glad that I no longer feel like an ewok for skipping a threading appointment or three. But, to maintain a thin brow you have to devote so much time to waxing and plucking to keep your shape.

Also, this fad is all fun and games until the trends shift again, and you realise that you fucked your follicles. Last year, brow guru Shavata Singh told The Telegraph that over-plucking “not only runs the risk of losing your most flattering eyebrow shape, it can also lead to permanent hair loss.” I’ve heard so many women complain that, try as they might, they cannot get their old eyebrow shape back once they’ve got a bit too tweezer-happy.

You can look back and laugh at 90s style when it’s just dodgy leggings, crimped hair, or ghastly eyeshadow, but when it comes to facial deforestation there will always be consequences. Let Rihanna’s Vogue cover snatch your wig, not your eyebrows.